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Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
The word that James uses here for “pure” is the Greek word katharos, and it means “clean or unmixed.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 498) This kind of purity is not mixed with anything nor tainted with anything but clear and clean. It would be like looking at a glass of water from an area that has unclean water. If one swirls the glass, he can see little particles floating around in the bottom, unlike bottled water that is pure and clean. Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure (katharos) in heart, for they shall see God.” James and Jesus are saying the same thing. In the Bible, “pure” can specify what is clean in a physical sense. However, the word in other contexts can apply to what is uncontaminated, i.e., not adulterated, stained or dirty, or corrupted, in a moral and religious sense. Jesus said in Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
The Greek word for undefiled is amiantos, and it means “undefiled, free from contamination.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 650) The word carries with it the idea that there is nothing within the inner person of a Christian, which defiles or stains him. Therefore, James is saying that the first criterion is to see if one’s worship is pure and undefiled, is in the way that they use their tongue. Then, the second criterion has to do with the tongue and our actions toward people. Keep in mind, James is not giving an exhaustive list here of what pure worship should be. In other words, there are more requirements than just taking care of widows and orphans and keeping oneself unstained by the world. When listing things, no one ever gives an exhaustive list. It is usually three or four examples, and the inference is things like these. Pure worship is more than mere formalism, such as following some basic rules or attending meetings regularly. Instead, pure worship is that worship, which gets down to the inner person and encompasses his entire life, including his love of God and neighbor. – 1 John 3:18.
James then gives what God would consider pure and undefiled worship to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. James here is showing that true worship is more than just living by some basic Bible rules and going to Christian meetings. But it involves actions. James mentions two particular groups of people who would have been very significant in his day. He specifically mentions the orphans and the widows who should be of particular interest to those who claim to have pure worship. It is the actions of Christians who are willing to help those like orphans and widows, who are truly right in God’s eye because their actions show forth their true belief. It would have been the orphans and the widows who would have been the most rejected and most unlikely to survive the conditions in which they found themselves.
James specifically mentions that these people were to be visited in their times of distress. The word in Greek used here for distress is thlipsis, which means “pressure or a pressing together.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 17) James is not saying they were to be helped when they had no more troubles, but rather it was in the midst of their problems. They were to be helped as they were going through the pressures of life that were coming against them. This could include clothing, feeding, and give them shelter, and show the love of Christ to them. James echoes what John wrote in I John 3:16-18, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” Several Scriptures point to the fact that God has a great concern for the orphans and widows.
This is the third and final criterion James presents to Christians to see if their worship is true. The first criterion dealt with their speech, the second dealt with their actions, and now this third test deals with their integrity before God, in the fact that they were to keep oneself unstained by the world. The word “unstained” means “spotless” or “without spot.” James is saying that the one who is truly religious, pure in worship, will keep himself from being spotted and tainted by the evil and the wickedness of this world. To be stained by the world would be to allow the sinfulness of the world to engage in the evil desires of the flesh. To be stained by the world is to engage in the wicked practices that it has to offer. The word “world” here is a reference to humankind that is alienated from God, who is “lying in the power of the evil one (i.e., Satan).” (1 John 5:19) A Christian should stand out from those using Satan’s world fully. (John 17:14) Are we truly separate from the violence and corruption of the world, which would also include our entertainment? Have we adopted any of its attitudes, speech or conduct that would not be in harmony with the will of God? (Matt 7:21-23) Paul warns Timothy,
2 Timothy 2:20-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
It is important to note that James says, “keep oneself” from being stained by the world, which signifies that sinning or being polluted by the world is always a personal act of the will. It is the personal responsibility to actively resist the evil desires of the flesh that the world has to offer. Paul said to the Christians in Rome,
Romans 12:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
The sacrifice that Christians regularly make would be beyond anything that unchristian people would usually consider. Yes, Christians evidence that gratefulness by a life of self-sacrifice. It is toward this that we have made our minds over.
 See Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:28–29; 16:11; 24:17; 26:12; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:8–10; Malachi 3:5; cf. Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:16
 Lit the reasonable (or rational, logical) service of you
 Or well-pleasing