Pure and Undefiled Religion
By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell
Scripture Readings: James 1
Key Verses: James 1:26, 27
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”
“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
What a person says tells a lot about him. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I can tell a lot by a person’s choice of words, his tone of voice, his body language and facial expression. What he says and how he says it reveals much about who he is–where he’s from, his educational level, what he believes, what his biases and prejudices are, whether he’s in a good mood or a bad mood, nervous, tense, relaxed, whether he’s confident or insecure, even aspects of the state of his health, and much more.
What a person says and how he says it also reveals what’s in his heart, especially if he’s quick to gossip, to lie, slander someone else. If a man says he is a Christian but he’s not careful what he says and how he says it, he reveals his true character. Reading this scripture reminded of when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees and scribes why his disciples ate without washing their hands and Jesus said that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man but what comes out of it (Mark Chapter 7:1-23). Those verses are similar to this one in James. What comes out of a person’s mouth reveals his heart.
Those who engage in gossip, lying, and slander “show their true colors.” We are told to be careful how we speak. The image of the bridle used to tame a horse is used to remind us to tame our speech, to train ourselves in discipline and control, to watch what we say. A person of faith speaks respectfully and with kindness and love.
But use of loving, disciplined speech is only part of the equation for discipleship in Christ. James tells us we not only need to watch what we say, but we should also watch what we do—everything we do should facilitate our being “unstained by the world.” Because we are all sinners and prone to sin, we need to monitor our behavior, as well as our speech. Since Jesus was the only human who lived an “unstained” life, He is our model—we are to behave as Jesus would behave. The “What would Jesus do?” phrase that became so popular years ago is a good barometer of how we should determine whether or not we are living in His will. We are to emulate Jesus in our behavior.
And while we are at it, we should engage in “good works,” specifically remembering those who have been left alone in the world—orphans and widows. We are to minister to others, to protect those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
So, what do we say and what do we do to live a “pure and undefiled” life? We should speak carefully and lovingly. We should take care of those less fortunate than ourselves as per the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and to live as Jesus Himself would. If we live like this, the book of James says that we will live a life pleasing to God and our religion will be “pure and undefiled” in his sight.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to do what is pleasing in your sight. Guide me and discipline me so that I may live according to your will in all that I say and do.