This familiar verse is not such a bad way to summarize the practical implications of the theology and exhortation that characterize the book of James. Wisdom as the gift of God and as the primary benefit of the believing community is intensely practical. If the "implanted word" of God is able to save souls, then that salvation is evidenced in action that is exercised responsibly in the world. Such action has a double focus. First, it involves avoidance of all that characterizes earthly "wisdom": partiality, conflict, desire, arrogance, and the like. Also, it fulfills the perfect law of liberty exercised in the care of the needy and oppressed, symbolized in the specific reference to the orphan and the widow, the supreme examples of at-risk persons in the first-century world. "Religion" here thus has a very "this-worldly" ring to it. The exercise of godly wisdom on behalf of the poor and needy, to carry out the call to love of neighbor, is the supreme spiritual activity (see James 3:17-18).
27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org