James 1:27 NLT
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father; means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
James 1:27 is perhaps the most used bible verse regarding adoption. If you do a single search engine query you will bring up dozens of pages about this verse. It has become the landing page for hundreds of adoption agencies, blogs, Question, and Answer sites, it’s amazing. To try to break it down for you I started by doing simple searches. I’m by no means a bible scholar but I think I can give a little insight into this verse. A calling is described as a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation. For my husband and me, this feels exactly what adoption is for our family. In some ways, we have moved into adoption and subsequently foster care, due to a calling. We went begrudgingly at times and felt it was simply a matter of obedience in other cases. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t blessed or happy about the matter, it simply means we had a long and valid list of responsibilities and reasons not to follow what God was calling us to do.
For us, adoption was not a calling placed on our lives at an early age. I’m continually mesmerized by the stories of God’s calling on some adoptive families’ lives at such a young age. I don’t doubt the experience, I think it’s wonderful, it just wasn’t our experience. We were called much, much later in life. After experiencing infertility, a falling away from God, and His sweet and gentle ways of drawing us back in. The calling was strong. In some ways, we would have never made it this far without his calling, constant urging, and occasional nagging.
The bible is a miraculous guide. It never ceases to amaze me that stories, verses, experiences are written so long ago remain relevant to today’s world. How one day you can read a verse and because of your experience it means one thing, the next day your perspective changes and it touches your soul in a completely different way. How you can be sharing an experience with someone and it rings true to you in one way, them in another. So this begs the question then, is every Christian affected and pulled by this verse called to adopt? It has been suggested by many authors of the various articles out there, that perhaps the verse expands beyond adoption. While adoption is a beautiful and wonderful calling, it simply doesn’t fit for everyone.
God calls us throughout the bible to care for orphans and widows. He wishes all of his believers to take care to protect the most vulnerable. In Ephesians 3:14 he states that orphans and widows lose the support system of their families, especially their main supporters- fathers and husbands. So breaking that down a bit, we certainly wouldn’t legally adopt a widow. Correct? In some translations of James 1:27 and adoption, it encourages us to visit and care for orphans and widows. “Visit” is an interesting word that means to go to see and spend time with. It’s getting a bit more complicated, right? To go see and spend time with doesn’t seem like you should pack that person up, bring them home and make them a member of your family. See, God’s word, fascinating.
Let’s take a bit to look at the word orphan. A dictionary definition explains orphan as a child that’s parents are dead. I’ve adopted three children and they certainly weren’t orphaned in that they lost their parents to death. And yet, their parents chose to place them for adoption or were unable to parent due to extenuating circumstances. Some Christian sites suggest that orphan is an all-encompassing word for the vulnerable. This would certainly include parents that have become truly orphans by the death of their parents, children at risk of being aborted, children taken from their homes due to abuse and neglect, and children whose parents are just not ready to parent at this time.
For me, the expansive definition of orphan care rings true. The problems that exist in today’s world and lead to the majority of children leaving their homes and becoming adoptees is vastly different than the issues that occurred during the time that the bible was written. But the facts are there that God has always been a fan of adoption. It’s sprinkled throughout the bible in various verses and contexts. In Isaiah 1:17 he urges us to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” The bible makes it seem simplified though I’m sure there was more legality than just choosing this person to become this person’s child.
As we continue to dig a bit deeper into this seemingly small verse, James encourages us to “resist letting the world change you.” The ASV (American Standard Version) says this. “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Pure religion has an outward message meaning the external evidence of inward piety; that is, worship as expressed in ritual acts. Basically, James is saying that our beliefs will not be pure of heart if we do not learn to hold our tongue. We must engage in pure religion by living by example. No complaint, hearsay, gossip. He wants our words and actions to be reflective of our pure hearts. No pressure.
James 1:27b asks us to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Holy living, coupled with service to others is key. Now we are back to responsibility again. This inward calling asks us to serve others by visiting them in their afflictions. To take care of ourselves, as well as, others. He encourages us to look beyond this world, into eternal life. To strive to keep ourselves without being tainted or dirtied.
