A scene from a movie has come to mind a lot lately as I’ve wrestled with this post. Though I haven’t watched it in years, I remember the impact it had on me. It is something that has been a burden on my heart for weeks.
In the scene, a young man, new to church, senses the pointlessness around him. He stands up in the youth group and asks, “What is this? What’s the point of all of this (Christianity) if you’re not going to let it change you?!”
The Uncomfortable Verse in James
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit (to seek out and care for) orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.James 1:27
Let that sink in a moment. James says that caring for the least and not chasing after what the rest of the world is chasing characterize pure religion.
We have a unique struggle, as a western culture, that much of the world does not share. It is individualism.
A quote by MLK says it well, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
I’ve heard many excuses from individualism.
I know God calls us to care for the widow and orphan, but I don’t know any, so I feel like He’s just calling me to be kind to the people in my circle.
Some people can pack up and go to Africa, but I have a family so I can’t be on mission outside of my circle.
For me, I feel when I refrain from cursing at the person who makes me mad it is a big enough victory so I don’t get down on myself for not doing enough.
The Bible says go into the world but it doesn’t really mean I have to go somewhere else than I am already going day to day. It is just serving God in my circle.
These common phrases amongst professing believers have similarities; each revolves around what works best for the individual. They allow us to stay exactly where we are. They all create some kind of excuse and justify ignoring the call of Christ.
My circle is my mission field. There is an error in this statement, and it is this, the focus on my. Do you believe that your mission field is the circle of your favorite and most comfortable places?
Let’s look at some verses on this topic to get a broader spectrum of what the Bible says about the commission in James.
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?James 2:15-16
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.Isaiah 1:17
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.Psalm 82:3
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.Deuteronomy 10:18
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.Isaiah 58:10
The immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.Deuteronomy 14:29b
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Isaiah 58:6-7
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Luke 12:33-34
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”Mark 16:15
The Big Question
Do the above missions of all Believers leave room for a my circle mission field? He says to seek out the orphan and widow, He says learn, defend, and pour yourself out, He says go.
Now, I’m not at all saying those around us are to be excluded from our mission. I am not saying that your duty is not first to your husband/wife and children. I am not saying everyone is called to the same location or vocation. Yet these verses make it very clear that orphan and widow do not mean your circle. Missions is not a trip, nor is it an add-on in our busy schedule, but a lifestyle of looking Heavenward and forsaking temporary pleasures and ease for a greater purpose.
Jesus did not say pure and undefiled religion before God is this–try to be good. Live your life in your circle, with your family, your kids attending your church, working your job in your town and your country, using your gifts to fulfill your dreams. No, everyone is not called to the exact same group of people, but we are all called to the same mission!
Would you be shocked if I told you I know the mission you are called to? I do. Your mission field and mine, Francis Chan’s and your pastor’s, Hudson Taylor’s and the Apostle Paul’s, are the same.
Christian, your mission field is not a circle. Your mission field is a line. It is a path, following after Jesus, that takes you out of the norm. Away from comfort. It may take you across the road or across the world.
Pure and undefiled religion before God is this– going after the least of all people and caring for them physically while pointing them to the one who will care for them eternally. If you are a follower of Christ, reaching outside your circle is a natural fruit of a changed heart.
Wait! One more thing!
Before you start to beat yourself up for not doing enough. Before you dive into serving. Before you go into the slums and start evangelizing. Before you book that one-way ticket. Before you give up your house to live among the homeless. Before you adopt a troubled teen. Before you take a second job to send every extra cent to missionaries in the 10/40 window. Before you risk your life in Somalia. Or become a pastor in Utah. It must be said that in your own effort, you will never fulfill the mission that Christ calls us to. It is impossible in human strength!
First, we must sit at Jesus’ feet and understand our need for His redemption. Otherwise, we will become like Mary, busy about much serving but missing the entire point. If we catch the global vision but miss this, we may be a great humanitarian, but never a missionary. It is only at His feet–and through much preparation in prayer–that we can begin to live out this high calling.
We cannot settle for my circle Christianity. We can’t chase after our own agendas while passing those by whom Christ went out of His way to serve. He loved the orphan and the widow extravagantly. So must we. It takes effort on our part– He says go. We cannot wait for the needy to knock on our car window.
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.Proverbs 21:13
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The wicked also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.Matthew 25:31-46