I don’t mean in terms of 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, or 39 points to your sermon. Though actually if you’re anywhere near the upper end of that scale I’d suggest you listen to yourself. What was it Spurgeon said? “If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, ‘My punishment is far greater than I can bear.” Try listening to yourself – at normal speed, not 1.5 or 2x, and see how you feel.
No my point is more to do with application. Too much “application” is implication (the principle God is teaching us in the passage) rather than real application which takes the implication and works it out for people listening in the world in which they live in tangible ways. Application is where we show people how the rubber of the gospel message hits the road where we, and they, are! And application is hard work, too often I don’t spend enough time thinking about this.
Good application starts with good interpretation, once we’ve understood the meaning of the text then we can begin to think about how it applied to its original hearers, and then to us. Good application will also reflect the context of the book and the bibles whole story. But it will be context specific, if our sermon is so generic that it could be preached in any church without tweaks and changes I’d suggest we haven’t done our application properly. If we’re preaching for the podcast we’re short changing our flesh and blood – and real – congregation.
Scripture is crying out for application. It’s dynamic – God’s word was designed to bring change! With that in mind I find it helpful to ask these questions as I prepare to preach, and battle to apply the text.
- What was the application for those to whom the book was written? (Because it can’t be saying something different to us than it was to them)
- What truths did it teach them about God, and how ought they to respond to that?
- What did it teach God’s people about their hearts and thinking?
- How does it point to Jesus and the transforming nature of the gospel?
- What direct applications does it make concerning actions?
- How does it call for, or model repentance and life transformed by faith?
- Is it simply reporting or recommending actions?
- Apply what the passage says – your main teaching point will shape your main application point: What is the same for us? What is different?
- What is the application for our Christian friends?
- What is the application for our church as a body?
- What is the application for our unbelieving friends?
- What is the application for our society and our world?
- How does the application encourage us as a church even as it calls us to do this more and more? (I’ve been making a conscious effort to do this more because I tend to see need rather than encouragement)
And we must always apply in the light of the gospel – don’t apply a ‘do this’ just because I say so. Apply by changing the heart with the gospel, aim for affections and desires. Show how Jesus love poured out for us calls us to be transformed in this application.
Don’t leave all your application to the end in a big chunk, apply as things come up in your structure and in asides – yes, it may not be the main point but it is a point of application that God has preserved and may be relevant to those you are preaching to. Apply boldly but graciously (as if to the person you love most in the world) longing for change and apply aware of the situations, circumstances and relationships they find themselves in.
And lastly let application shape your introduction. Take time to see what the passage is calling for and let it drive your introduction. Create tension and show our need for this passage, because we as preachers need it as much if not more than our congregations.