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God’s Favorite Religion
What does your church teach about the subject of widows and orphans? Honestly, most of us rarely give it a second thought. Or a second sermon. If your ministry, company, or even your civic group is struggling, or you’re feeling unfulfilled in your spiritual life, here’s a tip guaranteed to send any mundane routine into hyperspace. Interested in?
That’s it: start reaching out to widows and orphans in your sphere of influence.
Recently, TV’s 700 Club interviewed Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries, which is experiencing an amazing revival among many African tribes. In Heidi’s words, “If you want to see revival, start ministering to widows and orphans.”
Even the United States, the most powerful and richest country on Earth, lags embarrassingly behind smaller countries when it comes to parenting. While we rank first in the world in military spending and millionaires, we are only 14th in helping orphans. Jesus said, “…that which is esteemed in men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Here are some harrowing statistics about the conditions of children in the Land of the Free and the House of the Brave, presented by the Children’s Defense Fund: Every day, four children die from abuse or neglect, five commit suicide, eight are shot by a gun, and 76 die in died before their first birthday, 182 were arrested for violent crimes, 366 were arrested for drug use, 1,186 were born to teenage mothers, 1,707 were born without health insurance, 2,171 were born in poverty, 2,341 were born to mothers not on 2,455 people were abused or neglected, 2,539 high school students dropped out, and 4,440 children under the age of 18 were arrested.
These statistics will turn the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in his grave. It was he who said in his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865: “Malicious to all, compassionate to all … looking after those who would fight, and his widow and Orphans…”
Today, we find ourselves in a new kind of warfare. As much as we call it the “war on terror,” the truth is, it’s still a war, and that means people are dying. As of this writing, July 8, 2005, there were 1,752 US casualties in Iraq; 210 in Afghanistan, 56 of which occurred in 2005. Are those of us using this opportunity to reach husbandless women and fatherless children? Or do we leave it to the government or say “someone should do something”?
What does the Bible instruct us to do?
There is a verse in the Bible that describes the only true religion, the one taught and exemplified by Jesus—one that has nothing to do with mandatory church attendance or compliance with man-made bylaws. This verse describes the only religion that makes sense and can be found in James 1:27: “The religion that is pure and spotless before God and the Father is this: To visit the orphan and widow in their distress, to keep themselves from Defiled. The world.”
As you may have noticed, Jesus was not a very religious man, he was always at odds with the most religious people of his day, healing on the Sabbath, hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors, etc. The religious part of any belief is nothing more than a return to bondage—obeying the rules and regulations that bind humans—with the aim of becoming the freest creature in the universe. That kind of religion—legalism, self-imposed rules, and self-denial—no one needs or wants. After all, religion is man’s unfortunate attempt to get closer to God. We simply can’t get that high. So, God becomes one of us.
I want everyone to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He’s real, you know that. Jesus declared that he came to set us free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Relationship is what Christianity is all about—reconciliation between God and man and between man and man (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
Look at Colossians 2:23, where religion says this: “These things do have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but have nothing to do with the indulgence of the flesh.”
A verse from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 10:18, reads, “…he does justice to the fatherless and to the widow…” Widows and orphans have always existed. The Bible repeatedly uses widows and orphans as touchstones of need. Clearly, from heaven’s perspective, no one needs help more than a woman who has lost her husband or a child who has lost mom and/or dad. God’s heart was turned to them.
So should ours.
The religions that are acceptable to God are the religions that have the hands and feet of Christ and the body of Christ. Now, it may be more involved, but never less. Regarding James 1:27, the NIV translates the “visitation” of widows and orphans as episkeptesthai, which means: “to care for”. King James translates it as “Visit”. The Good News Bible translates it as “take care”. All these translations are very accurate. It’s not just visiting, it’s not just caring. It’s literally about visiting to help. It’s about taking the initiative to help those in need.
example from the early church
The early church actively addressed legitimate social problems (Acts 6:1; 9:39; 1 Timothy 5:3). This is in line with the Old Testament’s instructions for caring for the needy (Deuteronomy 14; 28, 19; 16:11; 26:12). The example set by the early church has been followed for nearly 2,000 years. For example, Salvation Army founder William Booth described his ministry this way: “We will wash[our sacrifice]in the tears of widows and orphans and place it on the altar of humanity.”