So, is adoption a calling or a responsibility? We’ve already covered calling, let’s see how the world defines a responsibility. Responsibility is the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or having control over someone. Whether it’s a calling or a responsibility it can feel heavy at times. Even if you feel called to adoption it can still feel like a huge responsibility at times to get through parts of the process. Adoption is a beautiful gift, it’s also filled with pain, hurt, and frustration. Perhaps that’s why it’s important for James to remind us that we need to have pure hearts and be careful with our words and actions. He knew that there would be times we would struggle with it all and need the encouragement.
On his blog, JasonJohnson.com, Jason Johnson a foster/adoptive parent and proponent of foster care and adoption, encourages us to look at every angle of the verse. Perhaps adoption is not your calling. Perhaps you are called to foster children and love them deeply and purely until they move to their permanent home through adoption. Perhaps you’re called to start a non-profit organization that helps families of adoption, or widows, to continue to live in their homes, remain independent and secure. God places callings and responsibilities on us for varying reasons.
I think we’ve all seen the sign that says If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, sponsor, and so on. It’s important to note that we are not all cut out for one path, all the steps are important. Perhaps at this point adoption takes on a broader, more universal definition. There are many ways to help and support orphans and widows. To support adoptive families that have been called to take in children, raise them, love them, support them.
Whatever your role or calling in the care of orphans it is important. God would not call you if he didn’t believe there was a purpose for what he’s placed on you as a responsibility. After all, we are responsible for others. He reminds us in Galatians 3:24, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” In order to fill this command in our life, we have to first love ourselves. Only then are we able to follow the command he places on us not once, but eight times throughout the bible. I’m sure this is not as simple as it may seem. After all, it’s in our human nature to be selfish and self-centered. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. How far do we take this? I’m guessing that God would tell us “all the way.”
Like most stories in the bible, I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to the question. I am guessing that most people that read James 1:27 and adoption process it at face value. It wasn’t until I started reading article after article that I realized that maybe there was something more there. Perhaps this verse is a calling to some, and a responsibility to others. I tend to lean that if you are feeling the call of adoption placed on your heart and you come searching for confirmation, you will find it. Coupled with prayer it’s a fool-proof process of deciphering whether you are called, responsible, or both.
I believe for our family the lines have blurred between calling and responsibility. I know that there are days when it all seems like a gift and a blessing, and moments when it can feel heavy like a burden. In these moments he sends James to remind us gently, that we need to be able to control our tongue. I think it’s easy to use pure thoughts and motivations when life is going well. Perhaps not as easy to contain our words and emotions when things get hard. When we get bogged down in the hard parts I tend to turn to God’s word. And prayer. I have to remind myself over and over that just because something in life is hard, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Jeremiah 29:11 covers this succinctly. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not and harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Amen. In our home, this has meant the blessing of children and family. For you, it may mean a dream job, or business, or home. But it’s a promise that He will take it all and use it for our good. It took me many years to trust in that. So now, when things seem bleak and hopeless, I pray. I trust him in the outcome. I’m not saying it’s easy, I still have my human nature. My nature loves control, and it’s a hard pill to swallow to know that I have no control. This brings out other emotions. Sadness, fear, anger. Usually, all at once which is an awesome little storm to navigate. But then he comes through the storm, plucks me up, and shows me his promises once again.
James 1:27 and Adoption
I pray in this process you learn to lean on God. Read and reread this verse. Break it down, do some research yourself. God’s word is ever-changing. I believe he brought you here as a first step, or maybe it’s your last. Whether adoption becomes your calling or your responsibility, I know that it will bring you great joy. Perhaps your calling and responsibility will go hand in hand. When things are hard, turn once again to James 1:27. Lean on him to help you guard your words and actions. Guard your heart and live in pure religion while not allowing the frustrations of the world to muddy your character.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.