I strongly believe that preaching should not stop at the level of what this text means, but that it must proceed to the realm of real-life application. However, there is a caution that must accompany this conviction. We must always communicate a clear “line of demarcation” between the meaning of a Biblical text and applications which flow from that same text. I think there’s some great reasons for this.*
- Our applications may not accurately flow from the text; the Scriptures are inspired, not my applications of it. When my applications are communicated as being on the same level as meaning, and when those applications turn out to be wrong, then the authority of the Scriptures is unintentionally done damage in my local church. People can say “no,” “I’m not sure about that,” or “let me think about it” to my applications without necessarily saying “no” to God’s Word. I should not communicate otherwise.
- If our people get the idea that a given application of the text is actually the meaning of the text, that portion of Scripture is potentially limited from saying all that it really says. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:19 (your body is the temple…) does not mean, “Do not do drugs.” That is an application. When the text is reduced to “Do not do drugs,” the actual meaning of the text is eclipsed by a seemingly solid application. Good intentions, bad result.
- When personal application from a text becomes the meaning of that same text, soul liberty is potentially truncated. In other words, if “Abstain from all appearance of evil” now means “Do not go to the movie theater under any circumstances because someone may see you and think the worst..” we are not only guilty of bad exegesis, but we have also unintentionally armed people to do some real damage in our local church. Now, in light of what was wrongly communicated, those who go to the theater are not simply applying the Scriptures differently in their personal lives, they are actually disobeying the Scriptures themselves!
- Confusing the text and the application potentially undermines the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination by placing the onus on the pastor to do the Spirit’s Job.
- Confusing the text and the application provides a potential cop-out for our people. They may lose their own sense of responsibility for applying scripture by relying almost exclusively on the pastor or teacher to do so for them.
*Thanks to Jeremy Horneck for his collaboration on this list.