The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 32 Summer 2019
Summer 2019 Edition
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Email: [email protected]
Part I: Strengthening Expository Preaching
“Strengthening Applications” (Pt. 1)
Application of the biblical truths you have explained in your sermon is often the weakest area of most sermons. Unless the truth is concretized, visualized, personalized, and actualized the sermon is merely an exposition of abstract truth and remains in the realm of philosophy (ideas, concepts, truisms).
Perhaps Application Is Often Done So Poorly Because…
1) We spend so much time in exegesis that it is hard for us to make the switch from the theoretical to the practical.
2) We accumulate so much data from exegetical research that we don’t have time to communicate anything else.
3) We feel a tension between theory and practice.
4) We value the truth so highly as truth and enjoy it as such that to apply it seems to degrade it.
5) We are afraid of the response of our audience. When we become specific in application, we become personal and that sometimes generates negative responses because we touch nerves, expose sore spots, and activate consciences.
6) In order to apply the Scripture to others, we must first understand it and apply it to ourselves before applying it to others. That can be painful.
The tendency is to stress either exposition or application. Some preachers stay in explanation; others focus on application. On the one hand, for preachers who do their homework in sermon preparation and who spend a great deal of time figuring out what the text means, the tendency might be to focus on explanation (teaching) and neglect application. On the other hand, for preachers who spend little time studying the text, the tendency might be to focus on application (significance) and neglect explanation.
Preaching involves both exposition and application. If you do not apply the truths that you explain, then you fail to show how the truth is relevant to life. We must explain the meaning of the text and its relevance for daily living. People want and need the truth applied to where and how they live – their relationships, their thoughts, their habits, their beliefs, their problems etc.
To preach the explanation without the application is to leave the preaching task incomplete. To engage in exegesis without thinking about its application is to do only half the job. As you study the text to understand its meaning, you must also consider its significance to practical realities. You can’t study the Scriptures without relating them to contemporary life. That’s where the truth is lived out. That’s what the Scriptures are for – to be obeyed.
Unless we cross over from the biblical world to the contemporary world, we leave the truth and our hearers in its ancient context and of no useful purpose other than intellectual.
Biblical preaching must move from the “what” to the “so what” to “now what?” When we explain the truth, we deal with the “what” of the truth (i.e. what does the truth mean?). When we apply the truth, we address the “so what” of the truth (i.e. what difference does it make?). When we actualize the truth, we propose the “now what” demanded by the truth (i.e. what we must do now and how it should change us).
Some would argue that the Holy Spirit does the application, not us. Of course, without the application of the Word by the Holy Spirit to the heart, mind, conscience, and will, our preaching will have no effect. Ultimately, it is only the application of the Word by the Spirit that changes lives. But the same could be said of preaching the gospel – only the Holy Spirit can make it effective, so, some would ask, why preach it?
We preach it because preaching is the God-appointed means of communicating his Word to us (Rom. 10:14-15), both its meaning and its application. The Holy Spirit uses human instruments in delivering both the explanation and application of the text. The preacher has the responsibility to show the people how the Word applies to their lives in concrete terms.
Application Is An Indispensable Component Of Biblical Preaching Because…
1) It links together the truth of the text with the life situation of the hearers. Our job is to understand the context and purpose that the original author is addressing and determine how that message applies to our congregation today. In that way, you relate what you have just explained from the text to how it affects your people’s lives.
2) It bridges the gap between God’s instructions to his people in the past and his instructions for us today.
3) It connects the wise counsel of Scripture with the reality of each person’s life - their need for joy; for intimacy with God; for healed relationships; for obedience to the Word; for hope in Christ etc.
4) It overcomes the “so what” objection of the audience – i.e. “What does this have to do with me?” Or, “What must I do or change in response to the Scriptures?”
5) It moves from the “what” of biblical truth to the “how” of Christian practice.
