The mission statement of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago is to “serve with the compassion of Christ and minister with the transforming message of the Gospel.” For over 140 years, America’s oldest rescue mission has reached out to the hungry and the homeless with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and biblical preaching. Last year they were able to help more than 1,100 people every month.
Serving the poor is a blessed and godly activity (v. 27; see Ps. 41:1; Prov. 14:21). Today’s reading offers one negative and one positive example related to obeying God’s Word in this area. The negative example is the self-deceived person. Such people can’t remember what they look like in the mirror (v. 26). They “do not keep a tight rein on their tongues,” they lack self-control in the area of words and communication (see also James 3:1–12). As a result, while they consider themselves religious, actually “their religion is worthless,” meaning futile or hypocritical. What’s the point of claiming to be a Christian if you don’t act like one?
The positive example is the person who hears the Word, obeys, and is blessed (v. 27). They “look after orphans and widows” and stay away from worldliness. Helping the poor and the powerless is selfless, because no possible advantage can be gained. God Himself evaluates it as “pure and faultless.” For the epistle’s Jewish readers, this was consistent with what they already knew about the Lord’s love for the poor (see Ex. 22:22–23; Deut. 10:18; Isa. 1:17). God even goes so far as to say that serving the poor helps us know Him better (Jer. 22:16).
Spiritual devotion must have practical effects on observable behavior. James continues to emphasize that our study of the Word must be accompanied by “Do what it says” (v. 22)!
How are you doing in the area of self-control with words and communication? Undertake prayerful self-examination, especially in the area of social media. Are your words meaningful, reasonable, empathetic, and kind? It’s God grace that teaches us how “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:12).