I’ve sometimes heard preachers minimize the importance of application in sermons.
I think part of the reason has to do with the fact that there some preachers who focus their entire message on the contemporary significance of a passage and actually end up missing the actual point of the passage. It’s like they take the passage out of the equation actually. They just give ten tips with Bible verses on top.
You can see how you would be tempted to react to preaching like that by minimizing application and actually focusing on what the author was saying to his original audience. The tempted part doesn’t have to do with focusing on what the author was saying, that’s a good thing. The tempted part has to do with minimizing application.
Plus the truth is there is a lot to do every week when it comes to preparing a message and if you are going to properly understand the author’s message and then think carefully about how that message applies today and then come up with a way to structure your message so that it communicates both, that’s pretty tough. It is easier to focus on the one, the author’s original meaning and throw in maybe at the end what you came up with as far as its significance to us today. Or not. You might think the Holy Spirit can do that when the people meditate on the text at home.
Let me just say that I would much rather have a pastor focus exclusively on exposing the meaning of the text to the original hearers than I would have a pastor focus on giving me some tips to live my life. God’s Word, some guys opinions? The choice is obvious.
But I do think we should stop and ask, do our people really understand a text if they don’t know how to apply it? I mean if we minimize application and say I just want people to understand the text so I am going to show them its original significance, are we really helping them understand the text as fully as God intends? I am not sure that you can say you are not focusing on application because you are more focused on understanding the text because I am not sure that you really understand the text if you don’t understand its application in your life.
I’ve been reading Daniel Doriani’s Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application and he gives a number of reasons pastors must think about application when it comes to preaching a text.
For one thing, if we don’t show our congregations how to apply Scripture, who will? There is a lot of bad application out there – much of it stems from not understanding the original meaning of the text, true – but still with all the bad application out there, if we don’t show our people what good application looks like, they are going to be in trouble. If they are Christians they are going to want to apply Scripture to their lives and we need to give them a model of how to do so.
For another, what seems obvious to the pastor may not seem nearly as obvious to the people in the pew. We’ve been sitting and studying the text all week. We’ve been living in it, meditating on it, so applications may seem just like crystal clear to us. Our people haven’t. And so if we want them to understand specifically how a particular passage relates to their life, it makes sense that we might need to work on being direct.