The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 33 Fall 2019
Fall 2019 Edition
A ministry of…
Part I: Strengthening Expository Preaching
“Strengthening Applications” (Pt. 2)
In the last edition of this NET Pastors Journal, we began to discuss how you can strengthen your sermon applications. In this edition we will continue that subject.
As preachers we need to remember that theology is thoroughly practical and, therefore, must also be practically applied in our sermons. Truth is not meant to be intellectual only: it is also meant to be practical. Hence, the practice of truth must form a significant part of our sermons. That is what we mean by application.
But many preachers often find it hard to determine how to apply the truth they are preaching so that it is relevant for today’s audience and at the same time true to the text. So, here are some ideas to help you make relevant applications in your sermons.
A. Helpful Hints For Uncovering Good Applications 1
First, examine the situation in the text. Ask questions like…
#1: What was the problem, issue, or circumstance back then?
- Who was the biblical author writing to?
- Why did the author write to these people at that time?
- What was the issue or circumstance or trial or suffering that needed to be addressed?
- What was the nature of the author’s rebuke, correction, exhortation, or explanation?
#2: What was the biblical solution or required action?
- How did the author address the problem? What instruction did he give them?
- Did God address them directly? If so, what did God instruct them to do or to be?
#3: What was the people’s response?
- What response did the biblical author expect or demand?
- How did the people receive the message and respond to the solution?
- What attitude did they express to the author’s instructions?
Second, examine the situation now. Ask questions like…
#1: How are people’s needs and problems similar today?
- How are we like the people in the biblical text?
- In what way is their life-situation similar to ours today? Be specific.
#2: What is the biblical solution for today?
- What does Scripture tell us about this question?
- What biblical principles can we apply to ourselves?
#3: What should be our response today?
- How should a Christian respond to the instructions of Scripture about this issue?
- What do we need to do to correct this problem in our day? Do we need to correct something in our attitude, our beliefs, our priorities, our values, our wills, our relationships?
- What must we do to be obedient to God’s word?
Thirdly, be specific for the actual applications you will preach
- How are the people in my congregation facing similar problems in their lives?
- How are we like the people in the passage?
- What response should I expect from my congregation - conviction, repentance, obedience, doubt, rejection, anger, questions, objections, acceptance, submission?
As you ask these questions, try to answer them by specifically naming the types of situations that are contemporary equivalents. Try to give specific guidance as to how they can apply the truth of God to their own lives.
Be concrete, real in the present day life of your people. Come up with credible, practical, examples, even though, perhaps, you cannot name actual situations because of confidentiality. In that case, you could, if it were appropriate, ask someone to give a personal testimony that relates to the subject.
So, prepare your own answers to your own questions and challenges as you consider the practical application of the truth in the text. What does God want this congregation and these people individually to do, believe, or change in their lives? What kind of people does God want them to become?
And always try to hold out hope, for example, that the Holy Spirit is within us to enable us to be obedient to the truth; that our destiny is secure and settled and ultimately we will be saved from trials; that we can have joy because of our faith and future hope in Christ.
Lastly, address what action you suggest your people need to take. Be specific. Give examples. What kind of action do they need to take to inculcate the truth into their lives, to live as the people of God should live? What specific steps should they take? And offer to help them in this process. That’s your responsibility as a pastor not simply to tell them what to do, based on the truth of Scripture, but to help them practically to achieve that goal.
If the topic has to do with, for example, enduring hardship as a Christian, try to give them specific suggestions to deal with struggles (either physical, spiritual, emotional etc.) that test their faith. For example, (1) they could memorize pertinent, assuring Scriptures; (2) they could start to pray with a Christian friend who will provide mutual support; (3) they could share their struggles with a counsellor or pastor or with their Bible study group. Give Scripture for why it is biblical to bear one another’s burdens.
Remember that not every Scripture passage allows for a direct transfer of application. In other words, you can’t assume that what happened back then in the biblical text has its exact equivalent now, or that how they responded back then is necessarily how we should respond now. How you transfer across to today’s application will be dictated by the passage. This is where you have to be faithful to the intent of the biblical writer.
B. Essential Characteristics Of Good Application
1. Good Application Will Emphasize The Urgency Of The Message
It must have a sense of urgency that this must be done now – i.e. believe the gospel, submit to the will of God, stop sinful habits and associations etc.
2. Good Application Will Reflect The Intensity Of The Message
By intensity I mean the emphasis in the sermon that encourages a positive action in response to the conviction of the Word and of the preacher. This isn’t a nice fireside chat but a summons. Jesus’ parables always summoned people to some sort of action - e.g. The Good Samaritan: “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).
