If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26–27, ESV)
In characteristic “Jamesness” the author is blunt and to the point in today’s passage. He simply says, “If you can’t control your tongue, your religious beliefs are worthless.” James will elaborate on empty professions of faith and the abuse of the tongue in coming chapters, however it is a very interesting biblical principle that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our conversations and the words we choose reflect what’s inside.
On the other hand, a profession of faith deemed pure before God is one that has moved beyond talk -- it gets its hands dirty. Genuine faith gets involved in meeting the needs of other people. The two groups singled out here: orphans and widows. God has always had a special place in his heart for those without parents or a husband to care for them because in ancient culture (and today, especially orphans) they had no means of providing for themselves (Psalm 68:5(. God placed the onus on his people to care for the oppressed and helpless. The word translated “visit” actually means more than stopping by and saying “howdy.” It can also be translated: to care for, to bring justice to, and to concern oneself with.
God is calling us to a full-fledged involvement in living out our faith. The ability to recite doctrinal creeds and argue fine theological points is fine, but if your faith doesn’t have hands and feet, it’s simply empty. More to come in chapter 2!