One who is serious about his Christianity knows that he must pray, because prayer is commanded. Of course, we understand that the motivation for prayer must be deeper than a mere rote response to a simple command. We pray because we are interested in praising God. We pray for the people of God, and for God’s pardon and protection. We pray that God’s will is done in our lives. The root of these deeper motivations is a fundamental guiding principle that God established, and that Christians must follow: “In this manner, therefore, pray…” (Matt. 6:9).
In James 1, we see the establishment of another fundamental guiding principle, where pure religion is defined in part as visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction. Every Christian presumably wants to have a “pure religion,” and here we see one pathway to accomplish that goal, and it is rooted in how we treat people who are less fortunate than we. The ramifications of this plain instruction in James dramatically comes into focus when read in conjunction with Matthew 25, where the scriptures discuss the final judgment.
It is interesting to me – and very sobering – that in the discussion of Jesus’ second coming, in the context of the final judgment when the blessed are separated from the cursed, that the emphasis is not placed upon how well we followed the rules of Christianity, but how well we treated other people. Now, the scriptures make it very clear that the rules are important and must be followed. Our God is not a trivial God, and he would not have given specific commandments only to have them treated in a trivial manner and followed at our convenience.
We understand, however, that true Christianity is much deeper and more meaningful than merely checking off duties in a rule book. The manner in which we treat other people is of monumental importance, because it determines the destination of our souls. Those who claim that Jesus is not actively interested in our lives are mistaken, because Jesus takes this issue very personally: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”