Have you ever heard someone say, “We don’t need another sermon, we don’t need any more teaching, what we need is more application of what we’ve already heard.” I hear this a lot in ministry and have always struggled with the heart behind this statement and the oversimplification of the issue at hand. First, let me say that I am absolutely all about application! James 1:22-25 makes it clear that one must be a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer only. So I am all about application! But here’s where I think there is a misunderstanding of preaching and application found within the claim, “We don’t need another sermon, we don’t need any more teaching, what we need is more application of what we’ve already heard.”
The Bible is full of passages that have explicit application. These passages are commands such as, “Be anxious for nothing,” or “Do not worry about tomorrow.” These are “do it” passages that ring loudly with the infamous Nike slogan, “Just Do It!” However, the majority of the Bible is not explicit commands of “go and do likewise.” The majority of the Bible rather, is narrative or poetry, dealing not with any explicit commands. Try and find an explicit command in the story of Samson and Delilah. Don’t cut your hair? Start a ministry of slaying Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone? Find a huge gate and rip it off its hinges and just start walking around with it on your back? There aren’t explicit commands that we could apply to our lives. So what do we do with those passages if “we don’t need more teaching but more application?”
I believe the answer is not searching for some application for our lives but rather looking at the implications found in the text about who God is and who we are. Instead of looking for immediate, explicit application in narratives such as Samson and Delilah or the story of Ehud (which by the way, the application in that story is that left-handed people are cooler than right-handed people…go read it and you’ll see why!) we should be looking for implications of who God is, who we are, and how our thinking should change based on what we are seeing that is implied in the text. For instance, in the story of Samson and Delilah, though there aren’t explicit commands to follow, there are so many implications found within the text: sin is deceptive and alluring, the road of sin is hard and leads to pain, consequences, and death, God can use even the most stubborn, prideful, rebellious sinner for His purposes and glory, etc. From these implications found within the text you may be able to draw some action points of application for your own life. But if you are reading the Bible searching for a list of dos and don’ts, you’re either going to be sorely disappointed or you’re going to place commands within the text that just aren’t there.
Therefore, I think that saying we need less preaching and more application of what has already been taught is an oversimplification of the issue. Look at Jesus’ ministry. Did He do that with His disciples? Not at all. If he had, the majority of the Gospel would not have been written because Jesus would have never been able to get past the first few commands He spoke. Instead, He taught, and He taught, and He taught, and He taught. He didn’t wait around for the disciples to nail down every point that He had said and applied it to their lives. He knew the process of sanctification is gradual, long, and arduous. But He also knew that the Helper would come and would lead them in the Truth. And He knew that He who began the good work in them would perfect it until the day of His return! Therefore, He grew their roots down deeper and deeper and deeper into the Truth, with every sermon, every lesson, every word that He spoke.
If we are waiting for application of every truth that is preached, we’re going to have to start moving EXTREMELY slowly through the Bible, starting a “read-through-the-Bible-in-20-years,” program. If we are looking for implications and impressions upon our souls about who God is and who we are, then we will “meditate on the Law day and night.” (Ps. 1:2) If we are waiting for application to happen before moving on to new topics to be learned and applied we will be hitting one specific issue at a time and it will take a while to move through even a dozen issues that the Bible addresses. If we are looking for implications and impressions from the text upon our souls about who God is and who we are then we will be reading and absorbing the whole counsel of God as often as possible, not just sitting on one topic at a time.
Therefore, it is my conviction that the issue at hand isn’t needing more application and less sermons but rather needing just as many sermons if not more along with hearts and ears that are fine-tuned to hearing implications, impressions, and affection-stirring truth and living in light of who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do in the future!
An extremely helpful and succinct article on this topic can be found here: http://thecripplegate.com/drinking-from-a-fire-hose-why-so-many-sermons/ (the Cripplegate blog, by the way, is an excellent blog written by several friends and pastors I highly respect and appreciate)
May the Lord consume and shatter our hearts with His awesome Word! (Jer. 23:29)