“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 1:27
When I think of the word “visit” I am flooded with childhood memories. I recall sitting on my granny’s porch swing with my sister and cousins eating the grapes we had just picked straight off of the vine. We didn’t have a care in the world; we would just sit and visit. Our comfortable American mindset can alter so many images from scripture and the use of “visit” in James 1:27 is definitely one example.
The Greek word that James uses to portray “to visit” is a lot weightier than sittin’ on the porch shootin’ the breeze at Grandma’s house. (Yes, I am from Kentucky, so I can write sittin’ and shootin’ in a blog entry.) The Greek word “to visit” is episkeptomai – and it appears 11 times in the New Testament. It means “to visit, investigate, to supervise, to oversee, have regard for, to examine closely, and to invest in.”
Look at a few other examples of episkeptomai used in the New Testament:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” Luke 1:68
“After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ ” Acts 15:36
Hebrews 2:6 quotes Psalm 8:4, “But one has testified somewhere saying, ‘What is man that you remember him? Or the son of man that you are concerned about him?’”
“I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.” Matthew 25:36
There are a few common characteristics when examining the use of the word episkeptomai. This type of visiting is thought out, planned well in advance, and very intentional. The relationships built out of episkeptomai are consistent and enduring. Humility and selflessness are necessary. Finally, episkeptomai requires action; we cannot sit idly and live out the kind of visiting that James is talking about. It is not accomplished by sitting on the porch swing.
Let’s examine Luke 1:68 using these characteristics:
Christ’s visit to Earth was planned out from all eternity. His coming was intentional and had the greatest purpose for those of us who believe. The relationships built through Christ coming to Earth are eternal. There has never been nor will there ever be a better example of humility and selflessness. It would have been impossible for Christ to fulfill his mission for mankind while staying in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. His mission required action. It was necessary for him to come visit us.
Now, let’s look at James 1:27:
Different translations use words such as “to help in their time of need,” “to care for,” and “to look after.” Visiting orphans and widows cannot be done haphazardly. There needs to be a long-term plan, and the relationships need to be long-lasting and intentional. So much damage has been done in the realm of international missions by good-hearted people who just wanted to contribute, but they didn’t understand this concept of planning.
Currently, less than 4% of American Christians will ever go on a mission project. The bar is being raised, though. Sitting in the comfort of our own homes and sending a few dollars a year to a reputable organization to relinquish the conviction that we need to do more is no longer an option.
Pastor Steven Cole says, “To show James 1:27 kind of concern for the orphans and widows requires that person take his focus off of himself and his needs and think about others and their needs. When God’s word takes root in our hearts, it shifts our focus from self to others.”
We are all called to invest in the lives of people less fortunate than we are. This central theme is woven throughout scripture. Examine your current role and how you can become more involved in what God is doing throughout the nations concerning the poor. How are you contributing? How can you be more involved?
If God has blessed you with a time of singleness, how can that time be most effective for His kingdom?
If you desire to be more involved or to learn more about the James 1:27 lifestyle, I would love to serve as a catalyst and help you discover the answer to those questions.
*Photo credit: embemama