Ask any preacher what they think is the weakest part of their sermon, and ask any sermon hearer what aspect of preaching is in greatest need of improvement, and the answer is likely to be the same: application.
Indeed, it can seem so difficult to get from text to application that some preachers are tempted to give up on expository sermons and offer topical messages the seem to speak more directly to contemporary issues and to people’s felt needs.
Jeramie Rinne suggests that good application has a lot in common with good exegesis. Both arise from asking good questions of the text. When it comes to application, such questions might include the following:-
1. What is the main point? If we can state the main exegetical idea of the text in a single sentence, we are likely to to be able to generate from that the key homiletical idea (to use Haddon Robinson’s terminology).
2. How did this apply back then? What response was the original author aiming for? Obedience? Praise? Trust? Of course, the application may not be exactly the same for us today, but at least we will be in the right area.
3. How might this address different hearers? Believers? Unbelievers? Parents? Children? Women? The rich? Church leaders? The depressed? The fearful? It might be useful to contrast what the scripture says to each group with what the culture says to each group.
4. How does this shape the church? Instead of asking how the text might apply to individuals, we might ask what it says to the church. This is particularly important in our individualistic culture. Much of the Bible is written to the believing community, not just to individuals.
5. What objections might a sceptic raise? Might she be shocked by an exclusive truth claim, a vivid description of God’s wrath, or a rigorous moral command? Be prepared to address the doubts of unbelievers and believers alike.
6. How can I preach the gospel from this passage? The gospel should be central in our preaching as it is central in the Bible. See what the text says about our fallen condition, and take people to the cross for the solution.
7. How does this text help me to know and worship God? You will already be on the path to life-changing application if you seek to show God in his truth and glory in every sermon. The heart of the hearer will then be ready to respond in love, praise, and gratitude.