3. Good Application Will Correspond With The Purpose Of The Message
Application must directly relate to the purpose of the sermon. It must arise from and address the objective of the sermon. Whatever purpose you have determined for your sermon, the application must fulfill that purpose by making a tangible difference in people’s lives.
4. Good Application Will Induce The Motivation Of The Message
One of the purposes of every sermon is to motivate your listeners to some sort of action. The motivation you want to induce is that which touches the heart, instructs the mind, pricks the conscience, and directs the will to action - not by manipulation, or threat but by the Spirit-induced, truth-awakened response to the Word. “Our ultimate object is to move the will, to set it in another course, to increase its pace, and to make it sing in ‘the ways of God’s commandments’” 2
5. Good Application Will Impose The Confrontation Of The Message
Application is where the confrontation of the message becomes personal and direct (not impersonal or indirect) to the audience. They may be confronted with the “principle” of the truth and not react because it is impersonal and / or indirect. But when confronted with the “practice” of the truth, reaction is inevitable and necessary.
Expository preaching is confrontational in nature either through direct or indirect application. Most sermon applications have both types of confrontation. For example, Nathan the prophet’s confrontation with David (2 Sam. 12) started out with indirect application by telling the story but he ended up with direct application: “You’re the man”. Jesus was usually direct in his application.
By being direct, you do not run the risk of going over the people’s heads as you might with indirect application, where they miss the point altogether of how they are to respond. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 would seem to indicate that application of biblical truth should be (1) direct and explicit, rather than indirect and implicit; and (2) persuasive and confrontational, rather than suggestive and accommodating (cf. the apostolic preaching in Acts).
6. Good Application Will Generate The Persuasion Of The Message
Application has as its primary object the persuasion of the hearers to conform to the truth whether delivered throughout the sermon or at the end or both. The explanation preached is brought to bear upon the application to be followed. A sermon is, thus, both informative and transformational.
The power of persuasion comes from the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God to the heart, mind, will, and conscience. The means of persuasion is the preacher relating the truth to life in such a way that the hearers see the necessity for change and are persuaded to do something about it.
When the Spirit of God opens up the understanding of the Word of God and demonstrates the reality of it through the preacher’s application, that is a powerful catalyst for change.
For application to be persuasive, the presentation of the truth and its application must be presented properly, politely, and humbly such that the hearers will be receptive to it.
7. Good Application Will Surface From The Explanation Of The Message
The application must be driven by the text just as much as the explanation is driven by the text. Don’t use the text to spring board to any application you want. That is lack of integrity to your audience and to the text. Be sure that you derive your application from the text, that your applications line up with the biblical author’s intent, and that the main thrust of your application is the same as the main thought of the text.
Don’t use the text to achieve your own ends. This is a misuse of Scripture. Application must not in any way distort the meaning of the text as it applies to life. This is applying the text with integrity. This takes great discipline. It is as important to figure out the biblical application as it is to figure out the biblical meaning of the text.
Note that while the application must be derived from the text, the scope of application may be “stretched” in that the implications of the text for life may spread into all kinds of areas. Thus, one text with one meaning yields multiple applications.
8. Good Application Will Expose The Pastoral Thrust Of The Message
Good application will lead people where they should go. It will care for people when they hurt. It will rebuke people when they are disobedient. It will feed people when they are hungry. It will protect people when they are in danger.
9. Good Application Will Concretize The Abstract Ideas Of The Message
Don’t be concerned that by making your examples concrete you may let some of your hearers off the hook - i.e. they may conclude that since you have not named something that applies to them, that therefore they don’t need to respond. Here the Holy Spirit fills in the gap. He uses the examples you give to surface in the hearers minds and consciences things that they need to correct, change etc.
Be specific and concrete. That’s what application is. Relating the truth to life. In order to do this effectively, you must focus on life-related situations in which this particular truth applies in a particular way. Your task, as the preacher, is to make this clear and urge obedience to it. Don’t leave it at the conceptual level. That’s what many preachers do. They have trouble coming down from the abstract level of theology to the specific, concrete, life-situation level.
Don’t neglect application. Review your sermon before you preach it to assess how much application you have included. Is it enough? Is every major principle applied? My mentor, Dr. Stephen Olford, used to urge us to make application 50% of the sermon!
C. Guidelines For Applications
1. Look For Truths, Promises, Commands, And Examples
Promises, commands, and examples are given for more than mere creedal or intellectual assent. They are to be inculcated into life. The Bible contains truths to believe and obey.
