The most memorable and helpful preaching and teaching I have heard is always the most practical. All the theories in the world mean very little if I cannot translate them into every-day living. That’s why I appreciate so much preachers and teachers who can not only lay out general principles, but can help me carry them out with specific applications.
The New Testament epistle of James has been called, “A book of Practical Christianity.” Over and over again, James provides helpful, realistic techniques for actually living the Christian life, and he does so in a very practical way. Consider the following:
1. How to Pray: James provides an Old Testament example (Elijah) of prayer actually working, and outlines several specific things for which we Christians should be praying. That includes praying for those who are sick and afflicted (5:13-18); praying for wisdom (1:5-8); and praying for the necessities of life (4:1-10).
2. How to Handle Temptations: James explains that some temptations can actually prove to be a blessing, when handled correctly, (1:2-4). He provides a detailed schematic of the temptation process, and who it is that is actually temping us to sin (1:12-18). He shows us that handling temptations successfully requires the development of patience, and provides several examples of patience at work, like the patient farmer, and the patience of Job (5:7-11).
3. How to Control the Tongue: James does not merely command us to control our tongues, he patiently explains that this is an area in which all of us struggle. He explains why the tongue is so dangerous, and how its misuse can do such great harm (3:1-12). When we really stop and consider what James is describing here, we have a fighting chance of controlling our tongues.
4. How to Control the Temper: Closely related to controlling the tongue, James explains the need to control emotions like our temper. He does this by showing how losing our temper can hurt us and the cause of Christ (1:19-27). He mentions our religion, and he explains what that actually is: taking care of those less fortunate, like widows and orphans. Upon reflection, it becomes obvious that we cannot properly provide care to those in need, if we are out of control ourselves. There is a proper sequence, and a practical progression to Christianity.
5. How to Get Along With Others: Getting along in various social classes of society requires the practical understanding that “all flesh is as grass.” Each of us is only here for a little while (1:9-11). James does not only condemn prejudice or respect of persons, he explains why this evil is such folly (2:1-13). He reminds us, as a practical matter, to emphasize the eternal rather than the temporal, the spiritual above the physical. Getting along with others involves developing meekness and wisdom. It involves putting away jealousy, factionalism, and judgmentalism (4:11-12). James gives a step-by-step process of how that wisdom is developed, and how it results in a peaceful life (2:13-18).
6. How to Please God: In a “down to earth” way, James “takes us heaven-ward” in Chapter 2, showing us what makes us acceptable or justified in God’s sight (2:14-26). It’s not enough to believe in God. Even the demons do that. In a profound discussion of the importance of good works, James draws from the Old Testament case of Isaac, and how he was justified in God’s sight by actually offering his own son. This is perhaps the most practical discussion of faith and works in the entire Bible.
7. How to Live a Happy Life: In Chapter 4, James puts his finger on one of the major keys to successful living. It involves appreciating the brevity and precious value of our lives. It features a meek spirit, humbly relying upon God, even to the point of saying “if the Lord will” before presuming to make plans for the future (4:13-17). This is amplified in a graphic way with a realistic look at the final end of the materialistic culture in which we live (5:1-6). 8. How to Stay Focused: The practical challenge of staying focused confronts us all. Keeping our eyes on the goal of going to heaven, and bringing as many others with us, is absolutely necessary (5:19-20). That requires, above all else, honest and straight-forward Christian living (5:12). It requires more than theoretical discussions—it takes the actual practice of daily Christianity.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.