“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).
The above exhortation by James is unfortunately one of the most neglected practices of Christians today. The term true “religion” should not be understood here in the same way as the world defines various religions. It could also be translated as, “true piety or true devotion.” So, what is the true religion or devotion that the word of God describes?
Many suppose true devotion to be prayer, fasting, worship, studying and knowing the Holy Bible, attending church activities and witnessing to people. These are no doubt good practices but without following what James has exhorted we are still a long way from true spirituality. Some even believe that true devotion is just about living an ethical and moral life. Make no mistake: piety and charity are inseparable in living the Christian life. Someone commented rightly, “No kind of religious services paid to the Deity can be of any avail, if we neglect the royal law of charity.”
I have observed people clinging to two extremes. Some claim that evangelism and missions are the Christian priority and charity is not our responsibility. Thus, they focus on the soul and neglect the body. Others assert that charity is all that matters and neglect evangelism. Such people focus on the body and neglect the soul. Christians have always committed a mistake by neglecting to see a person as a whole. Someone rightly said, “We either see a person as a soul without a body or as a body without a soul.” Biblically, evangelism and charity are equally important. We are required to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of a person. Our words have no value if we do not practically demonstrate the love of God.
There are three things James wrote about true religion, revealing pure and faultless devotion in the sight of God: a) Looking after the orphans, b) Taking care of the widows in distress and c) Keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. Most Christians are aware about keeping themselves away from worldly desires. This matter is emphasized in numerous messages and rightly so; but what about our disposition towards charity? It is said that the widows in the New Testament times didn't have the freedom to work and support themselves as they have today; hence their plight is better today than it once was.
The focus of this article, therefore, is on “orphans”, who are still the most neglected section of our community today, in spite of being the most needy. Of course, this is not the entirety about religion but our attention to this issue, without which our devotion to God will not be pure and complete, can never be exaggerated. Our true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can only result in our lives the manifestation of His love to the destitute. Christianity is not a religious activity but a living charity.
There are millions of orphans scattered around the world today, lonely and unloved. UNICEF reports that the number of orphans globally is projected to reach 44 million by 2010. In India alone their number is around 12.44 million. Also, India has the largest number of AIDS orphans than any country - and this number is expected to double in the next five years.
The statistics of orphans in Ukraine, between ages of 15 to 18, points to a gruesome reality. It is disappointing to notice that, “Statistics on orphans during this time of their lives have shown an estimated 70% of the boys end up in crime, 60% of girls in prostitution, and 10-30% commit suicide.” Although the percentage may vary, the terrible and disturbing fact about how orphans end up in crime, prostitution, suicide and even in child labor is true in any country.
Thus, we beg the question, what is the contribution of the church to the shattered lives of the orphans, in obedience to God’s word? Is not the church the only representative of the one and only true Living God, whose very nature is love?
Looking after Orphans
The following are the three means I propose to practice true religion as mentioned in James 1:27:
a) The best way to help orphans is by adoption. If every Christian family adopts one orphan each I wonder if there would be any orphans left in the world. How wonderful it is to witness a few Christians, who are such a tiny minority, adopting orphans and giving them parental love despite having children of their own! Thank God for such beautiful people! Childless parents should consider the privilege of adoption rather than remaining in despair and regret. We need to understand that the exhortation of James is not written to social organizations or charitable groups; it is written to every Christian who is a disciple of Christ Jesus. Sadly, we have institutionalized the work of charity, washing our hands off individual responsibility.
Most peoples' considering adoption is prematurely paralyzed by questions about inheritance – “Shouldn’t my inheritance really be going to children born of my blood? Won’t that be a problem if I adopt?” Well, considering this, the Holy Bible reveals that we ourselves are the adopted children of God through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5). The Lord not only adopted us as His children but also gave us the full rights of sons and made us His heirs (Gal. 4:5; Rom. 17). Likewise, in adopting orphans and making them our heirs shouldn’t we share the grace that we received from God? The Lord has blessed me with two sons (still small kids) but after being convicted by this Scripture, I have resolved to adopt an orphan into our family. I believe there is no other ideal way to look after orphans than by their adoption by into Christian families.
b) The next best way to assist orphans is by the local churches taking their responsibility. During the New Testament times there were no social organizations (NGOs) or orphanages as we have today. Every church was a social entity and took the responsibility of helping the needy and the orphans. Even during the middle part of the second century, the weekly collection of the church was taken primarily to help the poor and the orphans. Church historian Earle E. Cairns notices that at the end of the church fellowship, “they finally took up a collection for aid to widows and orphans, the sick, the prisoners, and strangers. The meeting was then dismissed, and all the people made their way to their homes.”