6) It makes clear how the biblical truth that has been explained actually affects how a Christian should live in the marketplace, at home, at school, in the neighbourhood etc. So many of our people come to church on Sunday but live like non-Christians the rest of the time. That’s why application is so important.
7) It turns the principle that has been taught into a practice that is to be followed - a doctrine to be believed; an attitude to be adopted; a relationship to be changed etc.
In Application, We Urge People…
a) We urge people to “visualize” / “concretize” the truth they have heard. Acceptance is not merely mental assent but experiential change, life transformation. What good is it if they understand the truth but do nothing about it? Our task is to help them see (visualize) the truth (what it looks like in real life) by moving from the truth as abstract philosophy to a concrete, tangible, living reality.
Helping them to “concretize” the truth gets away from people’s subjective impressions about what “God is saying to me” - i.e. without trying to ascertain what the author of the text intended. It is this shift that is very hard for many preachers - how to demonstrate the biblical truth in tangible, experiential ways; how to relate the truth to people’s everyday lives.
We must show the people what the truth looks like so that they can see it and relate to it in their own lives. We want them to say: “Yes, that’s true in my life. I need that. I experience that.” We want them to incarnate the truth – i.e. to live the truth. After all, the entirety of Christian living is incarnational, isn’t it? It is about being like Christ and, thus, manifesting the truth of Christ in our lives.
The big question is: “How can we do that?” We can do that by giving “concrete” situations and examples that cover the spectrum of our audience (at their age, status, jobs, relationships, economy etc.). and that help them visualize what we have been talking about.
b) We urge people to “personalize” the truth they have heard. We want the people to say: “Yes. I need that. I want to be like that or do that or submit to that, or believe that” etc.
c) We urge people to “actualize” the truth they have heard. We want them to adopt it, practice it, make it real. We call people to subjection and obedience to the Word because truth is to be obeyed. We call for obedient response and practical action so that people’s lives conform to the truth. We help them “actualize” the truth by inviting them and challenging them to commit in practical ways to changing their lives in the way the message has impacted them.
A. Application Must Be True To The Biblical Text
Expository preaching is not a running commentary just to pass on information. Its focus is to apply to the believer’s life the principles that are explained from the text. You cannot apply principles without explaining the content of truth from which they are drawn. You cannot explain the “how” without the “what”. You cannot insist on duty without knowing the doctrine on which it is based. Therefore, application must be “based on” the biblical text from which you are preaching. This is probably one of the greatest flaws in preaching today. Preachers go off on a tangent into application without having satisfactorily, accurately, or clearly explained the meaning of the text. If the audience doesn’t understand the meaning of the text (which is the authority for what we preach), how can we expect them to obey it?
Further, not only must your application be “based on” the biblical text, your application must also be “limited by” the biblical text. In other words, your application is limited to the subject and scope of the text under consideration. Application has to be based on the truth of the text and then applied appropriately. You are not at liberty to make any application you want from any text. Just as your exposition is limited to the context and subject matter of the biblical text, so is your application. In other words, application has to flow out of your explanation of the text.
That said, I do believe that we are at liberty to “stretch” the application fairly extensively within the boundaries of the overall intent of the original author and the subject matter of the text. This gives us latitude to apply the text to many different situations and challenges that our congregations face while still being true to the text.
One of the ways we can legitimately “stretch” the application is by the use of deductive logic or inference. Thus, application includes “implication” which, by definition, gives you greater scope for application. We are made with the capacity to reason. Therefore…
1) Be logical about application. Show how your text leads you to the logical application you are making.
2) Be specific in application. Give examples.
In every sermon, the listener wants to know three things:
1) What are you preaching on? (the dominating theme of the text – i.e. its subject).
2) What’s your argument? (the integrating thoughts of the text – i.e. its main points and sub-points).
3) What do you want me to do? (the motivating thrust of the text – its application and purpose in my life).
Remember, you have no right to invite people to respond to the truth you have not explained and that they do not understand and, therefore, cannot visualize.
