Supposedly the cheap soaps used in dishwashing machines leave water spots on glassware. Cascade® brand dishwashing soap accurately claims that it leaves no water spots. When dishes are washed using that soap, they generally come out thoroughly clean. We need a spiritual Cascade® in our lives.
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. (Jas 1:27)
What is the spiritual dish soap that will keep us “unspotted from the world?” We might say that it has three ingredients.
We can not keep ourselves from water spots by ourselves. Just as a dishwasher needs soap to help remove spots, we need prayer to help us stay unspotted from the world. The only source of that help is God, and the means by which we request it is prayer.
James was a firm believer in prayer. If he was indeed the brother of Jesus, as many scholars believe, then perhaps his insistence on prayer was a reaction to his former unbelief in the Messiahship of his brother. If he had prayed more when younger, perhaps he would have accepted Jesus as the Messiah earlier. In any case, he says that the wisdom that God gives, which will help us avoid the spots of the world, comes by prayer. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (Jas 1:5) This verse even contains a kind of paradox. If you lack wisdom, pray; and God will give you what he has already given everyone. If God gives wisdom liberally to all, how can anyone not have it? Only by having laid it aside. But even then we can go back to God and say, “that wisdom you gave me—I lost it. Please sir, may I have more?” Unlike the master of the poorhouse in Oliver Twist, God will give more, and abundantly, no matter how many times we lose our previous allotment of wisdom.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (Jas 5:13-16)
Prayer is appropriate in times of affliction, sickness, and sin. It will raise our spirits, heal our illnesses, and heal us of sin. When afflicted by the world we may be spotted with bruises. The bullies of the world do not like us because we show them what righteousness is, and they are ashamed by the sight. So they bruise us; they give us the spots that they know how to give. Yet prayer will deal with those spots. Even if it doesn’t remove the bruises from the flesh, it keeps the soul unspotted. Many of us have been spotted by measles or chicken pox. Some in this world are spotted by AIDS, or (even in my home state) plague, or countless other diseases. Prayer again reduces those spots. Sometimes God may not cure the physical illness, but will strengthen the soul. Most importantly, when we find the spots of sin threatening our spiritual well-being, prayer will remove them more surely than the best dishwashing soap.
There was a company that made bicycles. In each box they placed all the necessary parts. Amateurs would open the box, pour out the contents, and try to figure out how to put them together. Maybe, after frustrating hours of fruitless labor, they would read the piece of paper taped to the front of the frame in each box. The paper contained a simple admonition. “If all else fails, follow the directions.” How do we know what God wants of us, unless we read and study his word?
Paul told Timothy, “All scripture inspired of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17) This is just another way of saying that God’s word is the Cascade® of the soul. Look at some of the words he uses. Doctrine teaches us what “unspotted” is. Reproof and correction are designed to remove the spots that had already marred our brightness. Instruction in righteousness helps us stay unspotted. Complete and thoroughly furnished represent the condition of being unspotted.
I will grant that Paul was probably talking specifically about the Old Testament scriptures. However, whether he knew it or not, his writings and others also qualify as “all scripture.” The gospels and Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation are at least as important as the TaNaCh (the Law, Prophets, and Writingsi.e., the Old Testament) in guiding us toward being unspotted.
In another place Paul tells us not to be drunk with alcohol, “but be drunk with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) Later in the same letter he tells the Ephesians that that Spirit is the word of God. (Eph 6:17) My experience with those who are filled with alcohol indicates that they are often spotted. Many times this includes spiritual filthiness, but it can be manifested in physical spots of dirt, bodily excretions, and vomit. Paul says not to be like that. Instead, being drunk with the word of God removes spots. It leads to such fruit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self control.” (Gal 5:22-23) Only through study of God’s word do we achieve these; only through study can we know what it is to be clean of spots.
Several years ago I helped coach a San Diego, California, Special Olympics Track Team. During one meet I was on the infield of the track at the final turn, waiting with my group for our first event. The mile competition was being run. On of our team’s older athletes was on the track, and so I cheered him on each of the four times he past the corner where I was standing. After he finished the race, he came up to me and gave me a hug. “Coach,” Frank said, “I was ready to quit on that last lap, but then I heard you cheering me on. I couldn’t quit. I finished the race, and set my personal best time for the mile. If you hadn’t been standing here, I wouldn’t have finished the race.”
Sometimes life is like that mile. We are ready to quit, ready to give in to water spots. But then somebody else says, “You can do it!” Somebody else may say, “I have been there. I’ll help you through.” We need other people. That is why God saw fit to establish the church.
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another.” (Heb 10:24-25) What is the purpose of our assembly, our fellowship together? This writer says that it is for encouragement. Not just any encouragement; encouragement to keep oneself unspotted. While the assembly of the church does participate in worship to God, the primary purpose appears to be uplifting one another. Paul said that was one of the primary reasons we sing together. “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Col 3:16) We sing praise to God, but we also sing encouragement and correction to each other. Otherwise, we could sit at home and worship God. But that is not what he wants.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2)
Here Paul specifically addresses the need for fellowship in keeping the spots at bay. By oneself, it is easy to err unknowingly. Over time a person may start doing things that he can justify to himself. If he has to justify himself to others, he must examine himself more closely. Furthermore, another person may be able, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos, to expound “to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26)
This kind of fellowship should notmust notbe limited just to the assembly of the church. We spend far more time in the world than in the assembly. That is the time we need the fellowship more. How often are we tempted during the assembly of the church? How much more often are we tempted outside the assembly! In America especially, we have relegated our fellowship with others of like faith to a few hours on Sunday and maybe an hour or two during the week. We need that brother or sister on the unexpected corner, shouting encouragement. Otherwise we give in and get spotted.
These three methods for keeping unspotted may be progressive, or they may be equal in value. Without prayer and study, fellowship tends to lose its power. Without fellowship, one may miss something in God’s word another will see. Prayer is a collective and individual thing, both at the same time. We need all three ingredients to make up our Cascade® for the soul.