But today how is the weekly offering used in our churches? Is there a willingness to set apart from the church’s offering to help the orphans and the needy? How wonderful it would be if the churches come forward to provide food, shelter and education to the destitute children! Interestingly, unknown to many, even during the Old Testament times a special tithe was raised once in three years to assist the orphans, widows and other poor people (Deut. 14:28-29). How are the tithes of the churches used today? Do the churches use a part of their tithes to assist the orphans and the destitute?
Sadly, we use a lot of God’s money for things not mentioned in the Scripture, like buildings, programs, meetings…etc., and neglect utilizing it for what is exhorted, like helping the orphans, helpless widows, poor and needy. The churches have to give an account to God when the judgment comes upon them as to how wisely they have used God’s money. Remember, God has a great concern for the orphans. David spoke about Him, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Ps. 68:5). Isaiah admonished the people of God to, “defend the cause of the fatherless” (Isa. 1:17).
Also, there is a stern warning from God to the leaders, “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them. Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: "Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies” (Isa. 1:23-24). Oh, how terrible it is that God calls leaders as His enemies because they seek only to procure material things and feed themselves, having no concern to stand for the cause of the orphans and the needy! The leaders must not only be passionate to teach and preach but also to care for the orphans and the needy (Gal. 2:10). Did not the apostles devote themselves to prayer and preaching of the word without neglecting to care for the needy? (Acts 6:1-4)
c) The two means mentioned above in looking after the orphans are simple and feasible. The third means to help orphans is by establishing and supporting orphanages. To share a fact, setting up a registered orphanage requires higher budgets and demands more effort. If a Christian family is not willing or unable to adopt, or the church is unwilling or incapable to take such a responsibility, they can at least support orphanages that are genuinely committed to the care of orphans.
Just a word of caution though: Do not assist orphanages without a careful evaluation as some of them might be established out of selfish ambition and for personal profit. It grieves my heart to see leaders of certain orphanages living a grand life while the orphans under their responsibility are neglected, fed improperly and shown no love and concern. But that being said, there are quite a few orphanages that take good care of orphans and these are worthy of generous support.
Many Christians seem to miss the great purpose of being saved by the grace of God. The purpose of salvation is not just to receive peace and blessings, get into heaven and enjoy eternal life, but also to do good works on earth. The Holy Bible clearly reveals that Jesus Christ “gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deed” (Tit. 2:14, NLT). It is also written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Many of us look ignorant about the reason of our existence on earth, which is not primarily to receive great things, but to do good things for which God has created us in Christ Jesus.
Are we Christians and our churches totally committed and actively participating in doing good works to the destitute children? Or are we busy making money without being concerned about sharing it with the needy? Regretfully, most churches today are found busy with services, meetings, programs and every other activity – everything else, except the practice of charity. We seem to be immersed in religious services without doing service to the destitute. Is this pleasing to God for whom the church exists? I wonder how apostle James would have sharply addressed our religious and barren Christianity!
I doubt whether our worship services are truly pleasing to God when we refuse to listen to the cry of the fatherless children. More than the lip service kind of worship God is greatly glorified through our good works (Matt. 5:16). Lifting our hands unto God in worship is vain if we don’t stretch our hands to help the destitute. May God’s people and churches wake up to walk worthy according to the good purpose for which God has prepared us in advance!
Dear brothers and sisters, just pause for a minute to think of the orphans. If they are refused to show love and care, will it not have a negative impact on their childhood – and possibly on what they become in adulthood? The way they interact with people, the way they react to situations – won’t all these be pathetically different if they grow up without proper parental love and care? It is the passion of God to use His people to share His love and compassion with the needy and helpless children. Picture those little innocent faces looking around for care and acceptance - these are the children who are tomorrow’s future. Are we really unable to make a difference in their lives for the glory of Christ Jesus? Or are we still unwilling?
 See http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=134992
 See http://www.indianngos.com/issue/child/adoption/statistics/index.html
 See http://orphanshope.org/projects_more.html
 Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), pg. 84.