Application in Preaching
Situation: you hear a sermon and the text drives the minister to proclaim the glorious wonders of God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The minister doesn’t tell you to do anything but to know this God and this Saviour, to love him and believe in him. Was such a sermon weak on application?
Many people think so. However, I submit that this is a narrow and unbiblical understanding of application. A minister has to preach the text. There are many texts in the Bible that contain commands and imperatives. There are many which directly show us what a loving, thankful Christian life looks like. But there are also many other texts where the point is simply to have us fall down in praise and adoration of who our God is and what he’s done in Christ. When a minister preaches such a text, his aim will be to get the congregation to that place where they are in awe of God. Is that sermon less applicatory?
The problem is that we want sermons which tell us what to do on our own terms. We’ve heard about faith so many times. Give me something else that I can do. But by thinking this way have we become dull to the wonders of God? Do we take for granted how great our God is?
John Piper has some helpful insights on this point. Recently I listened to him speaking about “enjoying God.” He said, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him and when we enjoy him the most.” If we take that trajectory, it certainly broadens our understanding of what application is and does so in a biblical way.
Here’s another example of Piper pointing us in the right direction (h.t. to Danny Hyde).
“Wonder changes people, not examples…Seeing glory changes everything.” Amen.
(reposted from 03.29.07)
Thanks for this! I remember preaching Heb. 11, the inheritance that awaits us, the glories of the new heavens and earth, etc., and an elder walked up to me after the sermon and said, “so what, we need to be told about how to live in the now.” I knew what he wanted. Applications divorced from the text, the very point of your post, seem to do nothing but bring us back to a form on bondage to the doctrines and commandments of men. Appreciate your points!
Wes, thank you for this. I think I needed to read it and be reminded of this.
I recall John Piper mentioning once that he preached on Isaiah 6 and made a point of giving no application. Why would he have to? The text speaks of God’s amazing holiness and anybody listening would know that they have to conduct ourselves fittingly to God’s greatness. Such a sermon has amazing power to change people, by the Spirit.
In such a case as that, surely application is superfluous. But isn’t it good if a minister spells out in more detail what it is “to know God, love God and believe in God”… as Piper does by saying “be satisfied in God etc..”? What I’m getting at, I suppose, is simply that there were more delineating one’s terminology so that all congregants can understand your simple (yet profound) applications (not creating checklists or examples).