I am not absolutely sure that it is right to call any part of the sermon the most important. One could argue that the Bible is the most important part. No matter how effective we are, if we don’t communicate truth, it doesn’t matter. One could argue that the delivery is the most important part. No matter how good the truth is, if it doesn’t get across, it does not matter. I would argue that a very important and very often neglected part of the sermon is the application.
I tell our preacher boys that in preparing a sermon, the most important question they should ask is the question, “So what?” Not, “Who cares?” but “So, what does that mean? So, how should I apply that in my life?” There is, unfortunately, a philosophy (promulgated like many unscriptural philosophies by some seminaries) that it is not the preachers’ job to apply the message. The preacher’s job is merely to “expose” the truth to the hearers and the Holy Spirit will then apply it to their lives. Of course, this is a totally unscriptural philosophy.
From John the Baptist, who called his listeners a “generation of vipers,” to Jesus, who told the Pharisees they were “whited sepulchers full of dead men’s bones,” to the Apostle Paul who said, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you….” to Isaiah 58:1 which tells him to “Cry aloud…lift up thy voice like a trumpet…show my people in Israel their transgressions.” The tenor of Scripture is that God’s Word is not merely to be understood or explained, it is to be applied.
The Lord Jesus teaches us the importance of applying truth to our lives in Matthew seven. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (v. 24-27)
Note that the difference between these two houses was their foundation. But understand that the foundation was not the Word of God. Both of these individuals had the Word of God. These are both individuals who had heard the “sayings” of the Lord Jesus. The difference was not in their hearing but in their doing. The house built on the sand represented the person who heard the Word of the Lord but did not do it. The house built on the rock represented the person who heard the Word of the Lord and did it. It is not the acquisition of truth or the apprehension of truth that changes our life, but the application of truth.
While we must be careful to preach the Word of God and speak as an oracle of God, we must be equally careful to apply the truth to the listeners to whom we speak.
I am reminded of the old story of the young pastor who took a new church. After his first sermon, he asked the deacon how he did. The deacon said, “It wasn’t bad, son, but you need to specify.” The next Sunday the young preacher preached on the Ten Commandments. Asking the deacon how he liked this sermon, he received the same answer: “You need to specify.” The following Sunday the young preacher spoke on stealing— an entire sermon devoted to one commandment. But when he asked the deacon how he liked the sermon, he received the same response: “You need to specify.” Struggling to find the answer, the young preacher the following Sunday preached a whole sermon against stealing chickens. Surely this would be specific enough! At the end of the service he said, “Deacon, how did I do?”
“Well,” he said, “Son, it wasn’t a bad sermon, but you need to specify.”
“What do you mean, I need to specify? I preached a whole sermon against stealing chickens. How could I be more specific?”
“Well son, you need to say that Brother Jones needs to stop stealing Brother Smith’s chickens.”
Remember that Stephen had a friendly audience when he gave his exposition of Hebrew history. It was when he got to the application that they took him up to stone him. Forty-nine verses of explanation brought no response from the people. Three verses of application made them angry enough to take his life.
Consider the age of your audience. The same truth will be applied differently to teenagers than it will to middle-aged adults and differently to middle-aged adults than it will to senior citizens.
Consider the culture of your audience. It would be ridiculous for me to preach against immodesty to a congregation of the Amish. I would not spend much time in Alaska warning against the dangers of sunbathing on the beach. I must know my crowd.
Consider the current situation of those to whom you preach. What burdens do they bear? What temptations are facing them? What in society is threatening to draw them away from truth? A great preacher of a bygone generation said that a man of God should preach with his Bible in one hand and his newspaper in the other. He meant that we must take the Word of God and apply it to the needs, burdens and temptations of those to whom God has called us to minister.
Paul and Silas gave their all to the Lord and followed Him. As a result, God gave to them a great vision of lost people. Not only that, but God gave them everything they needed. God has everything that you need. As you follow Him, He will supply everything that you need.