It is easy for many American Christians today to be deceived about what it means to grow in Christlikeness.
A subtle deception can creep in when you begin to believe that because you’re aware of what’s going on in the Christian subculture, then you are growing as a disciple. But is spiritual growth about knowing the latest and greatest evangelical speakers along with the hottest topics and debates?
For example, we live in a day filled with conferences. You can find at least one per month on various issues in various places. You can go see all the Christian celebrities and have them sign your Bible. As in Paul’s day, you can go see “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18 ESV).
Most of the same guys speak at most of the same conferences that I pay attention to, and you could probably follow them around as conference groupies. Some find it acceptable to do this conference jumping and podcasting instead of being involved in a local church.
Please, understand, I’m not opposed to conferences. And I love many of the big-name preachers today. I know some of them personally, and I thank God for their ministry.
But something is wrong if you think you’re growing spiritually because you can name 10 preachers while at the same time you can’t name 10 orphans. Or, 10 single mothers in need of care. Or, 10 refugees in need of help. Or, 10 of the world’s poor who live on less than a dollar a day.
Are we measuring spiritual growth according to the Bible?
If you want to know if you are living out your faith, here is a good test: “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 ESV).
Of course, this is only one verse. Right, but doesn’t the whole of Scripture testify that one trait of Christlikeness is caring for people the way Christ has cared for us?
And how has He cared for us? When we were spiritual paupers, He gave us great grace. When we were spiritual widows, He became our bridegroom. When we were spiritual sojourners, He welcomed us into His home. When we were orphans, He adopted us into His family.
True spiritual growth involves active love for actual people. Don’t grow content with the idea of love. Love a flesh and blood person in need of your risk-taking, cross-bearing love. This is exactly what James is getting at with the word visit.
This word is used throughout Scripture. It doesn’t mean to drop by for a donut and stay a minute. The root word is the word from which we get a word for pastor. James is urging believers to “shepherd” the orphan and widow.
This verb appears frequently in the Bible in reference to God visiting His people to redeem and encourage them, particularly during pivotal stages of history with the arrival of key redemptive leaders and culminating with the birth of Christ. (See Genesis 21:1, 50:24; Exodus 3:16, 4:31; Ruth 1:6; Matthew 25:36; Luke 1:68, 1:78, 7:16; Acts 7:23, 15:14.) When God visited his people, He was involved in their lives and displayed His grace in their need.
How can you shepherd the orphan and widow? Well, how does God shepherd you? He cares for you; He provides for you; He protects you; He instructs you by his Word; He’s involved in your life.
In regard to orphan care, there are a number of ways to visit orphans in their affliction. Adoption is only one way to address the global orphan crisis. Not all children are available for adoption.
We need believers to
- develop funds
- help with transitional assistance
- build Christian facilities
- care for orphanage caregivers
- adopt orphanages as a church
- proclaim the gospel on missions trips
- and foster children.
We need some who are willing to go plant their lives in a village filled with orphans, who can preach the gospel, and grow those children in the grace of God. And much, much more.
From the overflow of a heart enthralled by the fact that Christ visited us in our affliction, rescuing us from our situation, let’s care for those in affliction. Spiritual growth is not about being famous or knowing the famous—it’s about faithfulness to Jesus.
This article first appeared at NewHopeDigital.com
All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.