"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14).
Our English word "visit" has come to mean a social call, but not so in the Greek where it can mean to inspect, to look upon in order to help, or benefit.
For example, when Christ said "sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not" (Matthew 25:43), He had in mind more than a social call. The prisons of the day were miserable places, with no amenities whatever. Prisoners desperately needed help from the outside. Paul wrote to Timothy from his Roman prison: "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee" (II Timothy 4:13). By better understanding the word "visit," Christ's teaching takes on a richer meaning involving more the idea of a personal commitment.
The events surrounding the birth of the Messiah were considered a "visitation" by Zacharias when he prophesied over the baby Jesus: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people . . . the dayspring from on high hath visited us" (Luke 1:68,78). After Christ raised to life a dead boy, the people exclaimed, "a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited His people" (Luke 7:16).
In that light consider our text for today as James explained to the church leaders Paul's ministry to the Gentiles. With our expanded understanding of the word "visit," we could now expand the verse to read, "how God for the first time did look upon the Gentiles, in order to help them. In doing so He took out of them a people for His name." God, in His grace, has done all that was necessary to help us, to bring us out of bondage to sin, and to stamp on us His holy name. JDM