Tips for Freshening Application

 |  December 16, 2019

Preaching is not merely a transmission of facts; it is at least this, but it answers the question of “So what?” with these facts. Preaching is application-oriented. Haddon Robinson said, “Application gives expository preaching purpose.”[1]Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 27. Part of the sermon preparation and delivery includes application. Yet, preachers may find this portion to be the hardest part of a sermon. Even when application is done, it may be short on time and sound too similar from the week before. Daniel Doriani, in this article, explains how preachers make sermons boring and applications repetitious.[2]See Daniel Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001). This is a helpful work on applications for sermons.

Good application will flow from the text. As I have heard in the classroom, we are to have “text-warranted applications” from the Scripture passage being preached. Application will help listeners understand how the Bible is to be lived out in their lives, even though at least 2,000 years separates our audience from the original audience of the Scriptures. If Scripture is God’s self-revelation, and if He does not change, then preaching God’s Word has application for everyone today. The key is taking the time to reflect and think about the application portion of the sermon. Below are 3 tips to help freshen application. We will use 2 Timothy 3:10–17 as an example.

Think about application for the individual and beyond. The one imperative in this passage is Paul commanding Timothy to continue in what he has learned. Let’s imagine that the main idea you come to is “Stay with the sacred Scriptures through all seasons.” One application you can preach is to read the Bible daily. This is a valid application of staying in the Scriptures, but it is geared toward the individual. One way to freshen application is to think about how this passage applies to not just the individual but beyond to the family, to the church, and elsewhere.

For application toward the family, here are some questions to think through. How can a family continue in the Word of God? Could this be a daily time where the Scriptures are read as a family after dinner? Is this discussing specific lessons from Sunday School and the Sunday morning sermon during lunch? Could it also be to write out Scripture passages and place those in the home as reminders?

How can the passage apply to the church in your community? The passage in question is in the context of Paul in prison near the end of his life writing to Timothy, who is leading a church. Paul intended Timothy to pass the faith to another generation within the local church. Could continuing in the Word of God as a church mean introducing a daily Bible reading plan for a year, or a weekly memorization of a verse or two, or a commitment to train Sunday School leaders in the expository teaching philosophy? This could also be a goal to have expository preaching in the youth ministry or to have a counseling ministry driven by the Scriptures.

As you think beyond the individual, the possibilities of application grow. Think about how the passage applies to an association or convention of churches. Perhaps, application is possible for a nation as a whole.

Think about application in the here and now and beyond. At times when application is preached, the application is about an action that is in the here and now. This should be done as it goes beyond generalities and gives the audience a way to carry out the truths of the sermon after they have just heard it. As a preacher, you might say to your congregation to spend at least 10 minutes every day this week in the Bible.

For additional application, think how the application can change an attitude of the heart far beyond the next week or two. Give as application to establish a daily time in the Word as a discipline, not just as a short-term routine. In our example passage, another application can be to call the audience to a commitment for the rest of their lives in believing the Bible is without error. Ask them to cultivate this conviction in their lives through their actions. Give specifics here also.

Another application could be to state that we must always have a humble and tender heart when the Word of God is preached (cf. 2 Kings 22:18–19). For your listeners to apply this sermon is for them to have a posture of humility when they hear biblical sermons for the rest of their lives. This goes beyond one or two actions in the week.

Think about application in your understanding and beyond. You may not have a long commute to work, but some in your congregation may. Perhaps one way for your congregation to continue in the Word is to listen to an audio Bible while they are driving. Perhaps you don’t listen to podcasts, but you can assess different podcasts for your congregation that will help them hear more sound preaching and teaching while they are commuting or if they can listen to them at their workplace.

Perhaps you are not as musically gifted, but some have found putting Scripture to music helpful in memorizing passages. You can even make this as a point of application.

You will never cover all the different ways a Scripture passage can apply to your congregation. Trust that God will apply the message in people’s lives with the explanation, illustrations, and applications you have preached. In speaking about individual problems, Lloyd-Jones stated how the Spirit of God can apply the truth to particular situations without the preacher even addressing them.[3]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 37-8. However, in just providing a few points of application, this will help your audience start connecting the dots in their lives as to how to live out the Word.

The study of applications will require time to think. Hopefully, these tips have prompted some thinking for applications for sermon preparation and preaching.


Rickesh Patel is a Ph.D. student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching.

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