Dying to Preach
Sharp Application: Thoughts on Applying a Text
2) Put the application in its place.
Application may come throughout the sermon or all at the end. How the text develops will determine this, and there is no right or wrong. Assuming that each point should have a certain amount of application may force false application on a more doctrinal/expositional text. Consider the genre—narrative, poetry, dense doctrine, epistle—and plan the application accordingly.
3) Remember the trajectory.
The application may move from the general to the specific. For example, one could make the case for the sanctity of life from Psalm 139:13, 14. If we are "fearfully and wonderfully made . . ." then this general truth can be applied to the specific issue of abortion. However, the opposite is also true.
Application may move from the specific to the general. As evidenced in the admonition in Titus 3:9-11 that the pastor must avoid silly controversies and confront the sinning brother, God generally wants order in local congregations. This move from the specific to the general is helpful because it allows us a way to take seemingly very specific issues in the text and pan out to show how they contribute to the whole picture.
This is the most important aspect of application, and no doubt the hardest to communicate. What we are advocating is using the illustration of the sermon and the application as one unit by weaving the illustration into the application.
For example, imagine a sermon that begins with a compelling illustration. The preacher has us exactly in the right place. Then the preacher says, "That's just like what Paul is saying in this text . . ." What the people heard was, "The story is over, go back to sleep."
However, that most pivotal moment is the place for application. In this way, the last line of the illustration should be the first line of the application. When the people are most vulnerable to listen, that is the time to move in and strike.
Perhaps the balance is best expressed in Titus 1:1, where Paul describes faith as "the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness." This is not just life-change. This is not just knowledge. This is really what we want: that our people should know the word in such a way that it changes their lives.
This is the word that cuts then heals. Thus, application that flows from a sermon that is driven by the text should never be dull, because it is committed to the work of the invisible world. In that world, the word of God is alive. The word is active. The word is sharp.
Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.