Sermon applications get into trouble when the preacher identifies a particular application and lays it on the conscience of all their hearers in equal measure. With no attention to the range of individuals and contexts. This clumsiness is often made worse when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Passages which are primarily addressed to the leader of God’s people, or God’s people as a whole group get applied with a timeless, universal and personal application to each individual.
Recently I heard a sermon that did some great work expounding the historical and theological context and meaning of an Old Testament passage, and then looking forward to how these themes are expressed in the context of the New Testament fulfilment. There was lots to like in both the content and the delivery.
But the application jarred at points. And as I tried to think through what was going wrong, I realised how clumsy sermon application, especially when applying things from the Old Testament to the New Testament, often is the result of an individualistic grid.
Often sermon applications want to say basically something along the lines of:
“This is what it must mean for every individual in the room right now.”
That’s right in the sense that ethics in God’s world are ultimately objective and universal. Every individual in the room must not murder, at all times. Every individual must repent and trust in God’s one and only son.