The English word, ‘from’, is a preposition. It denotes separation, as in “get away from me. Stay away from there. The word can also denote origin, as in “I am from Philadelphia” or, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Related to origin, the word from has also been used to indicate causation, as in, “that stain is from ketchup”, or “the fermentation comes from the leaven.” This being the case I wonder what Jesus’ little brother James meant when he wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27, NKJV)
I believe some see James’ words here as a warning to the church to be separate from the world. Some take this along with James’ later words that “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, NKJV) and use it to argue that Christians should have no part in the affairs of this world. This demonstrates, they believe, that Christians are to be separate from “secular” cares and issues of the world. This has resulted in a worldview that attempts to separate the spiritual realm from the physical realm. The silence of many of our churches on the pressing issues of the day would seem to suggest that this is indeed, how they feel. How often do we come across “blessed and highly favored” Christians who are non-committal when it comes to taking a stand against poverty and the oppressive systems that perpetuate it.
Many see this as a call to personal piety, a challenge to live a sinless life. They see James words here as calling Christians to stay away from the defiling practices of the world. We should be beyond reproach in our speech and action. Some would say that we are to be so pure as to be unassailable even by the very world we would not have as friends. We are to be beyond reproach! While I believe that these understandings of James’ words make it easy for Christians to live peacefully in an oppressive and unjust society, I have a different understanding of what the Lord’s brother is saying to the church.
What James is really calling the church to do is not be separate but different. James is saying in essence, “Don’t let the world put its mark on you”. Pleasing God is not about the tongues you speak in, it is not about the buildings you build, it is not about, “enlarging my territory”, or just being concerned about my own small little world. Pleasing God is about living in this world like those who know and follow the one who “resists the proud”. The religion that pleases God, that form of worship is not about three services on Sunday, or waiting for your “breakthrough”. James’ admonition is not to let this world’s materialism, and classism creep into your churches and your theology. Do not let the world put its mark on you!
James actually challenges us to put our mark on the world. James calls us to action, to look after, to be proactive in helping the poor, the disadvantaged, and the disenfranchised. James challenges Christians to see these people not as “them” but as “us”. The challenge for those who really want to please God is to do more than just sing Zion’s songs, and shout, and be “slain in the spirit”. Our challenge is to act, our challenge is not only to be unspotted by the world, but to leave our mark on it. It is no wonder then why James makes his great argument about faith without works being dead.
No the word “from” is not about separation here. It is about action, it is about standing up to the status quo and being willing to reach out and
Make A Difference . . . . For Life.