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The Under-Appreciated Value of Application in Preaching

Many preachers believe the purpose of preaching is to explain the Bible, or to interpret the text, or to help people understand God’s Word. But these all fall short of what it really is.

Paul gives us God’s purpose of preaching in Ephesians 4:11-13: “Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (NIV).

Why did God give prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? To produce Christ-like people. That’s the purpose of preaching: to help people become like Jesus.

How does this happen? Through application. The only way lives are changed is through the application of God’s Word. The lack of application in preaching and teaching is, I believe, the number one problem with preaching in America.

Too many sermons are nothing more than lectures on biblical backgrounds or obscure Greek and Hebrew words. As a result, people walk into a church and walk out, but their lives remain unchanged.

Application-less preaching produces Christians who act no differently than non-believers. They divorce at the same rate as unbelievers. In fact, the latest study said that Christians actually divorce at a greater rate than non-believers.

We have Christian singles and Christian teenagers sleeping together.

No one acts different than the world. Why? Application-less preaching! We’re teaching knowledge; we’re teaching doctrine; we’re teaching reproof and correction; but we’re not getting to the reason for it all by teaching application.

God has promised in his Word in Isaiah 55:11: “My word … shall not return to me void.” (NKJV). If it does return void, it’s not the message. It’s the way we communicate it.

Why aren’t more sermons built on application?

  • We assume that people will make the necessary connection. We say, “They’ll get it. I’ll just teach it, interpret it for them. They’ll make the application in their own lives.” But they won’t.
  • We leave it to the Holy Spirit. We say, “I teach the Word, and I leave the application to the Holy Spirit.” Not good enough. You are the Holy Spirit’s tool. He will speak through you, but you must make the application.
  • Personal application is convicting and it makes people feel uncomfortable.
  • We haven’t applied it in our own lives.
  • It takes more time and effort and preparation. We spend so much time interpreting the text that we run out of time, and then application gets the short end of the stick in our preparation.
  • We’re afraid of being simplistic. We don’t want to be life-oriented preachers because we think it’s the doctrinal preachers who are deep and loved and respected and honored and venerated. The life-application preachers are considered shallow and wimpy and cheap and sold-out.
  • We don’t apply the Scripture because we’ve never been taught how to do it. There are lots of books on how to interpret the Bible, but almost no books on application.
  • We haven’t realized the importance of application. Application is not something that you tack on to the end of the message. It is the message if you’re preaching to change lives and to make people like Christ.

Application answers two questions:

  • So what?
  • What now?

If your preaching doesn’t ever answer these two questions, you haven’t applied the Bible to the lives of your listeners.

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