Help for New Expositors: Application in the Sermon

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Don’t Cover Your Cracks with Plaster (weekend repost)

A few nights ago I awoke with the aches and pains of a sickness I have been fighting for a few days. Unable to sleep, I started to reflect upon all the friends and loved ones that are struggling with pain and suffering to a much greater degree. I thought about those who are facing a crumbling marriage, the loss of a spouse, the onset of a disease that will take their life. I lay in the dark and considered the deep comfort that we have in Christ.

Read the rest of the post here: Don’t Cover Your Cracks with Plaster

6 Requirements for Leading with Integrity

Biblical Christian leadership has always been in short supply. For some prominent leaders, sometimes the cracks in the facade begin to show that below the surface, there exists a double standard for life–“What is good for thee is not for me.” For Christians, our final authority is Scripture, but it seems that for some, biblical authority is placed below popularity, past success, and unquestioned loyalty. Every person will answer to the Lord and no one is above biblical scrutiny. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” (James 4:6, ESV). How can we be assured that we don’t fall or become dis-integrated? King David’s Psalm 101:1-4 gives us great encouragement and direction for becoming leaders with integrity.

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.” (Psalm 101:1–4, ESV)

Leading with Integrity:

1. Requires a Resolute Determination (vv. 1-3). David sings over and over again, “I will…” with a resolute determination that he will worship with song and life. He will live in such a way that he pleased the Lord and not the flesh. There are basically three things we commonly call “resolutions.” The first is what some people do each New Year–promises they don’t intend to keep. Then there are official statements made by governments and groups which really have little to no power to change anything. It is simply a public declaration. The third type of resolution happens deep in the heart and soul. It is the opposite of the other two. It is a strong and determined statement of the will that says that you will do everything in your power to fulfill this promise. The leader of integrity determines that with God’s help he will accomplish the will of God.

2. Requires a Balance of Love and Justice (v. 1). David is wise, declaring his love and desire for both loving mercy and justice. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “Mercy and justice operate as checks on one another. Justice checks love that might otherwise be wrongly indulgent and therefore harmful. Love checks judgment that might otherwise be unduly harsh and therefore also harmful. David wanted his rule to be marked by both of these.”(James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 819). We should strive to be leaders who are both merciful and just. Whether in our home, work, church, or other group, we should strive to be balanced in love and justice. That can be hard, but that is what we see in our Lord Jesus, don’t we?

3. Requires a Biblically Thoughtful Direction (v. 2a). Pondering is not a glance at something, a simple passing over or a peek at it. Pondering means to look long and hard at something while meditating on it. What is the object of David’s pondering? It is the “way that is blameless” or “the perfect way,” which for the Christian is the Word of God. And the child of God who desires to lead with integrity needs to take this Book and use it to gain biblically thought ful direction and guidance. Your Bible should be like an old path–familiar and worn out. David said he would “ponder” the way that is blameless. Do you meditate on the Word. I know we ponder on our failures, our struggles, our temptations, our hurts, our needs, and our disappointments. But do you ponder God’s answers? Do you sit and think? Do you take God’s Word into your thoughts like a hard candy in your mouth. Rolling it over and over, savoring it?

4. Requires Beginning in the Heart and Extending to Every Realm of Our Lives (v. 2b). To walk with integrity of heart is a way of speaking of growing in holiness, what we call the process of sanctification. In his book, Living for God’s Glory, Joel Beeke writes, “Holi- ness that resembles God and is patterned after Christ saves us from hypocrisy and resorting to a “Sunday only” Christianity. It gives vitality, purpose, meaning, direction, and contentment to daily living” ( ) The word “integrity” is a math term, from the word “integer.” And integer is a whole number, it is not a fraction. Put theologically, it means a whole person, not a partially committed person, a half believer or an “almost Christian.” Leading with integrity requires that we must begin in our heart first. Before you look to your spouse for change, or your children or other family members, or your boss or friends or so- ciety or the church, where do you need to begin? With yourself.

5. Requires an Awareness of the Company that We Keep (v. 3). This word “worthless” in v. 3 is the Hebrew word belial, and it means “worthless,” but not in the way we think of trash or junk. The KJV uses the word “wicked” and the HCSB uses “vile.” These two translations show us that “worthless” is a ref- erence to its deep moral depravity. David says that he will not place before his eyes anything that is wicked or worthless. To see the proper understanding of this for ourselves, it is helpful to see this in a spectrum:

  • Absolutely abstain from the outright wicked–Gal 5:19-21
  • Situationally discern the marginally wicked–Prov 25:16, 17
  • Strategically refrain from useless pursuits–2Tim 2:1-6

In Psalm 101:3, David makes a commitment that he won’t look at wicked things, and that he won’t allow wicked people into his life. As the King, this would have meant in his realm. Do you al- low wicked things into your life? What about into your home? If you’re walking in the counsel of the wicked you might not even recognize them. You might even tell someone who points it out that they are being too legalistic. Imagine that, a Christian brother or sister counsels you to move toward holiness, but you would rather walk with the wicked! May this never be said of any of us. May we be men and women of integrity who lead our homes and work place with a heart moved to holiness.

