Growing in Ministry
In the year 2020, I preached my first true sermon. Meaning that I am early enough along in pastoral ministry to still be in the formative years, but far enough along to have learned a few lessons by the grace of God along the way. My “Dear Young Pastor” series on the blog seeks to chronicle some of those lessons for the sake of my own soul and others. Every pastor has portions of the preaching they find easier than others. Some are more natural at exegetically dissecting a passage word by word while perhaps being weak at the verbal part of delivery. Still yet, some are very skilled at seeing the application but possibly struggle with weaker theology in their early days. Pastors should constantly be growing in every way, but just as with anything else, some points will naturally come easier than others to them.
I can see where in my preaching exegetical and doctrinal work was the most natural point for me. As someone who has a background in loving theological books, hitting the street for evangelism, going to seminary, and enjoying apologetics, I have studied serious doctrine for many years before I ever preached a sermon. This is not my saying I am entirely developed as a theologian or that I have reached the pinnacle of doctrinal richness, I have much to learn. I am simply saying I had the most experience in this realm of preaching. Application though . . . I could see how the text applied but I didn’t always build out that part of the sermon robustly in those early days. As I studied more of biblical preaching, and undertook more pastoral counseling, God worked in me to see the necessity of deep application. Brothers, we must have both sound exegesis and practical application if we are to rightly handle the Word of God in fulfillment of His glorious call to us.
Exegesis Without Teeth
As pastors, we love theology. It must be our heart and passion to mine the depths of biblical truth seeking to understand the Lord Jesus Christ. Our objective is to honor Him by proclaiming the full counsel of His Word. Line by line, verse by verse we take delight in seeking to rigorously know the meaning of the text. Hours in the study pouring over just a few verses, looking at the original language, highlighting, underlining, making notes, all of these and so many more characterize our daily lives. Praise God for all of these great truths. However, there is a danger we must be wary of in our personal life and in the ministry Christ has called us to discharge. We are not simply called to give a doctrinal lecture from the pulpit, it is our assignment to actually preach the Word of the living God.
The task of the preacher cannot be undertaken faithfully without doctrine and theology. That fact is precisely why Paul left Timothy in Ephesus so that he might charge individuals not to preach a different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). Preachers must not simply talk in theological language debating the distinctions between eschatological, ecclesiastical, and soteriological viewpoints. No, brothers, let us be men who exhort with the text of the Word of God. The application of the sermon based upon deep exegetical work puts teeth to sound theology showing how by God’s Spirit it applies in the life of the believer. At Pentecost, Peter preaches the Word of God leading his hearers to ask what they should do (Acts 2:37)? He gives them the application saying:
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” -Acts 2:38-39
His heralding of divine truth by the power of the Holy Spirit leads to direct application. When Paul addresses the Areopagus in Acts 17 he gives powerful truth based on God’s revelation directly applying it calling on those listening to turn from foolish idol worship and repent of their sins knowing the judgment to come (Acts 17:29-31). When commanding Timothy to “preach the Word” Paul specifically says he must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).” Biblically speaking, sound preaching must get to the heart of the matter. It must actually exhort individuals based upon the text of the Scripture to serve the living God. Exegetical theological lectures without application is preaching without teeth. We must show the people from the text of the Word of God how they are commanded to implement the truth in their lives!
The Example of Paul’s Letters
How then do we give application based upon sound exegetical analysis and deep theology? We do not want to be mere moralists giving our practical advice with a Bible verse slapped on the top. That is life coaching, not preaching. An example of understanding how to apply biblical truth must be derived from the Scripture itself if we are to be on stable ground in our comprehension of the right approach. We see such an example in the writing of Paul to the Philippian congregation. Philippians 2 is one of the deepest, richest portions of the Bible showing the glory of our Lord. The humility of the Lord in coming to earth is used showing the greatness of Christ’s servitude. His exaltation being given the “name that is above every name” is highlighted demonstrating His glorious supremacy over all (Philippians 2:9). It is an ocean of biblical truth so deep that we as mere mortals can only scratch the surface of its magnificence. Yet, Paul gives powerful application throughout:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:1-3
Note the word “So” that starts this section. On the basis of the fact that Christ has granted them to believe and suffer for His name they are to live according to all Paul outlines (Philippians 1:29). Why? Because this is the mind given to them in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). He practically gives application on the basis of who Christ is and what He has done. Brethren, all we need for applying the text is found in the text itself which reveals the glory of Christ and His work to us. The worrier needs to be exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, pray, be reasonable, and live with thanksgiving walking in God’s peace (Philippians 4:4-7). A soul who struggles with instability needs to be urged to know the depths of Christ, build on the solid foundation of the Gospel, and set their heart at rest knowing the rootedness of Christ coming to the church seeking to mature in the Lord being built up by the fellowship of believers (Ephesians 4:14-16). Husbands need to be shown how to love their wives according to the text which calls on them to nourish, cherish, and lay down their lives for their wives (Ephesians 5:22-33). What does this kind of love look like? Among many commands, they are to seek their wife’s sanctification by guiding them into the washing waters of Scripture (Ephesians 5:26-27). A husband must not be harsh with his wife (Colossians 3:19). They are to show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel knowing the reality they are both joint heirs together of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:7). Scripture actually shows us what it looks like for a man to love his wife. It doesn’t just outline the basic facts of the marital covenant, it shows how to live faithfully in that covenant to the praise of Christ. Such is the goal of biblical application according to how the Spirit of God inspired men to write the pages of Scripture.
Application is simply showing how the truth is to be not only known, but also lived. May God work in our hearts brothers to guide us in this labor. Let us give deep doctrine, powerful application, and rest in the goodness of God’s Spirit to work in His people bringing them to both a knowledge of the truth and obedience to it for Christ’s sake! Maybe you lean on the side of great exegetical explanation but struggle in application. Then again, perhaps you are very skilled at practically applying the text but have a difficult time explaining theological truth. Trying to preach application without theology is like being ready to eat nice juicy ribs only to lift the platter finding the bones with no meat. Attempting to preach theology without application is like a mouth without teeth, there is no bite to it. Instead, let us be biblical. May we both show deep truth and apply the text as Christ has commanded us to per His definition of preaching found in the pages of His inspired Word!