By Benjamin H. Liles
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble... ~ James 1:27, New King James
He was a lonely man in the hills on the easrtern side of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river. Yes, he may have preferred being around people, we don't know nor are we even told. What we do know is this: "immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:2-5, New King James).
In Matthew 8 we're told it was two men who were possessed (see Matthew 8:28). But in Luke 8 and here in Mark 5 we're told it is definitely one man. I'm not going to go over the differences in the text, because what one person saw may not always be the same as what another man saw.
The point is the man who came down off the rocks off Gadara recognized Jesus for we read, "he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me" (Mark 5:6-7).
We see rather quickly what Jesus has to do with this man. We read, "He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit! And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea" (Mark 5:8, 13).
What we do know is that not only did those pigs go to their death, but these demons knew it wasn't yet their time to be judged. So, in this way Jesus gave mercy to the demons that were being cast out of the man. Imagine that! The Son of God extending mercy, even to demons!
In exact measure as I said I would, this is part 2 of Undefiled Religion. James must have recalled what his brother Jesus did. We read of his words that "pure and undefiled religion...is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble." How hard is it, really, to extend love and mercy to those who need it?
It isn't. Paul says, "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2, New King James, italics mine). He is nothing. Paul says it three times before talking about what love is (1 Corinthians 13:1, 3 as well).
We can do things as we are gifted, both naturally and spiritually, and yet if we do them outside the parameters of love we are nothing. In fact, we have nothing. Isaiah said this, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6, New American Standard, italics mine).
If we go about doing things without the power of God, which is His grace, at work in our lives showing us how to do things in love and to honor Him they are filthy rags. Doing something out of selfish desire doesn't profit you. Done in love and in faith it is of value to you. In a different article titled Rooted and Built Up I wrote: "He talks about being in a union; having a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, reflecting Him and His character, walking in it (not simply talking about it), constantly and consistently growing, being well established in it."
When we do things for others, when done in love, we are more than co-laborers with Jesus the Messiah who has empowered us through His Spirit. The works which manifest themself as the end result or given because we did what He commanded in faith. Let's look at a few examples of this in action.
* "By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:5-6).
* "By faith they [the Israelites] passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned" (Hebrews 11:29).
* "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!" (Acts 3:6). Immediately after Peter says this to the lame man he gets up, walking, and praising God. The result is the people who witnessed what happened through Peter were "filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to" the once lame man (see Acts 3:7-10).
I can give countless more examples but it would exceed what I deem appropriate for article length on my website. The whole point is that everyone who has faith in the power of God--both to forgive and heal, as well as to restore us to Himself--we are never lacking in deeds God allows us to have. BUT it always has to be done in love or else the works which we receive are as filth to Him.
James wrote, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17). This is just something to think over.
Father, in Your holiness I see and recognize I am nothing. Just as I am in doing things outside of love I am nothing, the sins I commit also make me nothing. I'd rather have You and Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy. All of these are ever new and before me in Your presence as well as in Your court. I bow my head to You, my face down. I feel so unworthy of You and all that You do, have done, and will ever do for me. I know I don't deserve it. But I thank You for all You did through Your Son Jesus Christ. From forgiving me of my sins, to casting them off, for conquering death and the grave so that I may also partake in the life that Jesus always had. I thank and praise You for all things. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.