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The Place of Pastoral Wisdom in Application (Part 1)

To what extent should sermon application be guided by personal experience, observation, and common sense?

This is part one of a two-part series.

PreachingToday.com: In a conversation you and I had in the past about sermon application, you used the phrase " pastoral wisdom preaching, " which caught my attention. What do you mean by that?

Timothy Warren: I tell my kids, " Don't play in the street. " That's not based on a text, but it is based on my wisdom and experience. Sometimes we tell our people things that are not necessarily based on a text but are good common sense. Leave the visitors the close parking spaces. If you see somebody that looks confused walking in the door of the church, go up and introduce yourself. Be friendly and invite them in. I could find a text to make that work, but that's common sense. So pastoral wisdom preaching happens all the time. The question is, to what extent can that happen in a sermon?

I believe we can preach with some significant level of authority an application that is not explicitly mentioned in the text. The question is not, Do I do it with any authority? but rather, With what level of authority, or what authority am I drawing on? Am I drawing on simply my own ethos and experience? Or am I drawing on biblical authority? That's where we have to be clear when it comes to applicational statements.

On many issues where we have good, important, wise things to say, we compromise our credibility by putting it at the same level as Thus saith the Lord.

Expository preaching is not limited simply to preaching through the text; we can preach the idea of the text. It's the theological message. The question is, How do I supply that principle? How do I apply that indicative statement about who God is and how I relate to him? The application is the responsibility of the preacher, unless the text is explicit about it. In the epistles it is more explicit. In a lot of the other literature, it isn't explicit. So we're either going to leave sermon application at an exegetical level or in theological abstraction at a principle level, or we're going to take responsibility to speak out of our wisdom. That's where we are asking, How do we move from a textually derived theological idea, proposition, concept, theme? And where do we go from there?

In order to move from that established theological concept to application, if we don't have a direct correlation like we do in the epistles, we need to build some bridges for the audience. Sometimes we build psychological bridges; we build sociological bridges; we build logical bridges; we build traditional bridges. We do this by saying, " It makes sense that if this is true, then this would be an application. "

Let's look at 2 Corinthians 6 as an example.

" Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, " ( 2 Corinthians 6:14). When you look at the context, Paul says: I want you to pay attention to me. I wrote these things to you because I saw a danger. Don't be unequally yoked together.

He is alluding to Deuteronomy 22:10, which says, " Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. " You have to go back to that and show that God was teaching the whole concept of separation. " Don't wear cloth and linen together. You can eat oxen, but you can't eat shrimp. " God was teaching a theology of separation. Paul is saying I'm teaching you a theology of separation. You cannot be Christian and still dabble in the behavior of your pagan community like you used to. You cannot be Christian and give in to the false teaching threatening the church. I'm calling on you not to have communion, fellowship, partnership, or harmony with unbelievers because it's not natural. You're the temple of God.

You've got to do all of that exegetical and theological work before you have any credibility in making application. I've primarily heard the application of " don't be unequally yoked together " as related to marriage. That's a legitimate application. That's not Paul's application. Paul's application is don't put yourself in a mismatched spiritual relationship with the pagans and behave like they behave. Don't put yourself in a mismatched spiritual relationship with false teachers. So it wasn't marriage here; it was friendships, relationships.

Given what the text says and the theology behind it, related to Israel not intermarrying with the Canaanites and learning the principle of separation, how do I apply that today? In order to make it relevant to marriage, I have to show the connection. When you marry somebody, you become involved in an intimate, whole-person relationship. You cannot be married to somebody and not have your spiritual worldview, your faith, influenced. There's a legitimate application here based on wisdom, based on logic, based on how people relate to each other in communication. I can build that bridge. I could apply that with a high level of authority, because I can build a firm platform for hearers to follow.

How about business partnerships? There are some business partnerships you could be involved in with an unbeliever because the nature of the business and the particular moral position this person has, even though they may not be a believer, is not going to involve you in spiritual compromise. There are other business relationships where you couldn't be involved with an unbeliever, because the relationship has too much spiritual input. The whole integrity of the business is going to keep you from being able to do whatever it is.

For example, if you own a convenience store, you decide what you're going to sell. Are you going to sell cigarettes? Are you going to sell liquor? Are you going to sell lottery tickets? Are you going to sell condoms? How am I going to be in relationship with somebody who doesn't share my spiritual values when we're deciding what to sell?

I would apply that passage about an unequal yoke with a lot more tentativeness to a business relationship than I would to a marriage. If I preached that passage, and I said to my people, " This definitely means you should not marry an unbeliever. It possibly means you should not go into business with some people. It requires discernment, just like it required discernment for ancient Israel. God was teaching them this lesson of separation when he said what you can or can't eat, what you can or can't wear, and that you shouldn't put an ox and a donkey together. There would be some tentativeness. I would say to my congregation, " I am certain a marriage yoke would violate the theological principle of discerning separation from badly matched spiritual relationships. I encourage you to evaluate any business relationship you might get into, because that partnership may or may not lead you into a position of compromise. "

Timothy S. Warren is professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary and ministers to adults at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas.

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