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Application of the Sermon ­ 3

By Jess Hall Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

Just as a traveler begins his journey with his intended destination in mind, so the preacher should begin his preparation with his intended application in mind. Application is not an afterthought added when preparation has been all but completed. If the preacher does not know the destination to which he wishes to convey his hearers, how will he know which route to take? What will guide his choice of words? His selection of illustrations? His preference for supporting passages? How will he expect his hearers to answer the questions: "So what" ("Why should I listen?") and "Now what" ("Having listened, what action should I take?")? Modern contempt of preaching is caused in part because preaching often bears no meaningful relationship to the hearer's life.

It is the application that moves the hearer to God, reveals the gospel's power and beauty, and provides a reason to implement that gospel in daily living. It is the application that stirs the hearer because it addresses real concerns. It is the application that brings the hearer face to face with God's demands on his life and the implications of calling Christ Lord. It is in the application that that which is first perceived as the preacher's voice is discerned as the voice of God calling upon the hearer to respond to God's claim.

As important as application is, however, there are dangers associated with it which, if ignored, either detract from the gospel or lead to the proclamation of something other than the gospel.

What are some of those dangers? First, confidences are betrayed for the sake of application. Preachers often provide private counseling to individuals. Recognizing that more than one person may face the same struggle, the private revelation, poorly disguised, becomes a sermon illustration. The counseled hearer is embarrassed and betrayed; those who recognize the situation are discouraged from seeking needed help for their own difficulties. Application has led away from the gospel, not to it.

Second, some assume that just talking about a problem will solve it. Application is not just talking about and defining a problem; it is bringing the power of the gospel and the gospel's solution to bear upon it and motivating the hearer to follow that solution.

Third, some substitute psychology for the gospel. Application drives biblical content out of the sermon. Application that is not based on the gospel and designed to lead to obedience to the gospel is no more than human­centered exhortation to do better in the power of the flesh. Preaching that does not bring man to the cross for pardon and to Christ for power is incomplete.

Fourth, overemphasis on the issues of the time causes neglect of the timeless. Preoccupation with the questions that people are asking causes neglect of the questions people ought to be asking. Servants of fashion may cater to the world's self­understanding. Servants of God cannot.

Fifth, overemphasis on application causes neglect of doctrinal preaching. The single objective becomes right living. However, right living without right doctrine is just as unavailing as right doctrine without right living.

In spite of these and other dangers, true preachers will seek proper application. Both overemphasis on application and omission of application are errors. One of them lives in time, failing to lead people to the eternal. The other lives in the eternal, failing to relate the eternal to the lives of hearers or to provide them with the direction and motivation to live powerfully for Christ in time. Both of them fail to bridge the "great gulf fixed" between the pulpit and the pew.

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Published April 1997