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Why I Gave Up Sermon Application

Much of Scripture is meant to be enjoyed, not applied.

Why I Gave Up Sermon Application

It is likely a miracle that I can remember a few sermons from the required chapel services I attended two to three times a week during my year in Bible College. Among the chapel services, youth group services I led on Wednesday nights, and church services on Sundays, I heard anywhere from four to eight sermons a week. Of those sermons, one particularly sticks out. The preacher himself does not stick out in my memory. It's a shame I don't remember who he was, because I wish I could give him credit for the sermon.

The sermon was about Psalm 103, the famous passage beginning and ending with the cry, "Bless the LORD!" The speaker's exegesis of the Psalm was perfect. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon, Christ became clear to me as the preacher set everything in its context and place. As any preacher would want, the preacher made Christ look as Christ does in Scripture: Beautiful. The preacher spoke with authority and let the text breathe all while remaining ...

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Displaying 1–18 of 18 comments

Victoria Carrington

January 11, 2018  12:17pm

Thank you, thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak this truth through you. This is confirmation for me of what God has been showing me. Jesus is beautiful and attractive. The Holy Spirit will convict. Our job is to reveal the beauty of the truth and grace of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit work.

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January 11, 2018  6:01am

The passages you mention that question the ability to apply to our lives are easily applied. Are you going to find yourself in the belly of a large fish? Probably not, but it also shows us how we need to listen to God and if He has something for us to do that He wants us to do, He will find a way for us to do it. I know that's just one example, but I do believe the Bible is meant to both inspire us and guide us in our daily living. Perhaps a particular passage is just meant to inspire or lift up the reader, but perhaps there are those that are meant for application, too? Either way, I don't see throwing the baby out with the bath water to be the answer. Just my opinion, though.

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January 10, 2018  11:27pm

I agree because I struggle with that too. However, how do you prevent the message from being lost among the congregation? I think the methodologies & formulas are to help the congregation let the sermon stick, rather than having them walk away thinking that it's "just another good talk". Do you have ways to mitigate that?

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Clemence Olaoluwa

January 10, 2018  6:30pm

Quite insightful and revolutionary!

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Stanley J. Groothof

January 10, 2018  1:19pm

Great article with great insights. I've discovered something very similar in recent years. Instead of trying to find applications in the text, I look for implications. Before I do anything, I want to perceive what *God* is doing and then participate in that with Him. Someone who helped me articulate this is Darrell W. Johnson in his book _The Glory of Preaching_ (IVP Academic, 2009), notably chap. 7, titled "Walking the Sermon into Everyday Life." I heartily recommend that chapter and indeed the entire book.

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Paul Limato, Jr.

January 10, 2018  11:46am

Thank you for this insightful article. How often have parents said to their children, “The world does NOT revolve around you!”? As a pastor, I’ve not thought about this in connection with preaching a sermon. Thank you for reminding me of what Jesus said to His Disciples, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

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January 10, 2018  1:05am

This article is very spot-on! There is a tendency to close our eyes to the promise, and just listen out to the demands because we are by nature do-it-yourselfers. But the whole point is Jesus, on every page of scripture.

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John Smith

January 09, 2018  1:22pm

I've always enjoyed Rutledge's sermons and online posts.

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Mark de Kluyver

January 09, 2018  12:25pm

I have recently discovered that when people tell me that a sermon is "very practical" it almost always means it has been interpreted to be about them and what they can do. It has become man centred.

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Alex Fagundo

January 09, 2018  7:32am

This article is spot on and has caused me to reflect about the purpose of a message. It reminds me of Mary and Martha. Martha was busy doing stuff while Mary just worshiped. Sometimes the point of a passage is just to create awe in us.

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Phil Mclain

January 08, 2018  4:17pm

A good reminder that God's message is not always about us (me).

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Patrick Dominguez

January 08, 2018  4:01pm

I like the focus on proclamation and the telling of Good News. Also, emphasis on beauty. However, "all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for" ...dare I say? Application! God does intend for it to ultimately find useful application in our lives. Still, a thought provoking article. Thanks!

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Rick Thompson

January 08, 2018  12:09pm

Excellent observation here. I once had a pastor who asked me how many "how-to" sermons Jesus preached. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but in my preaching I want the beautiful truths to come through of what God is doing, trusting the Spirit is putting His finger on the specific things each listener will find himself/herself knowing they must do now. NT Wright also reminded me of the importance of Scripture reading in the worship service, not as a set-up for the message so much as an opportunity for us to see and celebrate all the things God has done and is doing in His world among His people. Thanks for this refreshing perspective, Chris Nye.

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January 08, 2018  10:50am

Good point, Lawrence. What's to say of the wisemen than this, that God gave news to the world and invited them to see the Savior! The gifts of the Magi are nice but are rather unimportant, compared to the gift God has given them. The greater gift is God's holy Son, given for the salvation of the world. Hearing this, your congregation is wise to the ways of God. He cares for the world and sends the invitation to all. Those who hear are blessed and all who believe are glad!

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Lawrence Webb

January 08, 2018  10:34am

At various stages of my preaching experience, I've unconsciously been on both sides of this issue. At times, I have felt guilty to realize I have made no specific application as I come near the end of my writing. In recent years, I have tended to think "I really need to show what this means to my listeners." Yesterday with the wise men from the lectionary, I probably spent nearly half time "applying" their experience to our own. So this approach from Chris Nye deserves -- demands? -- new consideration. Thank you.

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January 08, 2018  10:34am

So, bravo to the writer, for he made a great observation about Law and Gospel. However, Scripture is not a matter of enjoyment but a matter of believing. It is God-given, just as faith is God-given. Both are driven by the Holy Spirit. Believing God and trusting in his promises, we will find joy. Even the tough and unbearable parts of Scripture will bring joy for the Christian, for the Christian knows that God is a refuge for all who believe.

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Derrick Lamar Smith

January 08, 2018  10:29am

Very timely and speaks clearly to the lack of Christ-centered preaching that is heard in many of our pulpits and not heard at all on most of the preaching we see on Television!

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January 08, 2018  10:12am

Sermons proclaims our salvation through Jesus Christ and are not how to or ought to lectures. If a sermon addresses a shortcoming or specific sin let the Scripture also speak of God's desire to save. IOW, David was an adulterer. The sermon could go all over the place with various observations. But at the end, the preacher must focus on God who redeems David, using Nathan who convicts David of sin BUT ALSO absolves him of sin and guilt and shame. The king is not cast away from God, because he believes God's promise of forgiveness, and the is a matter of God given faith. Jesus died for the sins of his ancestor David. Isn't that awesome? If the Gospel is not shared, we have not done our job. And NEVER assume that everyone knows the Gospel of a passage: The Gospel ASSUMED is the Gospel DENIED. Bring Jesus home. If it isn't about Jesus then just wish the people well and send them home; don't waste their time lecturing. Law condemns and kills. Jesus = God saves his people from their sin.

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