“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Too many rules are hard to follow. We like our rules kept simple. It’s easier to remember them which makes it easier to follow them — we hope. Stay 3 seconds behind the car in front of you. A serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Put some Windex on it.
We like our moral rules the same way. We always have. Jesus was asked what the most important rule was, and we know what he said — we call it the Great Commandment. People like to simplify that down to “love God, love people.” That sounds great. Except “love” is a weasel word in our society, and people don’t understand what “love God” really means.
Another popular summary for moral behavior is “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). I love that one. The only problem is “justice” doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means.
So I offer this as a rule of thumb for this era: “Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
When in doubt, look out for the weakest among us. That’s a pretty safe rule. It doesn’t imply that we have to approve of their lifestyle choices. It can be done personally and corporately. If you see someone who is weak, who is in need, who is oppressed, help them.
And along the way, keep yourself from being polluted by the world. God doesn’t just want us to be charitable. He doesn’t just want us to take care of our neighbor. He wants us to love him by living holy lives. This is the element our society loses in “love God, love people”.
This shouldn’t surprise us. We love people who give lots of money to charity. But not when it’s money they embezzled. There is no amount of good you can do that will undo the bad you do. You love God and walk humbly with him in large part by keeping yourself unstained by the world.
Of course, the scriptures have a lot to say about what it means to do right by people and what pollutants we should be keeping ourselves from. We’ll be fleshing out the details. But in a sense, everything is going to be commentary on this one rule of thumb:
Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world.
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Part of Christianity 102