When reading James 1:27 as it might apply to the life problems we face today, it is interesting to note that the two groups that James enjoins us to care for are single women (widows) and children without parents (orphans). The church is not called to choose between the two — as we do with abortion — but to love both. Granted, the most God-honoring solution to that particular problem is to care for both mother and child, rather than making them pawns against each other in a power struggle.
If a child was orphaned, James asked the church to take care of him. If a woman lost her husband, James asked the church to take care of her. The practical implications of the abortion issue are clear; if both mothers and fathers abandon their children, even unborn ones, the church has a duty to propose alternatives and speak for that child. Proverbs 31:8 admonishes us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and bring justice to all the destitute.” If a man abandons a pregnant woman, the church—not the government—must also step in and take responsibility.
example from the bible
Dorgas was a very kind man, always concerned about the widows and the poor. Good example, she is. In Bible times, a woman had no means of earning a living when her husband died. Even today, this happens all over the planet. The law at the time stated that if the widow’s husband owned the land, the land would go to the eldest son, not the deceased’s wife. If the eldest son fails to take care of his mother, she has nowhere to turn. If there is no son, she still loses her property, which can only be reclaimed by her husband’s relatives who marry her. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz? This is that thing.
God instructed the Jews to take care of the poor. Unable to reap the edge of the field, they left the grain for the poor to “gather” or pick up. The owner can no longer go to the field to pick up the dropped millet. It should be reserved for the poor.
Every three years a tithe is kept as a festive tithe and they take all the tithes and their produce and the Levites, strangers, orphans, widows and the poor of their cities can come and eat And eating contentment (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-15).
In the New Testament, local assemblies organized donations to care for believer widows and orphans who had no other family to depend on (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 5:1-16). As we saw in the book of James, those who care for the poor are approved of by God, while those who do not are his displeasure.
Admittedly, there is no New Testament example of “tithing” in the early church (after the resurrection of Christ). In Acts 4:32-37, there are many wealthy Christians who sold some of their assets and put money at the feet of the apostles. Is it for the apostles, to make them rich? No, it’s for the Christian community. The apostles distributed what they had received. The only time we find an example of God’s judgment in relation to money in the New Testament is in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were convicted of lying for withholding some of the proceeds from the land sale they had promised with others. Regardless of what some preachers say, this trial has nothing to do with “tithing” at all, but with keeping a promise. Message: Let your yes mean yes, your no mean no.
revival based on obedience
As Heidi Baker said, I believe that if the body of Christ is focused on helping widows and orphans, it will be blessed from heaven, which is beyond our control.
This is real. To be blessed, we must remain blessed. Frankly, I believe this is true for civic groups, businesses and individuals as well. Why else would so many countries—with the exception of the United States—experience exponential growth of Christians amidst famine, war, disease, and plague? I think it’s because a lot of money and aid goes to help refugees, mostly widows and orphans.
Let’s read Acts 6:1-7. It says: “When in those days the disciples were multiplied, the Greeks murmured against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in their daily service… Beware, brethren, seven men Honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, we may appoint him to manage this business. But we will be constantly dedicated to the ministry of prayer and the Word…they chose…and God the word multiplied; and in Jerusalem the disciples multiplied greatly; and many priests also believed in the word.”
Did you notice? As soon as the church began to focus on widows, their numbers increased. It’s easy! You see, the bottom line is: it’s not our money. We are just its stewards, and if we do our part, it will be blessed by God. Simply put, it is harvesting and sowing.
“He who is merciful to the poor lends to the LORD, and the LORD will reward him for his deeds,” Proverbs 19:17.
I hope most of you who are reading this right now are of some sort of religious affiliation. Hope that many people will have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I wish the same for everyone everywhere. But, for those of you who are only religious – even if it is a Christian “religion” (as opposed to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ) – ask yourself this question: how pure and undefiled is it? Does it fit James’ description of a pure and undefiled religion? Dedication to the church means little in comparison.
Although some claim that James 1:27 refers only to those within the church (especially their church), there are still many who will never join any Christian group because these groups neglect to show widows and women the hands and feet of Christ Orphans in the community.
Once again, Jesus has the final say on this subject. In Matthew 25:40, he says, “…whatever you do for one of my littlest brothers, you do it for me.”
love each other.
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