Are you religious? The word “religion” seems to have fallen on hard times. The word typically means a system of beliefs. It isn’t the beliefs that have typically caused problems but the inconsistent lives of those who claim religion but don’t live any more righteously than those who have no religious beliefs at all.
In the Book of James there is one of the clearest teachings about religion to be found anywhere. In chapter one and verse twenty-six he said, “If a man seems to be religious and does not control his tongue his religion is useless.” James in a discussion of the use of the tongue said that the tongue no one can tame. We can tame all kinds of wild animals but not the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison. You can’t tame the tongue but you can control it. A religion that doesn’t change one’s way of talking isn’t the real thing.
In the very next verse of James 1 he said, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Religion that is real controls the tongue. It also is active in caring for those who aren’t able to take care of themselves. All through the Bible there are discussions on taking care of the poor and needy. Widows and orphans illustrate the point best of all. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus pictured the judgment by saying those who didn’t take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned didn’t take care of Jesus himself. Jesus identified with the very least of his brothers.
How can one visit the orphans and widows? By taking care of the needs they have. It is in taking and putting feet on the religion. It is important to go to church and worship God. But that is only part of being religious. God’s kind of religion gets out among the hurting to help and to heal.
In the first half of chapter two James talked about one more kind of religion. He talked about going to church and treating the people who come to worship differently based on how much they have and how they dress. He said if someone comes into the assembly dressed well and we tell them how great it is to have them and push them to the front while a poor man comes in and we say to him to sit in the back and hope no one will see him. He said by showing such partiality between people we are judges of evil thoughts. We should be extending mercy and not judgment.
So religion that is worth having affects our use of the tongue in a good way. It leads us to help those who hurt, visiting the orphans and widows by providing the care they need and it treats all people with kindness and respect, looking deeper than outward clothing to decide who and what a person is. A religion that has these three elements is great with God and healthy to mankind.