B. Application Must Be Intentional
As expository preachers, we must be very intentional both in the exposition and in the application of the text.
1. We Must Be “Personal” In Our Application
This requires us to be confrontational without being divisive or offensive. Application demands personal reception and obedience to the truth. Therefore, listeners must:
a) Receive the message.
b) Internalize the message – i.e. reflect on how this impacts their own life.
c) Identify what needs to be changed by asking what they need to do about it.
d) Decide to change and make a plan to do so. Perhaps this requires an accountability to someone, or a change of routine or habits etc.
In order to make your application personal, it is important that you try to address the broad spectrum of your audience in concrete and personal terms of where and how they live their lives. Think about how you can apply your sermon to their personal life, family life, work life, church life, community life. Also, try to apply the sermon to their minds and hearts – e.g. their attitudes, beliefs, relationships (with God and with others), behaviour, desires, motives, values, priorities, and character.
2. We Must Be “Practical” In Our Application
Here we are talking about “how” people should respond? It’s not enough to know only the “what” of the message. We have to tell them the “how” as well. The tendency is to stay with the “what”. While the “what” is very important it does not constitute the entirety of the sermon.
a) There must be a call to biblical repentance both of believers and unbelievers.
b) There must be a call to biblical renewal. Every preaching event must be a time of renewal and revival of the believer and regeneration of the unbeliever.
c) There must be a call to biblical reality. Because we are living in a day of cultural Christianity, not biblical Christianity, there is a tendency in our society towards artificial Christianity. Preachers need to call their people to biblical reality.
3. We Must Be “Purposeful” In Our Application
Our preaching must have a goal, a target. All texts lead to Christ (Col. 1:27-29). This is the ultimate and primary goal for preaching, so that when people leave they are more like Christ. That’s the primary reason for preaching.
C. Application Must Move People To Action
Every sermon needs a fourfold movement to activate personal application in the hearers in the form of obedience:
1. The “Mind” Must Be Educated By Our Preaching (Discernment)
Every sermon must educate - stretch the mind to think about and understand things that it had not considered or understood before. Solid food (i.e. “meat”) belongs to those of full age (Heb. 5:14). You have to progress beyond the ABC’s of Christianity. Shallow preaching produces shallow Christians.
2. The “Heart” Must Be Touched By Our Preaching (Desire)
You have to aim at the heart in order to “move” someone to action. The heart is the chief organ of physical life. The “heart” is the word that describes the hidden springs of human life and the sphere of divine influence.
The heart must be reached in order to effect “movement” (action) in the hearer. The mind alone will not do this. The heart is the great motivator.
Preaching to the heart enables the hearers to identify with characters and issues in the passage and make the principles of the passage their own. This involves, obviously, moving from the general to the specific.
The “heart” in Scripture describes the place where decisions are reached and where choices are made. It’s the place where the mind and the will meet. It’s not sufficient to only stretch the mind. You also need to touch the heart.
The emphasis here is on desire rather than discernment. Preach to motivate the heart to respond. The heart must be stirred. To do this, preaching must have passion.
3. The “Will” Must Be Directed By Our Preaching (Decision)
It is not sufficient to only educate the mind and touch the heart. You need to also guide, focus, and shape the will to surrender to the authority of the Word, to die to self and live for Christ, to put off the old self and put on the new (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:22-24).
If only the mind and heart are affected, that’s not good enough. There must be direction of the will to voluntarily submit to the truth of the Word and, thus, to live out its teaching.
4. The “Conscience” Must Be Pricked By Our Preaching (Detection)
The conscience is a powerful tool in application. It is a strong motivator to obey. It detects where people have failed in obedience to the truth. It reveals where there may be sin in a person’s life that needs to be judged.
Thus, biblical preaching will activate the conscience so that the people respond in obedience.
Application must be personal, practical, and purposeful to the end that it affects the entire personality – mind, heart, will, and conscience. While the heart is the great motivator to action, if you can combine the conviction of the mind with the desire of the heart, that is an even more powerful force to activate the conscience which, in turn, motivates a person to submit their will and obey the truth.
