Your conversion is measured in part by how you respond to the needs of less fortunate brethren in God's Church.
Most members of God's Church can repeat from memory the definition of pure religion. It is found in James 1:27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." This verse gives one of the major criteria by which we can measure our conversion - our dedication to God's way of life. But how well are we fulfilling this criterion personally? Many in God's Church are, for one reason or another, not as fortunate as are others. They are the elderly who are unable to get around as they would like or to take care of themselves without help. They are the handicapped, whose opportunities in life are restricted by blindness, arthritis or some other crippling illness or accident. They are the widowed and orphaned - both physically and spiritually - who are cut off from the normal family ties in which most find encouragement and emotional support. The definition of pure religion takes into account all these less fortunate people. We can measure our conversion in part by how well we respond to others' needs in warm, unselfish concern and compassion.
All ONE Body
Are those Church members who are not physically blessed as much as others any less important? No. God miraculously called every one of us individually, and is preparing each of us for a specific position in His coming Kingdom. He is in control of the circumstances in which we each find ourselves, and is working with us to make us what He wants us to be. But He wants us to be concerned for one another! Developing such godly love is a basic and supreme requirement in qualifying to be a Member of His Family. "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: "And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (I Cor. 12:18-26). God wants everyone He has called to be part of one, unified Body. He wants us to "have the same care one for another." When one of us suffers or meets with unfortunate circumstances, all of us should feel it and respond with positive action. When one of us is honored, we can all share in the happiness and satisfaction. And God wants us to bestow honor on those parts of the Body that, carnally, might seem to be less important or less honorable! He wants us to be giving and outgoing toward each other and to serve cheerfully. We are to take on God's very nature – we must want to be this way. God's way of life, as Herbert W. Armstrong, Christ's apostle, has explained, can be described in one word: give. The way of give is diametrically opposite to the way most of this world lives: the way of get. Giving is outgoing concern, caring, cooperating, sharing, thinking of the other person instead of the self. The give way is the way the Bible teaches: "Let none seek his own advantage but rather that of his neighbor" (I Cor. 10:24, Modern Language Bible). "Neither must each be looking out only for his own interests but also for those of others" (Phil. 2:5, Modern Language Bible). God loves those who live His way of life with zeal - those who give cheerfully (II Cor. 9:7). "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38).
Look for opportunities
As you grow older spiritually, are you becoming more aware of the needs of your brethren? You need to come to the point where you are constantly looking for opportunities to help others. Giving to others – loving them as you love yourself - should become one of the very central purposes of your life. What about the elderly or handicapped people in your congregation? How do you serve them? These people don't necessarily need your expressions of sympathy, and they have little desire to be treated as special cases. Many of them, especially the widowed, may feel a profound sense of loneliness or isolation from everyone else. One of their major needs is simple companionship – the chance to be accepted as part of the group - to feel needed and liked. Are you in the habit of asking the widows and widowers out with the rest of your friends after Sabbath services? Is the Sabbath the only time you ever make overtures to them? Do you feel it is a burden to converse with them sincerely and be really interested in what they would like to say? Would you rather stick with your own little group week after week? Don't leave it up to anyone else to express outgoing concern - show it yourself! God is right now judging you according to how much of His character you are developing. What about visiting those who are ill or who can't always make it to Sabbath services? If the distance is really too far to drive, why not call once in a while and show that you really care about someone who may be about to give up the hope that lies in us because he or she feels unneeded and unwanted? Don't forget those whose mates are not in the Church and may even be hostile to it. This special group of people includes many who need attention and affection given in real Christian love. Many "spiritual widows" and "spiritual widowers" are facing some real trials in their personal lives. Is it too much to ask to just listen to them before or after Sabbath services? Perhaps they would really appreciate talking to someone who genuinely cares and tries to understand. Make them feel like they are welcome to participate in your picnics, special dinners or parties if they so desire. There are some young people, whose parents are not in the Church, who have come into fellowship with God's people at the expense of actually being kicked out of their homes. But Christ promises that "There is no man that
Jesus Christ puts Himself in the place of the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, the lonely, the widows and the orphans! When we serve them, we are actually doing it to our Master and Savior, and He remembers it. On the other hand, failure to open our hearts to such brethren is equivalent to openly rebuking Jesus Christ - He remembers that as well!
hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30). One of the most moving experiences I ever had at a Feast of Tabernacles occurred as a result of just such a case. It seems a young man had come to realize the necessity of keeping God's Holy Days and had told his father, who wasn't in the Church, that he was going to attend this Feast. His father flew into a rage and announced that if he attended the Feast, he would not be allowed to return home. The young man decided to come anyway. When one of the ministers learned about what had happened, he announced it in services, reassuring the young man that he had not really lost his family. "Look around you," the minister said. "Look at all the fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncle's and cousins you have here in this auditorium [there were 7,000 to 8,000 people present]. We all love you and are glad to welcome you into our family." The very next day it was announced in services that dozens of offers had come to the ministry from families willing to take him in and care for him as one of their own. While the Church handles such cases on an individual basis, this is the type of love we all are to have for each other as God's people. This is pure religion.
You will benefit
But don't think that giving your time, attention, friendship and even needed physical help to less fortunate brethren will be an entirely magnanimous act on your part. You are going to reap several rewards. Just as the seemingly "less-honorable" parts of our physical bodies serve vital functions, these brethren offer a needed dimension in the Church of God. Older people, for instance, have years of life experiences under their belts and can offer you much wisdom and .advice for living a successful life. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness" (Prov. 16:31). Converted older people are an indispensable part of the Body of Christ. By looking at life from the viewpoint of handicapped brethren, the rest of us can see how truly blessed we really are. Their handicaps, while helping them build the character God wants them to have, make us appreciate our strengths, just as Paul, through physical weaknesses, became strong spiritually (II Cor. 12:9). And these people's trials provide us with opportunity to pour ourselves out in heartrending prayer that God will help them and intervene soon in this world to abolish all suffering. Those brethren who seem somewhat aloof are in many cases shy or self-conscious, or they feel inferior for some reason. And they may actually be desperately lonely. Befriend these people! Use humility, sincere concern and discretion, and you will make new friends, develop godly traits and provide them with the acceptance they are crying out for. Once you bring them out, you may find they have fascinating backgrounds and tremendous talents waiting to be tapped. These "less fortunate brethren" are one of the Church's richest natural resources, if only we will realize this and begin to mine this gold. By serving in this way we will reap spiritual blessings we may not readily see. "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? "When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:34-40). Jesus Christ puts Himself in the place of the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, the lonely, the widows and the orphans! When we serve them, we are actually doing it to our Master and Savior, and He remembers it. On the other hand, failure to open our hearts to such brethren is equivalent to openly rebuking Jesus Christ - He remembers that as well!
Practice pure religion
True Christians should be looking for chances to serve and help each other as brethren. As Peter said, "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing" (I Pet. 3:8- 9). It is a blessing to be able to serve other members of God's Church! Christ warned that in the end time the lack of compassion and concern for others, so rampant in this dying world, would afflict even some of God's people: "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:12). Don't let this happen to you. To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48), and we in God's Church have been given much. Help those brethren in need. Work to become stronger spiritually, so your brethren can lean on you and rely on you. Then God can use you as a conductor for His Holy Spirit. His love can flow through you to others and be a blessing to them. Look for opportunities to serve and practice pure religion.