What makes application in preaching effective and biblical?
Each person comes to church with a different frame of mind and expectations. Some are burdened with issues of life and they want something to comfort or relieve them of that burden. Others expect that the word of God will change them or impact their lives in one way or another. The only means through which change can take place is through the exposition of the word of God. The exposition itself is not just providing out necessary data and filling the mind of the audience, but it must be accompanied by an effective application. What then makes an application effective and biblical in preaching? There are a few points to consider on this; the clear meaning of the text, understanding the goal of preaching, personal and direct address, specific application, and targeting the right people.
Clear meaning of the text
The primary task of the expositor during sermon preparation is a thorough exegesis. Exegesis is the personal study whereby the exegete diligently determines the biblical meaning of the text as it was intended by the original author and as heard by the original audience in its historical and literary context. The meaning of the text of Scripture was intended to help the original audience deal with the issues at hand. Note, that it is the duty of the expositor to first and foremost expose the audience to the meaning of the text through exposition. The meaning must be clear and simple. In Nehemiah 8, Ezra read from the book of the Law clearly and gave the sense so that people understood the reading. It was through the understanding of the text or message that the people acted accordingly (Neh. 8:9-9:5). The people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing because they had understood the words that were declared to them (Neh. 8:12).
Understand the goal of preaching
Transformation is the goal of preaching. The word of God was written to affect lives. And to change lives. Preaching should be both evangelistic and edification. This means through evangelistic preaching, the expositor is aiming at saving people through the Holy Spirit who convicts and sanctifies. Murray Capill puts it well when he says, “The aim of biblical preaching is to bring the people into an encounter with God Himself in a life-shaping way today. His word will be pressed to their lives. It will impact their hearts. It will make the difference to the way they live. Some will be saved and others will be sanctified”. The knowledge gathered through the exposition must indeed shape the life of the audience. If there is no application the goal of preaching is not accomplished.
The expository preaching must answer the “so what”. The audience must not leave the meeting without the answer to the so what. They should be able to say this is what God want me to do about the sermon I just heard. According to Chapell, the duty that God requires in a passage is the “so what” of expository preaching that causes application. Quoting David Veeman summary, he indicated that application answers two questions: “So what” and “Now what?” The first question is dealing with why is this passage important to me? And the second asks, “What should I do about it today”. It does not leave people in a vacuum or dark not knowing what to do. After the “so what” there must be a “now what” to make the application purposeful.
After studying and teaching the doctrine, there is always a, “Therefore”. This is the major part of the preacher’s task to highlight and press on the hearers their duty to obey the message. This was so true with the writing of the Apostle Paul. In his epistle to the Romans, he discussed doctrine in the first eleven chapters and coming to chapter twelve he begins the “therefore” part (Romans 12:1-21).
Personal and Direct address
The target of preaching is the heart. The audience must hear the voice of Christ, not to fill the mind but to enlighten the mind and cause the heart to change. In this case, the sermon must use the second person pronoun, “You”. There is a place of the first person plural, “We”, but the third person singular or plural makes the sermon a lecture. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus directly and personally addressed the Pharisees and Scribes, as hypocrites. He started the seven pronouncements with, “Woe to you”, and then added, “For you…” (Matthew 23:13-29). The same was true in the Sermon on the Mount, especially chapters five and six. The preaching was direct and personal. Jesus used the second person pronoun repeatedly. The audience present heard the message and the application was effective.
It is clear that people hardly give the commendations after the sermon or comment when the application was direct and life changing. They either come in need of help or reject the message because they do not want to change. This was true with Jesus’ and the Apostles’ preaching in the gospels and the book of Acts. Robinson says sinners don’t come after the evangelistic sermon and say that it was a good sermon or that it was interesting. They come with, “What must I do to be saved or forgiven?” Then the preacher can explain further.
The application must be specific to be effective. The expositor must appeal to the needs of the audience. People come to the Church expecting that the word will change them for the better because they have personal issues. The specific needs of the people vary from felt needs, hidden needs, and spiritual needs. To address the specific needs, the preacher must deal with loneliness, suffering, conflict, guilt, giving, resolution, patience, sharing faith, praying, spiritual disciplines, etc. People face these issues and they need help in dealing with them. General application does not appeal to the heart of the audience. Michael Fabarez reminded us that we should not forget, that when we preach, we are calling people to abandon their existing beliefs, values, and behaviours and adopt new ones. It is important to know what people are struggling with in order to help them. The real stories in life and biblical stories help the audience to see the principle addressed and how it affected other people.
Effective application must target the right people
The application must be directed to the right people. The expositor is dealing with different kinds of people. Michale Fabarez developed an acronym Congregants to identify different types of people. The C is for Cynics, O for Overwhelmed, N for New Christians, G for Grieving, R for Retired, E for Eager, G for Gullible, A for Agnostics, T for Transgressors and S for Singles. These people are found in every church. This practice of identifying people in order to direct the application to the right people was practised by the Puritans as well. William Perkins taught his students how to direct the application to seven categories of listeners. These are the ignorant and unteachable believers, those who have some knowledge but are not humble, the humble, those who believe, those who are fallen either in faith or in practice, and a mixed group. The puritans included directions to believers and non-believers on how to behave after hearing the exposition. The application must be aimed at changing lives.
The application is not an add on to the sermon. Again expository preaching is not just an exposing the truth of the text as originally heard but helping the present audience to apply the truth today. In order to do that, the expositor must be a good exegete. He must expose the meaning of the text and then deliver it in the power of the Holy Spirit so that change can take place. It must be aimed at the heart, which is the target of every preacher. It must be specific and directed to the particular audience so that when they leave the meetings they will know exactly what God expects them to do about the word they just heard.
Expositors always consider the seriousness of the application. It is their duty to present effective and biblical applications. Here are some quotes from great expositors shared by Michael Faberez in one of his session at the Master’ Seminary:
Tozer, “Moral applications are needed in every sermon”
Spurgeon, “Where application begins there the sermon begins”
Broadus, “Application is not an appendage but the main thing”
Chapell, “Without application, we are not serving Christ well”
Parker, “Without application, we are just lecturing”
Beeke Joel, & Mark Jones. A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012
Capill, Murray. The Heart is the Heart, preach practical application from every text. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2014
Chapell Bryan. Christ Centred Preaching, Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994
Fabarez, Michael. Preaching that Changes Lives. Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & STOCK, 2002
Robinson, Haddon and Craig Brian Larson. The Art of Biblical Preaching, a comprehensive resource for today’s communicators. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005
Zuck, Roy B. Basic Bible Interpretation, A practical guide to discovering biblical truth. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor publishing, 1991
 Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, A practical guide to discovering biblical truth, (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor publishing, 1991), 19
 Murray Capill, The Heart is the Heart, preach practical application from every text, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2014), 17
 Bryan Chapell, Christ Centred Preaching, Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994), 210
 Michael Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives, (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & STOCK, 2002), ix
 Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, The Art of Biblical Preaching, a comprehensive resource for today’s communicators, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005),
 Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, The Art of Biblical Preaching, a comprehensive resource for today’s communicators, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 288
 Michael Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives, (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & STOCK, 2002), 107
 TMS Lecturer, Preparation and Preaching with Expectation., 7/14/2016
 Joel Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for life, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, 694
 TMS lecturer Preparing and Preaching with Expectation, 14/7/2016