D. Application Is Best Done Throughout The Sermon
By applying the truth throughout the sermon, your hearers will not forget the principle which governs the application. It ties principle and practice tightly together. You connect the application tightly to the text you have just explained. This gives your application much greater authority as it is the text that is speaking, not you.
Some preachers do their application at the end of the sermon. This is permissible but it has several drawbacks:
1) If it is done routinely, your audience will figure it out quickly and then you lose the impact, because they are ready to tune you out (“Oh, here it comes again”). I would suggest that application at the end serve only as an intensification and reconfirmation of the application you have already done throughout the sermon.
2) It separates the explanation of the truth from the application of the truth such that your audience will not intuitively connect the one to the other.
I recommend that you apply the truth continuously from the introduction right through to the conclusion of the sermon.
1) In the “introduction”, you apply when you…
a) Establish the need to listen; the need for this message.
b) Make the link to the biblical text.
c) State your “sermon-in-a sentence” (i.e. your thesis, proposition).
2) In the “body”, you apply every truth principle…
a) In the wording of each of your main points and sub-points. They should be worded in applicational form – i.e. in such a way that your audience is included, sees themselves in the truth-principle.
b) During or at the end of your explanation of each main point.
c) In illustrations and examples.
3. In the “conclusion”, you apply the truth…
a) When you summarize the sermon.
b) When you actualize and personalize the sermon one last time.
E. Why Is Application So Hard?
1. Because Its Hard! It’s Hard Work Because:
a) It requires accuracy to Scripture.
b) It must be relevant to the people and their culture.
c) It demands personal introspection and honesty.
2. Because Preachers Think That The Application Is Intuitively Obvious
It’s easy to think that the connection between your explanation of the text and its practical application to the lives of your hearers is intuitively obvious, that it does not need to be stated, that your hearers can figure it out themselves. It’s easy to assume that our hearers “get” how the truth impacts their lives.
This, of course, is often just not true. Application does not automatically jump out at you any more than the truth principles jump out at you. Someone needs to point it out.
3. Because Preachers Misconstrue The Purpose Of Preaching.
The purpose of preaching is to change people’s lives to be more like Christ and we do that by explaining the truth and then pointing out how that should change us. That is application.
Application is the means by which we connect biblical truth to the everyday lives of the audience. That means giving examples of what it looks like in the lives of your people, exhorting the congregation to change, naming error, rebuking wrong attitudes and relationships etc.
Remember, all theology is eminently practical. Its purpose is to impact one’s behaviour, desires, priorities, values, goals, relationships etc.
Good sermons not only teach the truth but also show what it has to do with “me”. A carefully crafted and complete sermon leads to application. Truth is to be obeyed (Rom. 6:17). That’s what will change the lives of your people – not the clever wording of a few main points, but the life application of the truth that causes people to change.
4. Because Preachers Have To Think Through The Application Prior To Preaching.
Too many preachers think that they can wing the applications on the fly. You can’t. They need to be well thought out ahead of time because you have a diverse congregation with diverse life situations and they all need to be reached. You have…
a) Young people, middle aged, old people
b) Professionals, blue collar workers, office workers, factory workers etc.
c) Married people, singles, divorced and separated
d) Yuppies, retired people
e) Families, couples, singles.
f) Public school, high school, and college students
g) Rich, poor, and middle class people.
To effectively apply the word to such diversity requires careful thought before preaching.
F. Discovering The Applications
The question we face is, as you expose each principle in the text, how do you move to application? How do you discover the real life applications while remaining faithful to the subject of the text and the intent of the original author?
As a general principle, I would suggest that the application of the biblical principle must fall within the same scope of application as that in the text. This just emphasizes how important it is to discover accurately the subject of the text. You must make a direct link between the explanation of the principles that you preach and the application you make.
