I know I haven’t worked hard enough on my passage/sermon when the applications I want to make are: “Read your Bible, pray more, go to church and give money”. It seems that these actions can often be the practical implication of nearly any and every passage in the Bible. Or can they?
If your specific goal was to make the applications of “Bible, prayer, church or money” what passages of Scripture would you use?
- Read your Bible – the general principle drawn from places where the Word of God is honoured (e.g. Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3:16).
- Pray – a collection of instructions from Jesus and the apostles (e.g. Luke 18:1-8; Philippians 4:6).
- Going to church – (Hebrews 10:25).
- Giving money – financial support for poor Christians in other places (1 Corinthians 16, 2 Corinthians 8-9).
My point isn’t that this application-quartet is ‘out of bounds’ – but that they are the direct implication of a relatively short list of biblical texts. They get wheeled out as illustrations of a more general application: the call to commitment, which is really the call to respond to God’s words and God’s actions. And that call for response is a theme that does run throughout the Bible. God has spoken into this world so that people would respond. The shape of that response can be captured under the headings of faith and repentance.
But it is in the reaching for an illustration of faith and repentance that we preachers too quickly and unthinkingly slide into the tried and true rut of the fab-four: Bible, prayer, church, and money. When I feel my applications are getting stale and hackneyed I’ve found a few helpful guides to prompt me to think more widely about the implications of a passage.
One of them is the fruit of J.I. Packer’s examination of the Puritan preachers, who were masters of plumbing the depths of “uses” (applications) of a text. He offers a list of the different kinds of people who hear the sermon:
- Unconverted and self-satisfied needing to be awakened and humbled
- Concerned and enquiring people wanting to be told what being a Christian today involves
- Convicted and seeking souls needing to be guided directly to Christ
- Young Christians who need to be built up and led on
- Mature Christians ageing both physically and spiritually, who need to be constantly encouraged lest they flag.
- People in trouble through moral lapses, or circumstantial trouble – through losses and crosses, through disappointment or depression – needing to be set on their feet again.
He then offers a list of the four types of applications:
- to the mind – what truth should people now think/not think.
- to the will – what behaviour should now follow/not follow.
- to the motivation – what encouragement or penalty is promised.
- to the conscience – what convictions or denials are they experiencing in relation to this truth
He takes the two lists and makes them into a grid – 6 kinds of people mapped to 4 kinds of applications – giving 24 combinations to think through. Of course you can’t develop all 24 specific applications in any one single sermon! But the discipline of thinking through the biblical passage under these categories has helped me towards applications that are more faithful, focused and fresh.
What tools have you found for keeping your applications faithful, focused and fresh?
* * *
Paul has been the pastor of Hastings Baptist Church for the last 10 years. He is married to Joy and together they are the proud parents of four incredible girls.