The only acceptable response to the Bible’s truths is faith, which is evidenced not merely in passive acceptance of the principle, but in understanding its implications for life and living them out (i.e. application). Note that truths and examples may be explicit or implicit.
For example, an explicit principle is: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). While there is no doubt what an explicit principle is and says, how it plays out in life may vary from culture to culture. Our task is to discover the applications of the explicit principle for our lives in our culture today.
An implicit principle might be principles whose import for life are arrived at through logical deduction. For example, “You shall not commit adultery” implies the necessity for purity, fidelity, love.
Look for the principles and then move up the ladder of abstraction to determine their broadest sense. Then, apply them to life as it is to be lived in our society in our time
2. Educate yourself in the Hermeneutical Challenges of Applying the Old Testament
For more reading on this subject, I would recommend: “How is the Christian to Apply the Old Testament to Life?” in Making Sense out of the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 103-136.
3. Be Aware Of The Culture Around You
This way, you can bring the Word to bear on real situations of real people. Applications that don’t make sense, or are “way out” will have little impact.
The truth principles in the Bible speak to all peoples of all times. Our task in preaching is to apply it to our people at our time – that’s relevance.
4. Recognize That No Two Preachers Will Necessarily Apply The Text Uniformly
This does not mean one is right and the other wrong. This simply means that their styles are different, or they bring out different aspects of the same truth, or their congregations would benefit from a different approach to the application.
5. Don’t Run Out Of Steam At Application Time
Maintain your conviction and passion about the truth as you apply. That is the crucial time for intensity, when you personalize it
6. Speak As One To Whom This Truth Also Applies and Has Been Applied
This does not mean that you have to use “we.” Sometimes you might, but generally you will use “you” to make it personal and convicting. But, you need to be sure that you have applied this truth to your own life first before you can exhort others to be obedient to it.
Always make this part of your preparation process. When your sermon is ready, and you are reviewing it before the Lord, review it prayerfully, asking God to show you truths that you need to apply to yourself.
7. Visualize Your Audience
See their needs (without being personal or breaking a confidence). Cover the spectrum of life-situations represented in your audience (e.g. at home, at work, at school, in your neighbourhood) – include everyone.
Use “perhaps” situations for each life-situation. “Perhaps you face this in your workplace...” etc. You may not address the exact situation that each person faces, but you will trigger in their minds other situations in which this application is personal to them.
8. Remember Four Principles Of Application
#1. The personal principle
This is the principle of the preacher applying the Scripture to his own life. If you preach to others what you have not applied to your own life, you will not preach with power. Not only does God know when you do this, but people will also. The preacher must preach what he believes and he must live it.
#2. The imagination principle
To properly apply the text, it must become real to you. The people, places, and emotions must come alive in your own imagination. If it is alive to the preacher, then it makes it easier for you to see how it applies to other people.
#3. The stretch principle
As we preach to people over a period of time and guide them, the preacher gets to know them better – their fears and needs. Our experience of the people, where they live and who they are, allows us to stretch the application of the Scriptures to cover as many of these areas as possible. This does not give license for using the text inappropriately or inaccurately. There is only one interpretation of Scripture, but there are many applications to human experiences and problems.
#4. The declarative principle
The application of the text must be declared with authority and clarity. There must be no uncertainty about the application of the text. The people come to church for clear direction, to find out what God says, how they must live, and how they can get help for their problems. Therefore, the application must be overtly declared so that the people are not left hanging or wondering what the point was.
Part II. Sermon Outlines
Title: Letters to the Seven Churches: Ephesus, Orthodox but Cold
Theme: Revival begins with repentance among God’s people
Point #1: First, the good news: “Externally your church appears in good spiritual health”
(1) You work constantly and diligently (2a)
(2) You judge evil clearly and decisively (2b)
(3) You press on faithfully and untiringly (3)
Point #2: Now the bad news: “Internally your church has a serious heart condition”
(1) Christ’s diagnosis: ”You’ve left your first love” (4)
(2) Christ’s treatment:
(a) “Remember from where you have fallen” (5a)
(b) “Repent and do the first works” (5b)
(c) Warning: “If you don’t, I will remove your lamp-stand” (5c)
(d) Promise to those who heed the warning: “I will give (you) to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (7)
1 Adapted from Dave Veerman, How to Apply the Bible (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993).
2 John Henry Jowett, The Preacher His Life and Work (New York: Harper and brothers Publishers, 1912), 172, cited in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, 211.
Related Topics: Pastors