6. Requires Removing Wicked Influences from Our Lives (v. 4). The “perverse heart” is not the danger from within, but the dan- ger from without. Remember, we are talking about leading with integrity here. We must guard our own hearts from wickedness lest we become a wicked leader. But we just as much guard ourselves from wicked counselors who would lead us away from godly leadership as well. Brothers and sisters, we must have discretion in our choices of those who are influential in our lives. You see, the danger is not merely in making poor choices in leadership. The danger is far greater than that. The greater threat is that we shall become like the wicked. We shall join their ranks.

Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 3)

This is the third installment of a three-part article. Part One can be read here: Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 1), and Part Two can be read here: Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 2)

We have been considering the need for the Church of Jesus Christ to preach the Bible faithfully, in full dependence upon God and the power vested in His Word. In the first article, I wrote that we must preach the Bible because it is our only authority. Without that divine Book, no man standing up on a Sunday morning has any authority. Secondly, we must preach the Bible because the Bible alone demonstrates divine power. Manipulation, oratorical skill, and emotionalism will only get you so far. Today I want to look at one last reason why we must preach the Bible.

3. It Demands Divine Duty

The hard soil of men’s hearts is not something unique to the 21st century. It is as old as humanity itself. This fact needs to sink into the heart of the pastor who is looking for low-hanging fruit when he seeks a ministry. God has not called most of us to a large pulpit ministry, nor world-wide fame. But He has called every one of His ministers to faithfully proclaim the Word wherever we are sent. Hard hearts, gang violence, poor attendance, meager offerings, inadequate facilities, nonexistent leadership, are all realities that can make ministry challenging, but none are reasons to walk away from a church or a community. As a matter of fact, all of these are reasons that a faithful Bible preaching, gospel-saturated church is needed in that place. The marks of this divine duty require us to preach faithfully, preach plainly, and preach patiently.

Preach Faithfully (Ezek. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)

Facing the rebellious nation of Israel, the Lord clearly told Ezekiel what he must do, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:7, ESV). Over and over again, Ezekiel was told that Israel was a rebellious house, impudent, stubborn, and hard-headed. And yet, his instructions were clear, speak God’s words to them. Though they would not listen, and though they were so hard in heart, it did not change the directive—be a watchman (3:17) and speak the words of impending judgment (v. 19) no matter what. Faithfulness is what God requires (3:19, 21).

As the Apostle Paul faced his own death, he exhorted Timothy to continue to persevere in the ministry of the Word in season and out of season. For Timothy, Paul’s imprisonment and coming death was a very real illustration of the threat to the gospel ministry. Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to move to a safer territory nor did he instruct him to avoid suffering, but instead encouraged him to keep preaching even when people will no longer endure it and that this might include the need to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul was faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and he would receive his reward in due time (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Preach Plainly (1Cor. 2:1-5)

Plain preaching is not the same as bland preaching, nor does it mean to preach simplistically. Paul’s desire to give Jesus Christ all the glory required him to make sure that his own preaching did not put the spotlight on his considerable education, gifts, and talents. Although the so-called super-apostles had a low view of Paul’s presence and preaching ability (2 Cor. 10:10), he placed his full dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God. In doing this, Paul put the cross of Christ on full display. Plain preaching is not flashy, gimmicky, or self-seeking. Simply put, plain preaching is Spirit-empowered, not man-centered. The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that contradictory cavaliers may be silenced.” (Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2012), 695).

Preach Patiently (2 Tim. 4:2)

Our duty to preach the Word must be done with the reminder that we do not preach ourselves nor do we preach our words. Pastors are under-shepherds that are to lead without being domineering. We are to be loving examples to the flock that has been placed in our charge (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This means that we must teach the Word of God with the patience of our Master (2 Tim. 4:2), and that is easier said than done, particularly when we are facing the growing challenges of ministry today. Nevertheless, we must teach and preach with great patience, waiting upon the Word and Spirit to do their mighty work.

Although the reasons that we preach the Word could be multiplied, these three should stand out for us—it is our authority, our power and our duty. And as we faithfully proclaim the Word, we can expect that it will do its mighty work of reviving the soul and enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8). The benefits of doing so will manifest themselves in due time, showing us that as we sow the seeds of the Word into the hearts of our congregations that all our efforts are profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and will accomplish the will of God in the end (Isa. 55:11).

As William Gurnall wrote a long time ago, “The Word of God is too sacred a thing and preaching to solemn a work, to be toyed and played with” (Ibid., 685). May we pick up our Swords and faithfully execute the ministry that the Lord has called each of us to do, for His greater glory and for the good of the Church. 

Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely (weekend repost)

Whether it was Zacharias, James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, Jack Schapp, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or any of the seemingly endless list of failures, there is a commonness to their ability to go so far in their sin before they crashed and burned. You don’t need to look far and you will see that each of these people were able to get so far in their sin because they built a structure around them of yes-men that they knew would not stand up to them and hold them accountable to biblical standards of holiness.

“Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely”

This post was the most popular this past week. In case you missed it: Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely