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God’s Favorite Religion
What does your church teach about widows and orphans? If we were all honest, most of us rarely give it a second thought. Or a second sermon. If your ministry, company, or even civic group is struggling, or you’re lacking satisfaction in your own spiritual life, here’s a tip that’s guaranteed to send any dull routines into hyperspace. Interested?
Here it is: Start reaching the widows and orphans under your influence.
Recently, TV’s 700 Club interviewed Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries, which is experiencing phenomenal revival in many African tribes. To paraphrase Heidi, “If you want to see revival, start serving widows and orphans.”
Even America, the most powerful and richest nation on Earth, lags behind smaller countries when it comes to providing for its children. While we rank first among nations in military spending and the number of millionaires we have, we rank 14th in our efforts to help our orphans. Jesus said, “…that which is esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Here are some sad statistics about the State of Children in the land of the free and the brave, presented by the Children’s Defense Fund: Four children are killed every day by abuse or neglect, five by suicide and eight by firearms, 76 die before their first birthday, 182 1,186 were born to teenage mothers, 1,707 were born without health insurance, 2,171 were born in poverty, and 2,341 were born to mothers who did not graduate from high school. 2,455 are abused or neglected, 2,539 high school dropouts and 4,440 children under 18 are arrested.
These statistics would make Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s 16th president, roll over in his grave. It was he who, in his second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, said, “With malice toward none, love toward all . . . to care for him who bears the battle, THE WIDOW AND ORPHANS . . .”
Today we find ourselves in a new kind of war. Although we call it the “war on terror,” the fact is that it is still a war, and that means people die. As of July 8, 2005, America has suffered a total of 1,752 casualties in Iraq; 210 in Afghanistan, including 56 in 2005. Will we, the people, take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to women left without husbands and children left fatherless? Do we leave it to the government or do we say “Someone should do something”?
WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE INSTRUCT US?
There is a verse in Scripture that describes the only kind of true religion, the kind that Jesus taught and exemplified—that has nothing to do with compulsory church attendance or obedience to man-made rules and regulations. This verse, which describes the only kind of religion that makes sense, is found in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”
As you must have noticed, Jesus was not a very religious man, he always butted heads with the most religious people of his time, healed on the Sabbath, hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and so on. The religious part of any faith is nothing less than a mere return to servitude—the rules and regulations that shackle mankind—intended to make them the freest creatures in the universe. This kind of religion—legalism, self-righteous rules, and self-denial—is the kind that no one needs or wants. Religion is, after all, man’s ill-fated attempt to reach God. We just don’t get that high. So God became one of us.
I wish everyone had a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He’s real, you know. Jesus declared that he came to set us free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The essence of Christianity is relationship—reconciliation between God and man and between men (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
Look at Colossians 2:23 where they talk about religion: “These things indeed seem wisdom in self-righteous religion, false humility and neglect of the flesh, but they are nothing against the indulgence of the flesh. .”
An Old Testament verse, Deuteronomy 10:18, says, “…he will do justice to the fatherless and the widow…” There have always been widows and fatherless. Scripture repeatedly uses widows and orphans as a litmus test of need. From heaven’s perspective, there is no one more in need than a woman who has lost her husband, or a child who has lost a mother and/or father. God’s heart turns to them.
Ours should be like that too.
A religion acceptable to God is a religion that has the hands and feet of Christ, the body of Christ. It may involve more than that, but never less. Regarding James 1:27, the NIV translates “visiting” widows and orphans as episkeptesthai, which means “to take care of.” The King James translates it as “to visit.” The Good News Bible translates it as “to take care.” All these translations are roughly correct. It is more than just a visit and more than care. It is literally reaching out to help. It is about taking the initiative for those who need help.
EXAMPLES FROM THE EARLY CHURCH
The early church actively addressed legitimate social concerns (Acts 6:1; 9:39; 1 Tim. 5:3). This was consistent with Old Testament instructions to care for the needy (Deuteronomy 14;28,19; 16:11; 26:12). The example of the early church has been imitated for nearly 2,000 years. For example, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, described his ministry this way: “We wash (our sacrifices) in the tears of widows and orphans and place them on the altar of humanity.”
