The pastor who sat in front of me was clearly frustrated. He had just gotten a performance review and the elders of his church had asked him to focus more on application in his sermons.
He shared his opinion: “My job is to preach the Word. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to apply the Word.”
What do you think about that?
Is the preacher’s job finished after the text is explained, defended and illustrated? Is application (at best) an awkward “add on” to the end of the message or (at worst) a violation of the Spirit’s freedom?
Three reasons why we must apply God’s Word in our sermons this week:
1) Doctrine and Duties Go Hand in Hand.
The rhythm and pattern of the Bible is to preach and then to apply.
Peter’s exposition in Acts two provoked the people to ask, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter’s application was clear: “Repent and each of you be baptized.” (2:38)
The Apostle Paul often started with theology and then moved to application.
- Ephesians 1-3 (theology) 4-6 (application)
- Romans 1-11 (theology. 12-16 (application)
And Paul did not deal in generalities – he applied God’s word to worship wars (Corinthians), to false doctrine (Galatians), and to sensitive gray issue (Romans).
The Holy Spirit’s role and the application of God’s Word are not competitors – they go hand in hand.
2) You are a Shepherd not just a Spokesperson.
As preachers we are certainly called to proclaim God’s truth with courage and boldness – like modern day prophets. However, we must not forget we are also called to be shepherds.
Remember what Peter’s said: “Shepherd the flock of God among you….” (1 Peter 5:2a)
We would be poor shepherds if we only lectured our sheep in general ways – and never got busy trying to meet their specific needs.
Our church went through a particularly difficult season a few years ago when several of our members were laid off of work, a young lady died of cancer and we faced great financial challenges.
Church leadership decided to start a new sermon series called, “Got Anger?” because many of our members were angry with God and our church needed to hear God’s Word applied to what we were going through. It was a time of corporate healing as God’s Word met our specific needs.
A pastor is a shepherd who bring God’s word to the realities of life.
3) Knowledge without Application is Dangerous.
Finally we must never forget that knowledge without application is dangerous business. If we leave our congregations with more and more Bible knowledge but do not emphasize real-life application we do them a great disservice.
Jesus set the standard for us: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand (Matthew 7:26). If we don’t spend considerable time on application – we are in danger of creating foolish congregations who will falter in the storms of life.
James added: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). And also, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). Christianity was never meant to be a theoretical faith – but one lived out in everyday life.
I don’t know about you, but when I read these verses it motivates me to run back to my study to spend more time crafting clear and specific applications for my sermon on Sunday.
In conclusion – those elders were right to push their pastor to reflect more seriously on the role of application. Application of God’s Word is the pattern of Scripture, it is a vital part of our roles as shepherds and a lack of application can cause great harm.
As my frustrated friend and I finished up our conversation, I encouraged him to meditate on Jesus’ words:
“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:20-21).
That is why we must apply!
What do you find most challenging about application?