James 1v26-27 26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek word for “religion” is used at all positively. And even here, James is highlighting the very real danger of hypocrisy. The Greek word included the idea of worship, ceremony and ritual. For James, it is possible that we gather as Christians to worship God in our chosen ritual (songs, prayers, Bible readings, preaching etc), but this means nothing to God if we are not careful about our speech, caring for those in need and avoiding participation in the world’s evil. In this, James is totally in line with the prophets of the Old Testament who decried the Israelites for worshipping God in festivals, but not living justly (eg Amos 5v12-15,21-24).
It is a challenge we should reflect on – our true spiritual worship is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12v2). And offering our bodies as living sacrifices means to live lives which are obedient to God and reflect his character.
May God give us hearts which overflow in wholesome speech, compassion for the needy and moral uprightness.
With much blessing,