When we look at James 1:27 as it applies to the problems of our lives today, it is interesting that the two groups James commissions us to deal with are single women (widows) and childless children (orphans). The church is not called to choose between the two – as, say, in the abortion issue – but to love both. In fact, the most God-honoring solution to the issue at hand is one in which both mother and child are served, not as pawns in a rights battle.
If a child becomes an orphan, James asks the Church to take care of him. If a woman loses her husband, James asks the Church to take care of her. The practical implications of the abortion issue are clear; if both the mother and the father abandon their child, even the unborn child, it is the Church’s responsibility to present an alternative and speak up for the child. Proverbs 31:8 admonishes us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who have nothing.” If a man abandons a pregnant woman, the church – NOT the government – should step in and take responsibility there as well.
EXAMPLE FROM SCRIPTURE
Dorcas was a very kind person who always looked out for widows and the poor. It was a great example. In Bible times, when a woman’s husband died, she could not make a living. This condition still exists all over the planet today. The law at the time stated that if a widow’s husband owned land, it belonged to the eldest son, not the dead wife. If the eldest son could not take care of his mother, he had nowhere to turn for help. If she had no son, she still lost her property and could only get it back if her husband’s relative married her. Do you remember the story of Ruth and Boaz? That’s what it was about.
God commanded the Jews to care for the poor. They could not harvest the edges of their fields, but had to leave the grain to the poor people to “harvest” or gather. The owner could not go over the field a second time to collect the fallen grain. It had to be left to the poor.
Every third year the tithe was to be kept as a festive tithe, where all the tithes and crops were brought out, where the Levites, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows, the poor who were in their city could come and eat and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 14:28 -29; 26:12-15).
In the New Testament, there was organized giving within local churches to care for believing widows and orphans who had no other family to rely on (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 5:1-16). As we see in the book of James, those who care for the poor find God’s favor, and those who don’t, He doesn’t.
True, there is NO New Testament example (after Christ’s resurrection) of the early church “tithing”. In Acts 4:32-37 there were many rich Christians who sold some of their possessions and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. Was it for the apostles to get rich? No, it was for the Christian community. The apostles distributed what they received. The only time we find a New Testament example of God’s judgment involving money is in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were convicted of lying because they withheld part of the proceeds from the land sale that they and everyone else had promised. Despite what some preachers say, this judgment had nothing to do with “tithing” and it had nothing to do with keeping their word. Message: Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.
RESURRECTION BASED ON OBEDIENCE
As Heidi Baker said, I believe that if the Body of Christ made it a point to help widows and orphans, it would be asking a blessing from heaven that we could not withhold.
This is true. To be blessed, we must remain blessed. Frankly, I think this is true for civic groups, businesses, and individuals as well. Why else would so many nations—outside of the United States—experience exponential Christian growth in the midst of famine, war, disease, and pestilence? I think it’s because so much money and aid is directed to helping refugees, who are mostly widows and orphans.
Let’s read Acts 6:1-7. It says: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service… My brethren, take care of seven men among yourselves. of sincere meaning, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint to lead this matter, but we continually give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word… and they chose… And the word of God multiplied, and the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a large group of priests obeyed the faith.”
Did you notice? As the church focused on widows, their numbers increased. It’s so simple! You see, the point is: it’s not OUR money. We are merely his stewards, and if we perform our duties well, he asks for God’s blessing. Simply put, this is called reaping and sowing.
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17.
I expect most people reading this right now have some form of religion. Hopefully many of you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I wish it was like this everywhere. But for those who only have religion – even if it is the “religion” of Christianity (not the RELATIONSHIP with God through Jesus Christ) – please ask yourself this question: how pure and undefiled is it? Does it fit James’ description of pure and undefiled religion? Devoted church attendance means very little in comparison.
Although there are those who claim that James 1:27 only applies to those within the Church (specifically His congregation), there are many who will never join ANY Christian group because those groups have neglected to show the hands and feet of Christ in the to widows and orphans in the community.
Again, Jesus has the final word on this topic. In Matthew 25:40 he says, “…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Let’s love each other.
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