In Chapter 15 of Engaging Exposition, Danny Akin makes this statement, “Exposition that is faithful to Scripture will not only explain the text; it will, of biblical and theological necessity, apply the text.” While these are mindful words for the pastor, the problem I see in many contemporary pulpits is twofold: Either one misapplies God’s Word or crafts exegetical masterpieces that are devoid of application. The latter seems to be an issue for me.
Coming out of seminary, I was properly equipped with the necessary tools to do sound exegesis. Nonetheless, one thing I find myself struggling to do well is sermon application. I have also found that this is common among many pastors who preach on a regular basis. Many of us know how to study and explain a text, but we find ourselves struggling to move to the application of a text.
6 Reminders as We Move From Interpretation to Application
Due to my struggles in this area, I developed a process that I personally walk through every time I go to prepare a sermon. This process involves six things I set out to remember. These are good reminders for you and me as we move from interpretation to application.
1. Remember yourself. I think it is important that preachers recognize their tendencies, gifts, and personal struggles as they make preparation to apply a text. This kind of awareness will guard against hobby horse preaching and allow for the preacher to be genuine and authentic. I also believe the pastor should “preach” to himself before he preaches to anyone else. This will help for his personal sanctification and his development as an applier of Scripture. Vines and Shaddix put it this way, “Foundational to preparing to be a good applier of Scripture is to practice personal application… northing will be more beneficial in applying the text to others than having engaged it yourself.”
2. Remember your people. One of the most important things I do in the application process involves remembering the people I am ministering to. The first example of this I came across was from the life and ministry of the great preacher, Alexander Maclaren. It has been said that as he prepared his sermons, Maclaren would place an empty chair before him in his study. That empty chair represented the people that would listen to him preach each week. In doing this, Maclaren would be able to prepare application that was relevant to his people. Nonetheless, this cannot be done if the pastor is not around his people.
I believe it is extremely important that pastors know their people and are involved in their lives on a regular basis. While commenting on this point in a seminary class at Southeastern, Dwayne Milioni gave me some great advice when he said this, “A Shepherd smells like his sheep.” The way a shepherd smells like his sheep is by being around them. In the same manner, the way a pastor knows his people is by being around them and understanding their desires, joys, fears, and struggles. By doing this, he can make proper application to their lives from God’s Word.
3. Remember your context. A third point I remember in this process of application is the importance of context. While similar to the previous point, I think there is a distinction I want to clarify. Each local church sits in a specific location with specific people, specific traditions, and a certain way of life. It is important that I understand my context as I prepare applications so that any misunderstanding and confusion can be avoided.
For example, there are certain applications and illustrations that would make sense in an urban society like New York City; however, it would be a poor choice for me to use them in a rural community like northeast Greensboro (my current location). To make this mistake would be to misunderstand my context. As a result, I am always trying to learn more about my local community and city through the local schools, community and city-wide events, and recreational activities. I want to learn as much as possible about my community so that I can make application that can be understood by those in my community.
4. Remember your world. I also argue that application can be developed not only by looking at one’s context but also by remembering one’s world. This means we must know the current issues and trends that surround our society, nation, and the world, and as a result, develop application that is mindful of these events taking place.
Our people want to hear and need to hear what God has to say about what is taking place in our world. Thus, pastors should not remain silent or unaware of current situations in the contemporary world. In fact, Jim Shaddix puts it this way, “Pastor, don’t fail to prophetically interpret contemporary events through the lens of God’s Word. Your people need to hear His perspective on what’s going on in our world.” Pastors can quickly learn what is going on in the world through different avenues like social media, news outlets, articles, magazines, and other platforms.
5. Remember your study. Pastors, you should be able to develop application that is based upon proper exegesis. However, if we are not careful, many of us can fall into misapplication that leads to either heterodoxy or even heresy. In order to combat this issue, pastors must remember to study God’s Word diligently and faithfully throughout this process. Pastors must continually sit down before the biblical authors and work hard to understand the biblical text before them. As a result of this work, fruitful application can be developed that is faithful to the text. Robinson helps us here by saying this, “Basic to perceptive application is accurate exegesis. We cannot decide what a passage means to us unless first we have determined what the passage meant when the Bible was written.”
6. Remember your Savior. The final and most important point I consider in this endeavor is the place of Christ in application. I believe every pastor must provide Christ-centered application if he is ever going to truly honor God’s Word and bring about transformation in the lives of his people. Application that is devoid of Christ and his work brings about mere moralism. Akin put it this way, “Jesus is the hero of the whole Bible. He is the Savior in that he delivers us from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (sanctification), and ultimately the presence of sin (glorification)… our people must understand that although they are saved by Jesus, they mature into Christlikeness through Jesus.” Pastor, is your application filled with Jesus? If you are going to be a preacher that is faithful to the text and your Savior, you will remember that your application should be Christ-centered, which will bring about life change.
My prayer is that pastors will work hard to develop application that is faithful to the text, practical for our people, and relevant for our context. This can’t be done if the pastor either misapplies the text or avoids application altogether. I hope these reminders will spur each of us to work on becoming better appliers of God’s Word, which will ultimately bring about life change for God’s glory.
 Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 228.
 Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Progress in the Pulpit: How to Grow in Your Preaching (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 53.
 Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 87.