Friday, 25 September 2009

When Application in a Sermon is Bad

Kevin DeYoung is on the ball. He was preaching a sermon on Jesus' baptism in Mark 1:9-11 and struggled to think of a fitting conclusion. He writes:
So how would you end a sermon like this? You could say “Look at the idols in your hearts. You need to love this Christ more.” Or, “This Jesus is worthy of all our obedience. Go live for him and keep his commandments.” Or, “Why don’t we share the good news about such a great Savior? Tell your neighbors this week about the Son of God.” All of those are fair points and it would not be wrong to connect the text to these thoughts at some point during the sermon. But if we land the plane on these points I fear we are missing the point of the passage. These three verses are here to give a glimpse of the glory of Christ. My fellow preachers and I should not hesitate to land right there. Are we so afraid of not being relevant or prophetic that we can’t end a sermon by exalting in the person of Christ? No application is needed to finish off this sermon. The last word ringing in people’s hears should be something along the lines of, “Behold your God!”

Maybe we just aren’t as passionate about the person and work of Christ as we are about getting in people's faces (which, trust me, I also do). Or maybe we think people will be bored if they don’t get some good practical advice on their way out the door (and it’s possible they are more eager to hear three points of application than ponder the glory of Christ). Again, I’m not saying no text can end with imperatives. "Repent," "believe," "obey" are all biblical injunctions. But we must let the text determine the mood of the sermon and not tack on honey-do lists at the end of every message. Preachers ought to rebuke when necessary, when the text calls for it. But it makes for bad preaching and beat-up congregations when every sermon concludes with exhortation. Sometimes it’s ok to end the sermon by simply telling the people about Jesus.
HT: Gospel Coalition Blog


Donald Ferguson said...

Perhaps the problem is that we tend to limit what we mean by ‘application’ and ‘imperative’. ‘Behold your God’ can be taken as an imperative [a life changing one at that] and as an appropriate application of the text. To limit textual applications to ‘go and do likewise’ statements is a mistake. The contemplation of Christ is a life changing exercise with far reaching practical implications. As you rightly say, it is the text itself which must dictate its application.

At the end of the day, however, it is important that the preacher does ‘land the plane’ and not leave it circling overhead!

Nick Mackison said...

Good point Donald. Change comes through beholding the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. As well as on the final day we will be changed in the blink of an eye because we will see him as he is.