It is one day closer to our first ever Together for Adoption conference here in Pretoria, South Africa. We are hoping God will use this conference to increase our joy in our adoption and spark a theologically driven adoption movement here in South Africa. I began yesterday working through several reasons we are convinced that it is vitally important we as believers reach out to orphans with the love of God. The first reason had to do with the character of God. Here are reasons two and three:
Second, a lack of concern for the orphan and widow is given in the scripture as a mark of wickedness.
In Isaiah one, Isaiah cries out against the wickedness of the people. Israel. God actually tells them he hates their religious activity. He says in verse 16, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove the evil of your deeds from my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice.”
God comes to his people in Isaiah one and he says stop praying until you get something right. Would you be done? I can’t stand all this worship! This religious activity, you need to go back and you need to repent. I’ll tell you what that repentance is going to look like, Isaiah says. Here it is. “Reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” That’s how I’ll know your repentance is genuine.
An old Puritan, Nathaniel Samuelson, who was used by God to establish a network of clinics, hospitals and missions that in fact became the model for William Booth to establish the Salvation Army once said, “Sodom was crushed in divine judgment. Why, asked me? Was it due to an abomination upon abominations such as those perpetuated against the guests of Lot? That’s not the reason the scripture gives. Was it due to wickedness in commerce, craft, in governance and sloth and manufacture? That’s not the reason the scripture gives. In Ezekiel 16:49 scripture says, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom, she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”
It’s one of the main sins we find the prophets coming after the Israelites over and over again for. They are constantly rebuking them for idolatry and injustice. Injustice really reveals a kind of idolatry. As one author has written, the God of Israel “identified himself with the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Thus, when the people of Israel turned their back on Yahweh, they also turned their backs on the poor. Idolatry and social injustice are two sides of the same coin.” You know the people had given themselves over to idolatry. Not that they stopped coming to the temple to sacrifice, they were busy about that, you know they had given themselves over to idolatry by their lack of concern for the needy.
On the other hand, third, concern for the needy is a mark of holiness.
Remember how Job’s friends attacked his character? One of the ways he proved his godliness was by his concern for the orphan. He says in Job 29:4, “I delivered the poor who cried for help and the orphan who had no helper.”
He goes on to say in chapter 31, “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or if I have caused the widow to fail, or if have eaten my morsel alone and have not shared it, if I have lifted my hand up against the orphan because I saw I had support in the gate, let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm be broken off at the elbow.” In other words he says, “I deserve God’s judgment if you can look at my life and see that I didn’t care for the orphan, for the widow, for the vulnerable.”
It’s not just there. Psalm 37:21, “The righteous person is generous and gives.” Psalm 112:5 and nine, “The righteous has distributed freely. He has given to the poor. His righteousness endures forever.” Righteousness in the scripture is not just a negative thing, turning from sin. Righteousness in the scripture is also a positive thing, turning your life to the things that God is intent about.
Even here in James 1:27, it is like we are seeing two sides to what it means to be righteous. There’s visiting the vulnerable and there’s keeping oneself unstained by the world. It’s not either visit the vulnerable or keep oneself unstained by the world. It’s both.
If you knew someone who was caring for orphans and working with the poor during the day but spending his evenings getting drunk and going to clubs; I am guessing (hoping) you would quickly recognize there is a serious problem.
But I wonder if you knew someone who would never enter a club or get drunk or anything like that, but spent his life basically ignoring the needs of the vulnerable around him, who was not willing to sacrifice for the good of the needy if you would see the disconnect quite as quickly.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this:
To visit widows and orphans in their distress
to keep oneself unstained from the world.
It’s and, not or. Our attitude towards the vulnerable reflects our attitude towards God. This is a good test of the reality of our religion because of what we know to be true about the character of God, because of the fact that a lack of concern for the needy is a mark of wickedness and because a concern for the needy is a characteristic of the righteous.