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Application of the Sermon ­ No. 2

By Jess Hall Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

A sermon without application is not only shadow boxing, it is swinging wildly at no target at all. To use another sports analogy, home runs are hit when the batter keeps his eye on the ball. The preacher spends 25­30 minutes building up to the application. If the application is neglected, the value of the major part of the sermon is lost. Of what value are facts and explanations if there is no purpose or application? Facts and explanations require knowledge; application requires spiritual perception to find in facts and explanations balm for the soul's struggles. Failure to apply meaningfully the text leaves "a great gulf fixed" between the pulpit and the pew. But if sermon application is so important, why is it so rare?

Good application is rare because it is difficult. Proper application requires the preacher not only to be a student of scripture, but a student of human nature as well. He must not only know the Word, he must also know his world. He must not only be concerned with what the text means, but how the text will help his hearers in their daily struggles. It is relatively easy to examine the text; it is difficult to examine the needs, physical and social pressures, loneliness, conflicts, and guilt of the hearers and apply the Word of God to them. It is even more difficult to know the hearers' hidden needs, needs of which the hearers are not even aware, and bring them into awareness. In short, it is more difficult to preach than it is to lecture.

Good application is rare because preachers assume their hearers can and will make the application. While most hearers are concerned about their own needs, they lack either the ability or the inclination to relate the Word of God to those needs. A discussion of meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-13) leaves them uninterested and uninspired. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, they need someone to guide them, taking the principles that Paul espouses and applying them to modern America in the same fashion that Paul used them to impact Corinth. The problem is not that our society no longer sacrifices meat to idols; it is that without application the principles that Paul formulated die with the first century issue that gave them birth. Without application, the hearers may nod in agreement, but more likely they will nod off in apathy.

Good application is rare because it requires creativity and courage. Creativity is required to envision the battles fought daily in the lives of God's people. Courage is required to apply God's Word to those skirmishes on a personal level. Because application concentrates on the transformation God requires of his people, hearers, unwilling to directly attack the message, often attack the messenger. Therefore, the messenger is tempted either to mince words or avoid the application. Unlike Nathan, he is unwilling to point the finger of application at his hearers and declare, "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. 12:7). While application must always be made with love, it needs to be right between the eyes!

Good application is rare because preachers fear being too simple. Application is neither ethereal nor esoteric. It is practical and pragmatic. How can a preacher impress the audience with his knowledge when he deals on such levels? Will his hearers not think that he is dull of mind and slow of wit? Jesus did not worry about such concerns. He spoke simply and plainly. He spent little time sawing sawdust. To the contrary, he ripped into real problems of real people; he generated a response. Men may not marvel at the eruditeness of those who follow his example, but they may say, as they did of him, "Never man spake like this" John 7:46).

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Published March 1997