Is Sermon Application Even Necessary?
By Matt Cohen | June 27, 2022
Topic: Applied Theology—Hermeneutics—Homiletics
Legend has it that philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was fond of illustrating the point that Christians should be doers of God’s Word (James 1:22) by telling the parable of waddling ducks. The parable goes something like this:
One balmy Sunday morning in the land of ducks, all the ducks waddled to church. When they found their pews, their duck preacher waddled to the pulpit. Opening the duck Bible, he preached a spellbinding sermon about God’s great gift to ducks—wings! “God has given you wings to rise above the confinement of pens and soar to the heavens,” the duck preacher exclaimed. All the ducks in the congregation uproariously shouted, “amen, praise God for the gift of wings.” Then they all waddled home.1
The parable reminds preachers that growing in Christ-centered sermon application is our important privilege as we seek to form local churches that reflect the glory of God. In Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell defines sermon application as “the present consequence of Scriptural truth.”
“A text unapplied is a text yet to be fully exegeted.”—Matt Cohen
It’s not easy to grow in Christ-centered sermon application. In this article, we will explore four reasons why, despite the challenges, it’s well worth our time and effort to grow in Christ-centered sermon application. The four reasons arise from reflection on Isaiah 55:10–13.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the LORD,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The Theological Reason
Recently my young son and I were transplanting some of the plants in our yard. It’s a meticulous process. We cut wide deep holes, mixed soil, and watered diligently. I expected our plants to survive. However, I never expected that any amount of watering would turn my holly bush into an oak tree. But that kind of unexpected transformation is exactly what God’s Word does in God’s people. God’s Word transforms thorn bushes into myrtles (Isaiah 55:13). God’s very purpose for his Word is the transformation of his people. When we labor toward providing the local church with clear, compelling, and transformative sermon application, we are cooperating with God’s purpose for his Word. This is the theological reason to grow in preaching the present consequence of Scriptural truth.
The Exegetical Reason
Since God intends to transform his people through His Word (Isaiah 55:10-13), sermon application is not a “next step” in sermon preparation after our exegetical work is done. Rather, application is the culmination of exegesis. In “Toward an Exegetical Theology,” Walter Kaiser writes, “Exegesis is never an end in itself. Its purposes are never fully realized until it begins to take into account problems of transferring what has been learned from the text over to the waiting Church.” The transforming nature of God’s Word provides us with an exegetical reason to grow in sermon application. A text unapplied is a text yet to be fully exegeted.
The Practical Reason
God transforms His people through His Word. Therefore, preaching that does not aim at transforming the beliefs, affections, and actions of God’s people will not hold their attention. Bryan Chapell writes, “If there is no apparent reason for listeners to absorb exegetical insights, historical facts, and biographical details, then the preacher cannot expect to hold their attention.” The loving preacher has a passion to hold the attention of his people through skillful sermon application. That is the practical reason to grow in sermon application.
The Doxological Reason
Isaiah 55:13 says, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (emphasis added). When we connect the transforming power of God’s Word to the daily lives of our people, they will be transformed into a people who will make a name for the Lord. We seek to grow in Christ-centered sermon application because connecting the transforming power of God’s Word to daily life produces a people who live for the glory of God.
May we grow in preaching the present consequence of Scriptural truth by God’s grace and for his glory.
- The parable is commonly ascribed to Soren Kierkegaard, but the source is in question. I first read the parable in Daniel Doriani’s book, Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible. ↩