Why adopt children?
Here’s how my wife and I answered that question for ourselves: Our decision should be driven by theology, not biology. It’s one’s theology, after all, that will determine one’s biography. What you believe about God will inevitably shape how you live.
And in biblical theology, we see that adoption was never God’s “plan B.” It was always “plan A.” God’s purpose has always been to adopt a people for himself. He is an adoptive Father. And the church is an adoptive family of brothers and sisters.
So the process of earthly adoption—for Christians—must be grounded in the reality of our heavenly adoption. We’ve been adopted by God, and nothing in us merited it. We can take no credit. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; in love he predestined us for adoption (Eph. 1:3–5).
This perspective should produce humility in every child of God—and transform how we go about the process of earthly adoption.
Do the Word
Humility is the undercurrent of all compassion ministry. We’re to receive with meekness the implanted word—the gospel—day after day. This is how we’re sustained and sanctified. We’re to receive the word, value the word, and do the word (James 1:22).
If we don’t “do the word,” then we call into question the extent to which we’ve internalized it. Imagine I tell my kids to do their chores at the start of a Saturday—giving them careful instruction as to what must be done—and then I come at the end of the day asking whether they’ve done what I asked. “No, Dad, we haven’t actually done the chores,” they reply. “But look! We’ve done an in-depth study on vacuuming, mowing the lawn, and taking out the trash; we’ve even written this informative manual on it for others to read and enjoy!” What do you think I would say to them?
Adoption was never God’s ‘plan B.’ It was always ‘plan A.’
Here’s my point: in today’s world, we don’t have a shortage of information; we have a shortage of application. This is precisely what James addresses in his book. James was concerned that God’s people not merely be hearers of the word of God, but doers as well (James 1:22). So he effectively says, “In case you don’t get it, let me illustrate it for you.”
If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:23–25)
I love how James calls the Scriptures “the perfect law,” “the law of liberty.” The Scriptures set you free; they don’t enslave you. Notice what James says about the one who does the word: “He will be blessed in his doing.” The blessing is in the doing, not merely in the hearing.
The Bible is like a mirror, James says. Most of us look in the mirror every day. Sometimes we don’t like what we see, and we recognize immediate changes that need to take place. Likewise, James is illustrating the purpose of the Bible: as you internalize it, you will be changed.
Charmed and Changed
There are a lot of people who are charmed by the Bible but not changed by the Bible. They have a certain admiration for God’s Word; maybe they even have a big one in their home. They don’t read it, but they do sort of “pet it” now and then. They’re often charmed but never changed.
But here’s the thing about the Bible: It shows us more about ourselves than a mirror ever could. It shows us internal reality. And the purpose is that we would be transformed.
The book of James is deeply instructive for us here. In James 1:26–27, the apostle gives us three practical means of “doing the word”: (1) a controlled tongue, (2) a compassionate ministry, and (3) a clean life.
He then outlines the rest of the book after these three subjects. In chapter two, he talks about compassion, “neighbor love.” In chapter three, controlling the tongue. In chapter four, remaining unstained from the world.
And we should notice how James joins two things that evangelicals often separate: compassion and purity. We tend to migrate to one of these positions. Some groups of Christians are all about being unstained from the world, but they’ve never lifted a finger for the poor. Other groups are all about social ministry but don’t seem concerned with what God says about marriage, for example. But James puts them together.
James puts two things together that evangelicals often separate: compassion and purity.
It’s possible to be about both public compassion and personal holiness. Need an example? See the life of Jesus. He put these two together perfectly. No one was more holy than Jesus, and no one cared for the poor like Jesus did.
James’s goal is to bring his people to maturity. And in highlighting some of these blind spots Christians can have, he’s helpful for us. (See Collin Hansen’s book Blind Spots for more on this idea.)
God as Father
So what is it, then, that James says about caring for orphans? “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).
Notice he adds two words: “the Father.” He didn’t have to say that. He could have just said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God. . . .” But James wants to emphasize the Fatherly nature of God. Why do we care for the fatherless? Because God is a Father to the fatherless. That’s who he is.
The word visit is also loaded, for James means more than simply “stop by for a chat.”
This little word appears in pivotal places throughout redemptive history. In Genesis 21, Sarah can’t have a child, so the Lord “visits her.” Same word. In the Book of Ruth, the people of Israel are starving. So what does God do? “The LORD visits his people” with bread (Ruth 1:6). In Luke 7:16 Jesus goes to the widow of Nain, whose son has died. When Jesus brings him back to life and hands him to his mother, the people exclaim, “The Lord has visited us.”
No one was more holy than Jesus, and no one cared for the poor like Jesus did.
When God visits people, it means he’s getting involved. He’s intervening. This is what James has in mind. In fact, this is the Greek word from which we get a word for “pastor.” To visit the orphan is to shepherd the orphan—to get involved with, to identify with, to care about the plight of the orphan. And we’re to do no less for widows in their affliction.
But why? Ultimately because this is what God has done for us in our affliction. He has come to visit us.
Heartbeat of the Gospel
Jesus told his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18). We’re not superior to the orphan, the widow, or the stranger. No, in the gospel we are the orphan, and God has adopted us; we are the widow, and Jesus has become our groom; we are the stranger with no homeland, and we have inherited the kingdom.
In the gospel, we are the orphan, and God has adopted us.
Ultimately, orphan care is about reflecting the heart of the gospel. And we do all of this as an act of honor to Jesus, who has loved us and come for us. Why do we care for orphans in their affliction? Because God has cared for us in our affliction. He has made us his sons and daughters.
How, then, might we do this practically? I’ll conclude with 21 ways.
21 Ways to Get Involved in Orphan Care
- Pray—”Father, what do you want me to do to help with the orphan crisis?”
- Start small—talk, read, volunteer.
- Support good organizations—such as 127 Worldwide.
- Speak up—orphans are not only powerless, they are also voiceless.
- Be alert and practice hospitality—cultivate sensitivity to the needs around you in your life now.
- Sponsor others in the process of adoption.
- Care for the functionally fatherless—those who have fathers who are present physically but not emotionally or spiritually.
- Provide practical care for adoptive/foster parents.
- Fund adoptions.
- Provide for needs as you hear about them.
- Train leaders.
- Plant churches—planting churches in hard places is one of the best ways we can care for the poor and the marginalized.
- Promote/support in-country adoption.
- Move—go live among the poor and the orphan.
- Visit with purpose; have a plan.
- Provide transitional assistance as orphans “age out” of orphanages.
- Use your vocational skills.
- Fight trafficking
- Prevent orphans—fight poverty and poor education, which often perpetuate the breakdown of the family unit.