Sermon Preparation Part 5 – The Application - by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16).
Once the minister has completed his second part of the sermon, (the point of doctrine from the text), next, comes his biggest challenge. Here he is faced with being the specific mouthpiece and instrument of the Holy Spirit as a means to increase the sanctification of the people, or to be a savor of death to the unbeliever. He will be a savor of life, or a savor of death. There is no in between. It is no wonder why Paul said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” If he is not a savor of life or savor of death, then he is not in the act of preaching as a herald on behalf of God.
The application of the text, which is in turn the application of the doctrine out of the text, concerns the truth of the argument, and the practical nature of Christian living before the face of God (coram deo). One of the most neglected aspects of contemporary preaching is experimental preaching. Christian experience is the influence of doctrinal truth upon the mind. Every preacher should be engaged in bringing experiential truths to the people in which he ministers and is overseer. this should generally occur when the minister preaches. If truth is ethereal and not made real to the people, to the hearers, how will they see this truth as applicable to them?
The application is the most abused and difficult part of modern preaching. It is the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation, (as William Perkins says in his Art of Faithful Preaching).
There are basically two kinds of application: mental and practical. Mental application is concerned with the mind and involves either doctrine or reproof (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Practical application has to do with lifestyle and behavior, and involves instruction and correction, (instruction enables Christians to live well in the context of the family, the state and the church, etc., involving both encouragement and exhortation (Rom. 15:4), and correction is the application of doctrine in a way that transforms lives marked by ungodliness and unrighteousness). Applications will then take on the point of reproof, instruction and correction knowing that preaching involves all these based on 2 Tim. 3:16–17 and Rom. 15:4.
The practical application ought to be in some way a comfort the believer, or give the believer a use to practice.
The application is the soul of the sermon. There are many preachers who think, “Let the Holy Spirit do the work of “application.”” I have never read through the Bible and found one instance, at any point, of a sermon given by Christ or his apostles that did not have application attached to it. That is what made their preaching so effective, humanly speaking. Nathan says to David, “Thou art the man.” This is application. To ministers today, Richard Baxter keenly states the following, “Satan will not be charmed out of his possession.” Are you going to charm the devil out of his possessions with smart talk and witty jokes? Do you think charming homilies will rescue people from hell? If the word is preached, it should be preached in power and authority. Do you preach with all your might? Are you deeply aware of the everlasting life or death that you bring when you preach? Baxter says, “A sermon full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while it needs the light of evidence, and the life of zeal, is but an image or a well-dressed carcass.” Do you preach these carcasses as sermons you think will be helpful? How will you “snatch your congregation from the fire?”
The manner of preaching should be one of earnestness, especially during the application. There is no other kind of preaching other than being earnest and zealous. Thomas Murphy says, “How is it possible to preach of the awful realities of heaven and hell, of the soul and the everlasting ages, and of the death of Christ for the salvation of the lost, without the deepest emotion?”
Murphy says, “In each sermon we ought to deliver the message of God as if it were the last time we were to preach.” That means your application best be spot on, powerful to persuade, clear and with the utmost gravity. He is merely echoing Baxter’s maxim, “I preach like a dying man to dying men.” O! that your application would be like this in every sermon! Was you last sermon preached like a dying man to dying men?
There are children in the congregation who may not make it home for another day. How will you exhort them to be saved? There are teenagers who are bombarded with scores of media-influenced debauchery, and so what will you say to them to draw them out of the grasp of the devil, and into the hands of Christ? There are fathers and husbands who are grinding day after day at dead end jobs, and wives and mothers burdened down with the cares of the home and family. What will you say to them to comfort them? What will you do to console them? What will you say to give them hope? How will you silence the gainsayer, or convert the lost, or break down the walls of separation that stand between the hardened and cold heart, the un-tilled soil of their depravity if they are lost? How will you bind up the broken hearted? What will you say to the sick? Or the dying? Will you say the same thing as every other ministerial pundit says when they have nothing to offer? Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life?
Your application must be filled with thoughtfulness, ordered readily, clear, and preached with precision, for you are a spiritual surgeon who must work on the souls of the people on behalf of the Great Physician, and in the power of the Spirit.
Murphy says, the minister should be thinking, How shall I reach and overcome the great difficulties that stand in the way of perishing souls? How shall I make the truth so clear that those who need it most must see it? How shall I place the offers of salvation in such a form that they will be accepted by those who must receive them now or be lost for ever?
This is where you application becomes eminently important.
A Simple Example:
In considering an applicatory aspect to Luke 16:1-8, one could make an appeal to stewards without Christ, (cf. Luke 16:14), who are wasting the Master’s goods. Many of these kinds of people think, “I am my own master,” where they must be instructed that God is their master, and Christ is their master. They will be called to account, to turn in the books, to turn in the books of their life. Here, appeal to such people could be made to self-preservation = self-love, as the steward did in trying to throw himself on the mercy of the Master. Since judgment is inevitable…consider your state. Such people are not in a state of mercy though temporary mercies surround them. They should never be content with the mercies themselves, but the God of those mercies they should seek with all diligence.
Another appeal could be made to Christian disciples, the disciples of Christ, (those to whom Jesus was initially speaking). In light of temporary blessings the wicked steward was praised for his self-preservation. Disciples have already been saved from the wrath of God, so does this parable apply to to such people? If the Master is merciful to wicked servants who squander His estate and the temporary blessing he provides from them, how much more will He be merciful to His children whom he loves with a saving love when they come into their times of crisis and cast themselves on His mercy? This would in turn press the minister to deal with any current difficulties and how they are handled by Christians in his congregation. He would never point out a specific difficulty of a specific individual, (or for that matter an individual from the pulpit), but he would make this applicable to them all, congruently. How are you handling the crisis in your life? Do you know the true character of the Master? Annexed to this are points like, Christ’s cross is the fountain of mercy where his people may continue to drink his blessings, or, how Christians shall be rewarded in Christ when they endure under sufferings and in times of crisis these difficulties to the glory of God.