Getting the correct meaning of the text is first and foremost when you are preparing a sermon or Bible study. If you get that wrong, then everything else will be wrong. But the exegesis is only the beginning of sermon preparation. For the listener to gain any benefit from the exposition, the expositor will need to adequately illustrate and apply the text. Since application is a necessary element that newer expositors can struggle with, I’ve laid out seven helps for making sure that you get the application right.
- Apply the text. I say this because there are some young preachers who actually believe that it is not necessary to include application in the sermon. You can call it “implications,” but the fact remains that you are to bring the Word of God to bear upon the hearts and lives of your hearers. When John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, he applied the text specifically to his hearers–to the crowd, soldiers and tax collectors (Lk 3:10-14).
- Find the universal principles. These are the timeless principles which are true at all times for different groups of people. For instance, God tell his people that he will never leave them, that he will provide for them and protect them. He also says that they are not to worship any other gods. God’s people are also told that they are to love, pray, be patient and not anxious, etc. God is described throughout Scripture as never changing, and so his character is immutable. This can lead us to certain conclusions about him. He always keeps his promises, therefore the righteous will inherit life, and the unrighteous will be judged. These are just a few examples.
- Meditate on how you will respond to the text. Sometime a lack of application is a sign that the preacher has not meditated long on the text. Ask yourself the following questions to help: Does this text impact your life?What will you now do, believe, be thankful for or repent of because of this text? So what? Why did God inspire and preserve this passage of Scripture? If you can’t answer these questions for yourself, neither will your listener know what to do either.
- Think about your listeners. Knowing your audience will go a long way to help you think through the application and how it will affect their lives. Who are they? (Careers, education, marital status, children, etc.) What are they going through right now? (joys, trials, spiritual life) How will this text impact them when they hear it? Will it help them? How?
- Be pointed and specific. Don’t fall into the trap of just telling people to “pray more” or “read your Bible more” or “have more faith.” Tell them how. Be specific enough that they have a few ideas about how they can apply the text—this is helpful for the newer believer. Give the bigger theological picture so that the more mature believers can see other application in their own lives outside of your suggestions.
- Use “You” in your application. Don’t shy away from being the messenger of God. He is speaking to them through you.Don’t let a fear of man soften what the Lord has said. You may include yourself (“we”), but you must also speak directly.
- Point people to the Cross and the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to err into moralistic preaching that simply calls people to be good. The Bible does teach morality, but it does so by addressing the heart and God’s work through justification and sanctification. Don’t take a short cut and simply tell your hearers to “be good.” Also, preach the need for Christ to unbelievers who are unable to obey since they are unregenerate. Make sure you remember that your audience is mixed. Finally, preach the necessary power of the Holy Spirit for the believer to change. We cannot change in our own power. Don’t frustrate Christians with a command they cannot do by themselves. Teach them to depend upon the Lord for change.