“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).
This coming Sunday is “Orphan Sunday.” Our church is joining churches around the country by setting apart the first Sunday in November to focus on the plight of the orphan. However, every Sunday could easily be considered “Orphan Sunday,” since we were all once fatherless until we were adopted into the Father’s family.
John Piper calls the doctrine of adoption, the “heart of the gospel.” He sees caring for orphans as an appropriate outworking of the gospel’s work in us.
I think this is what the apostle James meant when he spoke of “religion that is pure and undefiled.” James mentions religion not in the usual sense to describe it as false, but true religion, a religion that is “faith with works.” Perhaps one of the clearest expressions that the gospel has indeed done its work in us, is that we are doing the work of the Father for the fatherless.
But what does it mean to “visit” the orphan with gospel hope? The Greek word translated “visit” is ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (ep-ee-skep’tes-thai). The great Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson, described it as a “common verb meaning to go to see, to inspect, to have a care for, to have the habit of going to see.”
Understanding the word, “visit,” in the context of gospel hope, implies at least three actions:
- We can see their affliction as God saw ours. We can open our eyes to the plight of the fatherless in our world just as God saw our affliction. According to a recent UNICEF report there are 210 million orphans in the world. Much of them in Africa where AIDS has orphaned 1 in 5 children. We must stop turning a blind eye and take notice of their need. We can look without turning away because Christ did not turn away from our distress.
- We can go to them as God came to us. Certainly “visiting” means not only to open our eyes to their need, but also to go and be with them. God didn’t just see us, He sent Jesus, Immanuel, to be “God with us.” Christ left the glory and riches of heaven to be with us. We must be willing to leave our place of comfort to be with them. In his book, Orphanology, my friend Tony Merida speaks of the impact of going to be with the fatherless: “A burden for orphans often develops by simple exposure to them. If you hold an orphan or visit an orphan, or watch an adopted child grow up in a loving family, then I believe your heart will be moved with compassion.”
- We can care for them as God has cared for us. God didn’t leave us as orphans. He made a way through faith in Christ for our adoption as His children. As Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). We are all called to care for the orphan as Christ cares for us.
What does caring for orphans look like? It depends on how God moves your heart. But be sure of this, God’s heart is for the fatherless and when our hearts are attuned to His, our hearts will beat in rhythm. Here are a few ways you might care for the orphans in our world:
- Consider adoption. There are 130,000 children available for adoption in the US.
- Go to visit them with us locally. We partner with the Baptist Children’s Homes, specifically the Kennedy Hope in Kinston, NC.
- Go to visit them with us internationally. We partner with Caroline’s Promise for our work in Guatemala. We partner with Amazing Grace Adoptions for our work in Uganda. Go with us next summer.
- Sponsor an international child. We partner with Caroline’s Promise and Compassion to help sponsor at-risk children. For around $35 a month, you can change a child’s life.
- Pray for the fatherless and the widow. Find out the facts. See the need. Lift up specific prayers to the Father.
- Give to an adoption fund. Help prospective parents pay the high costs of adoption. Help us set up a fund at our church to help others adopt.
I have seen the face of the fatherless. I have looked into their eyes. They are no longer nameless and faceless. The gospel hope within me moves me to share it with them. Join us.
Let’s visit the orphan with gospel hope.