Without application, there is no sermon.
It is a great challenge to offer sound application from the text. Discovering the meaning of the text is hard work, but preachers have countless resources for exegesis and hermeneutics. Between atlases, dictionaries, commentaries, and sophisticated Bible software, the text’s meaning should not be a mystery.
Application is different.
To truly apply a text’s meaning, the pastor must know his congregation and context. While each text has only one meaning, there are many applications of that meaning. The pastor’s job is to challenge the congregation with these applications, so that they can live out their faith in their context.
Several years ago, I created an application worksheet that I use for each sermon. I write my thoughts under each heading as I work through the questions.
I insert this set of questions into my sermon prep document.
- Theological (What does this passage say about God?)
- Universal (What does this passage say about Man?)
- Relational (What does this passage say about how we relate with others?)
- With God
- With our spouse
- With our family
- With our church
- With those at work/school/activities/neighbors
- Individual (What does this passage say about you?)
After I’ve whittled the text’s meaning down to its historical, contextual, and sermonic theme sentences, I ask questions of my findings.
I begin by asking what a passage says about God (theological application). As I reread the text and my study notes, I look for truths about God. I use the traditional systematic theology topics as my guard rails. What does this paragraph teach about the character of God, or the Trinity, or His providence? What does it teach about Jesus? What does it teach about the Holy Spirit? Does it say anything about the doctrine of salvation, the church, or the end times? I try to maintain a good collection of systematic and biblical theologies for reference.
I continue by asking what the paragraph says about man (universal application). Once again, theological works will aid your findings. Very often you will find that the some aspect of man’s fallen nature is displayed in your pericope.
Next, I ask what the passage says about relating to others (relational application). Having looked at the big picture, God and Man, it is now time to look at the smaller picture. This step asks how believers relate to God, their spouses, their families, their church, and those outside the church, based on the truth found in the text. Not every text will have a specific application for each area, but by asking the questions, the text’s best applications will emerge.
Finally, I ask how a passage impacts actions and attitudes. Does the text apply to a certain sinful attitude, such as envy? Is there a particular action to be taken because of the text’s meaning?
Sharing a text’s application is genre specific. A didactic text, such as an epistle or Psalm, requires sharing application throughout the sermon. While preaching narrative texts, it’s often best to place application near the sermon’s conclusion, after the entire story has been told.
I encourage you to create an application worksheet, whether you model this one or create your own. I created mine because I felt application was my weakest area and I needed to improve. This approach keeps me from being lazy. It forces me to think fully about the text.
Good luck with this.
It will grow and challenge you, just as much as it will the congregation.