If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.—James 1.26,27Recently on Facebook, I posted the above verse on my personal page, and the question was raised, “What does it mean to keep oneself unstained by the world?” It produced a lot of responses, but as I’ve thought about it, I’m convinced that our definition of “worldliness” has too often been far too shallow.
You see, in this world, there are really only two principles striving for the mastery. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but it really is this simple: self-centeredness or other-centeredness. Each is awakened by its own demonstration. Each grows exponentially based on its own expression. They are both contagious and grow very rapidly once set in motion.
Anyone who has followed the messages of Renewed Heart Ministries closely is already familiar with the concept that “by Love is Love awakened” (Desire of Ages, p. 22). I’m reminded of the now-famous story of how a single customer at a Starbucks during a holiday season, early in the morning, paid for the coffee of the person in line behind him, and how that continued all day long until closing, each person paying for the next. Each was “paying it forward,” so to speak. (I know coffee isn’t good for you; don’t miss the point of the story, though!) Love awakens love. This is a small example of the universal principle that John the beloved shared with us in his letter: “We love, because He first loved us.” —1 John 4.19
However the opposite is also true: by selfishness is self-centeredness awakened . Out of self-preservation when we encounter selfishness in others, it is very easy for us then to protect and focus on ourselves.
To live “in the world” but not be “of the world” (John 17:14, 15) is quite possibly the greatest challenge for those who believe in Love. To remain a source of other-centered love in the world, to pass love along in the face of a world almost wholly “self” preoccupied is what it means to keep one’s self stained by the world. It means to refuse to allow self-centeredness to become our focus but to follow the Lamb, to embrace the principle of the Cross, to remain, in a world where iniquity (self) abounds, but to be instead, other-centered. “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end [whose love endures to the end], he will be saved.” —Matthew 24.12, 13.
Now that we understand what it means to remain unstained by the world, how do we do it? Well, we really need to understand that we, alone, cannot do it. What we need is something outside of ourselves to accomplish it for us. We need something greater than ourselves. We need a love that so far eclipses this world’s selfishness that it continues to awaken and keep love alive in us. Thus, quite simply, we keep our eyes on the Great Lover of the Universe; we keep believing and focusing on how much He loves us, and His Love does the rest.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. —Ephesians 5.1, 2
I wish you God’s best during this holiday season.