One thing I often hear amongst congregational members of churches in America regarding preaching is this: The preacher did not teach me how to apply his sermon to my life. To that I ask: Is he supposed to?
We need to first understand that the Bible is ultimately not about me. Yes, the Bible has many things to say about who you are, where you are from, and why you were created. It even has a whole book centered on the prayers and wrestling’s of the human heart. But if we fundamentally believe the Bible is about us, then undoubtedly you will be left asking what this text or that passage has to say to you.
The Bible is about who God is and what He has done. It is a unilateral story of redemption that shows all things in history are from Him, through Him, and to Him, to the praise and glory of Christ (Rom. 11:36). In short, the Bible is about Jesus. The whole counsel of God is thematically either pointing forward to Christ or looking back to Christ (cf. Luke 24:27; Acts 8:27ff). If then the preacher is being faithful to the text in his sermon it will deliver exactly that content to the congregation.
Now soak that last sentence in for a minute. What can we conclude from that? Sermons become more Christocentric and Christ-exalting and less people-centered and application driven. In other words, you start focusing less on yourself because you can’t get past the magnitude and beauty of Jesus. And seeing who we are in Christ will start to impact what we say, do, and think. Seeing His glory in the face of Jesus begins to change our affections, our attitudes, and our decisions (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18); “we love, because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
It is impossible for the preacher to deliver 50, 200, 500 different individual applications from the text. If you look around in the church, good chance you will see many different people than you; different backgrounds, different stories, different sufferings. Take for example the text Hebrews 12:1-2,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The point of this passage is that Jesus is the founder and perfecter of enduring faith in which the “men of old” gained approval (11:2). Verse 1 of chapter 12 tells us how to apply that great truth – by laying aside every weight and sin and run with endurance this race of life. But how does that look in your life? For one, the eagerness to put to death the habitual sin of worry comes to mind. Another finds the strength to preserve through the constant storms of life they are finding themselves going through. And another may see the conviction that they are running this race with a lack of joy seen in v2. The point is this: Jesus is the main point of this passage. We are called to “fix our eyes” on Him. And in so seeing Him, your life begins to change a little bit more.
All of the Scriptures from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 are breathed-out by God and are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. It is the responsibility of the preacher to bear faithfulness to the Word in his preaching. But the responsibility on applying what God has revealed in that particular text befalls the listener. Everyone will be responsible for their own actions and their own thoughts as it’s weighed against the story of God.
So my encouragement is that just as the preacher prayerfully prepares in delivering the sermon to us, we as listeners ought also to prayerfully listen and watch as the sermon is being preached to us.
Written by Joshua Kinney. Joshua and his wife Christine are the directors of children’s ministry at Kaleo Church.