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.

Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 2)

Why do we bother preaching the Bible as divinely authoritative? If you listen to what came out of many pulpits yesterday, you might think that preaching deep and doctrinal truth from the Bible is optional. In this three part series I want to argue that preaching deep and expositional messages from the Bible isn’t simply a personal preference, but is actually the necessary requirement of any man who is called of God to proclaim the Word of the Lord. In my last blogpost (you can read it here: Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 1), I argued that we must preach the Bible because it declares with divine power. This isn’t whipped up by yelling in the pulpit, lighting packages, emotion-driven love songs to Jesus, or “authentic” talks meant to motivate. We need to preach the Word of God because it is the only thing that can cut into the hardest heart. Secondly…

2. It Demonstrates Divine Power

If we understand that all of unregenerate mankind has been blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and are dead in their trespasses and sin without Christ (Eph. 2:1), and that even after we have come to know Jesus as Savior we are still in need of the Spirit’s illuminating power (1 Cor. 1:12-13), then we also will understand the need for the divine power of the Word that can overcome the devastating spiritual effects of the Fall.

The Power to Open Blind Eyes

In the aftermath of the resurrection of Christ, there was a lot of confusion among the disciples of Jesus. They had begun to recall the words of Jesus about His rising from the dead, and they had also heard the seemingly outrageous stories from the women who said they saw angels who told them about the risen Christ (Lk. 24:1-9, 22-24). As two disciples puzzled over the events of that first Easter morning, they moved along the road to Emmaus where they encountered a fellow traveler, the resurrected Christ, who was veiled to their eyes.

As they spoke to Jesus, they explained the confusion and the promises and the grief they shared over having lost their dear Master. Jesus gently rebuked the men (v. 25) as He explained from the Old Testament how the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled concerning the Messiah (v. 27). After Jesus’ sudden self-revelation and departure, these two men discussed what they felt as the Scriptures were opened to them: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Lk. 24:32, ESV). Their experience was not simply an emotional response, but the active working of the Spirit in revealing truth to their blind eyes, which now could see.

Another example of such power to open blind eyes can be seen along a riverside just outside of the city of Philippi where the Apostle Paul and his team proclaimed the gospel message to a small group of women who had gathered there to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-13). As Paul preached, Lydia’s eyes were opened by the Lord, causing her to pay attention to the message that Paul preached. Immediately she was changed as she gave her life to Christ. She was baptized and hosted Paul and his companions in her home (v. 15).

Why do we preach the Bible? Because it is the only means that God has given us to open blind eyes. 

The Power to Bring Revival

Our God is not a genie that we can simply schedule when we want Him to show up. Biblical revival cannot be stirred up by man, for “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV). But this truth does not mean that there are not elements of true, biblical revival that accompany God’s work in bringing about a genuine work of God. The Old Testament gives a few prominent examples of revival that came to the people of Israel, and each one was accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. I want to highlight two of those examples so that the power of the Word might be shown in how God brings about genuine revival.

Josiah (2 Kgs. 22-23)

Having found the Book of the Law while making repairs to the Temple, King Josiah was undone when it was read in his presence. As he listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, the king began to see more clearly how disobedient Judah had been in God’s eyes (vv. 10-13). After seeking the prophetic Word of the Lord, Josiah was humbled, and he actively began seeking to eradicate the wicked idolatry that had been rampant in his kingdom. Along with cleansing the land of false worship, he also sought to restore the approved worship that the Word of God directed to his people. Think about it, the Word wasn’t preached, it was simply read. No fancy outlines, no illustrations or catchy titles or PowerPoint slides. The Word was read, and the Spirit did His convicting work in Josiah, moving him to reform the whole kingdom. 

Ezra (Neh. 8-9)

Under the leadership of Ezra, the priestly scribe, and Nehemiah the governor, the returning exiles longed to hear from the God of their Fathers as they had begun to see their need to be a separate people from the pagans all around them. God had begun to restore the nation, but not without challenges from their enemies. And so, as Ezra opened the Law and the elders explained its meaning to the people (8:3), the people began to sense their spiritual thirst and their parched souls began to be refreshed as the Spirit began to move them to understand the great and tender mercy of their God (8:9-12). Following a short time of rejoicing, the people began to reinstate the holy practices that had been long lost and forgotten (vv. 14-18) and began to openly confess their sin with grief and contrition (9:1-4). The brokenness of the people led to worship that was filled with confession, restoration, cleansing and rejoicing. The power of the Word had broken the hardest hearts and restored them like nothing else could.

In the modern church today, there are all sorts of man-made methods and programs that seek these kinds of results but fail to make any lasting change. Pragmatism, that philosophy that seeks to determine value based upon the success or failure of end results, is not a Christian concept. Where was the pragmatism in the prophet Isaiah when God said to Him, ““Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9–10, ESV)? There was no revival in the land, but God still called for faithfulness in the ministry of Isaiah.

And where can we find a pragmatic approach in the ministry of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned over the sins of God’s people for their sin, but was mistreated and scorned and seemed to have been ignored by nearly everyone (Jer. 38:6)? And what about the testimonies of those spoken of in Hebrews 11:36-38?

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36–38, ESV) 

There is still power in the Scripture, and it is to be preached whether revival comes or not, because Scripture carries with it a divine duty for God’s people.

Tomorrow’s post will conclude this series with our final reason we must preach the Bible. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe to received reminders when I post new material.

Why We Must Preach the Bible, part 1 (weekend repost)

The Church of Jesus Christ exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word. 

“Why We Must Preach the Bible”

With the attack upon truth growing every day, it is a necessary reminder for every Christian to understand why we must preach the Bible. Read it here: Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 1). The next post in this series will be tomorrow. Make sure you subscribe so you can receive email alerts when I post.