James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world
I saw a picture of a mother and her young son walking through Tiananmen Square in Beijing China, wearing surgical masks over their mouth and nose. The title of the news story was “Face Masks Provide False Hope against Pollution”. On the day this picture was taken, the levels of pollution were above 750 micrograms per cubic meter, a number 16 times higher than the World Health Organization’s limit. These surgical masks do almost nothing to prevent harmful air pollutants from contaminating their bodies, as surgical masks were created to decrease the risk of the wearer spreading disease, not to protect them from pollutants. For athletes in polluted cities, this is far worse. A Hong-Kong ultra-runner ended up in the hospital after a 6-hour training run. He was diagnosed with exercise-induced bronchitis, given an inhaler and prescribed heavy antibiotics to expel fine particulate matter in his lungs. The obvious solution is to decrease the pollution, or to move. But since an athlete in these cities likely has little effect on improving the environment they are training in, and moving may not be realistic, many have turned to medical experts’ next recommendation of wearing N95 masks. These masks have industrial type filters, which protect athletes from the damaging effects of pollutants – often more damaging than smoking cigarettes.
While the issue of air pollution may not have been relevant in Biblical times, the theme of impurity and defiling is a frequent one. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for polluted is niddah, meaning impurity, especially from a personal perspective. The equivalent New Testament Greek word is aspilos, meaning: “unspotted, unblemished, pure, or clean”. This word aspilos is the one used in today’s key verse in James 1:27 where we are admonished “to keep oneself from being polluted (unspotted) by the world”.
How do we as Christians keep ourselves from being polluted by the world? Should we remove ourselves from the situation or, in this context, the world? Perhaps we can create a commune somewhere in a remote area of the countryside with fellow believers to keep ourselves pure. But in John 17:15-16 Jesus prays for his disciples and says “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” So, if removing ourselves from the world isn’t the answer, what is? I believe we can do two effective things to keep ourselves pure in an impure world.
One is that we can limit the impurities. In this media age, we can fill our minds with messages that are contrary to God. Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, wrote in 1863 “Der Mensch ist, was er Isst.”, meaning “A man is what he eats”. This pertains to spiritual matters as well. If we fill our minds with messages contrary to God, then we should not be surprised if we become impure and struggle with sin. A second effective answer for Christians is to put on a spiritual mask, one fitted with the filters of the Holy Spirit. If we spend time communing with Jesus, reading the Bible, listening to Godly music, the Holy Spirit will be finely tuned, and we will be able to filter the pollutants of the world. As we are exposed to things in the world, we will know what is of God and what is not, and we will be able to “keep ourselves from being polluted by the world”. Are you running with an effective spiritual mask, or running in a polluted world without protection?