First, start by asking yourself the following questions:
a) What was the author writing about?
b) Why did the author write this to these people?
c) What were the circumstances in the life of the people that needed correction, encouragement, comfort, assurance, rebuke, guidance etc.?
d) How did the author apply the principles to the lives of his readers?
e) What response did the author expect and want from them?
The answers to these questions set the parameters for your application.
Second, uncover contemporary applications by asking yourself:
a) What universal, abiding truths in the text relate directly to life today?
b) What contemporary situations, challenges, questions etc. are similar in nature to that of the original audience? In what ways do our contemporary audiences experience the same situations as the original audience?
Third, move from general implications to specific and personal applications. General implications may speak to how the truth of the text speaks to the home, work, church etc. for everyone. This is good but I would encourage you to try to move even further than that to specific applications to life in your culture and circumstances. This is the hard part. So, how do you do that?
Again, you probe into the personal applications of the truth by asking questions:
a) What does this truth mean for my people in their everyday lives?
b) What challenges, needs, lifestyles, beliefs, and circumstances in the church need to be addressed - be it personal, economic, congregational, community, relational, spiritual, ethical etc.
c) Where in our lives could this truth be applied?
Fourth, consider the response you expect and want from your audience. How do you want them to change their values, priorities, relationships, beliefs, attitudes, practices, motives, desires, character etc.?
Finally, challenge your congregation to ask themselves:
a) What does God want me to do about this truth?
b) How can I achieve this change? What do I need to do?
c) How should I start?
G. Preaching The Applications You Discover
1. You Must Know Your People And Your Church
As you ask the above questions, you are asking them not only about your own life, but particularly about the lives of the people in your congregation.
So as you ask the questions (searching for relevant applications), you must keep in mind your people by visualizing them in the pew, or going through your church directory, while you recollect their life situation, needs, problems, challenges etc.
2. From That Exercise You Draw Up A List Of Suitable Applications
Now you are applying the passage to real needs which correspond with the needs addressed in the passage. These applications will not identify anyone in your congregation nor will they disclose confidences. They will still be a bit general in nature, but you are drawing the net tighter and making clear how the principles apply by giving examples of how they might apply to your people in particular situations.
So, you might say: “If you live a holy life, you’ll demonstrate this in your workplace by… (e.g. not crossing the line with opposite sex”) etc. etc. Then, you can suggest ways to put these applications into practice.
From the application examples you preach, your people will be prompted to make the transfer into their own specific life situation.
3. Try To Give Enough Examples To Cover The Entire Spectrum Of Your Church
You dot this by drawing in the different age groups, marital status, economic status etc. in their life situation. There are four situations that embrace everyone:
4. Don’t forget to word your points as applications, if possible
There are several advantages to this:
a) Application will be a continuous process throughout your sermon not just in particular sections of it.
b) The principles you establish in your points will be personalized rather than remaining abstract truths.
c) Your points will have more impact.
Conclusions About Application
Theology, properly preached, is thoroughly practical. The Bible is not written just to fill our heads with knowledge but to also change the way we live and think and act. Specifically, every sermon should help us to become more like Christ by putting into practice the universal, timeless truths of Scripture. For that reason, we must explain the text clearly and accurately and apply it relevantly and personally.
Part II: Sermon Outlines
Title: “Called To Serve”
Theme: Lessons in Christian service
Point #1: The pledge in serving the Lord is to love him (15-17)
a) Despite our feeble loyalty, Jesus still values our love
b) Despite our feeble loyalty, Jesus still wants our service
Point #2: The purpose in serving the Lord is to glorify him (18-19a)
a) We are to glorify him when we are younger (18a)
b) We are to glorify him when we are old (18b-19a)
Point #3: The pattern in serving the Lord is to follow him (19b-23)
a) We follow him by responding to his call (19b)
b) We follow him by keeping our eyes on him (20)
c) We follow him by minding our own business (21-23)
Related Topics: Pastors