The crucial step we must not forget when we preach – apply the scriptures.
Each step that goes into making a gourmet meal contributes to an exciting culinary experience. This includes shopping for the best ingredients, cleaning and cutting the vegetables, grilling the meat to perfection, and finally presenting the meal on fine china with exquisite crystal. Of course, what makes or breaks the meal is how the first bite tastes to the palate. All the diligent preparation and careful presentation fades compared to how the food actually tastes.
Failing to apply the Scriptures would be like creating a delicious meal but never actually sitting down and tasting it for yourself.
In 1959, as a first-year seminary student, I sat on the edge of my seat during Bible Study Methods. Dr. Hendricks began the class with a shocking statement: “If you observe and interpret and correlate the Scriptures but fail to apply the Scriptures, you have committed an abortion.” The vivid word picture made me realize what a tragedy it is to do the hard work of studying the sacred Scriptures and coming to an understanding of what they say and mean, only to fail to apply them personally. Without application, you have thwarted new life. For it is in the application of the truth that we find conviction, direction, correction, and encouragement for our spiritual growth. Application is the crowning accomplishment of Bible study—the finishing touch, the ultimate setting of the diamond in the ring of truth.
I’ve never forgotten those penetrating words from Dr. Hendricks. They still haunt me. Every time I sit down to prepare a message, I remember his admonition and other teachings like it: “Study hard. Read thoroughly and carefully so you observe what the Bible is saying. Spend time in interpretation so the Spirit of God can lead you to an understanding of the meaning of this passage, initially in the mind of the writer himself and ultimately in the lives of those who live centuries after the text was written.”
If you are a teacher of an adult fellowship or a Sunday school class or a small group, make certain you not only teach what the various verses say and mean but also take the time to spell out how those same verses touch the nerve center of some specific facet of life. The satisfaction that comes from doing so is too wonderful for words, much like the feeling that comes after sharing a sumptuous meal with those we love.
James reminds us, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17). I urge you to take that admonition personally. It is sinful to explain what the Lord has written in His Word and then walk away with mere knowledge, with no plans to follow through with obedience.
Cynthia and I sat under the teaching of a very fine preacher and Bible scholar for a number of years. He could explain the text masterfully. He could analyze the verses as well as anyone I had ever heard. His theology was impeccable. He had incredible insight into the Scriptures. But toward the end of his message, he would usually say, “May the Lord apply these verses to our lives.” This statement would be followed by, “And now let’s pray.” I often thought, No! You need to help us apply these verses! You’re the one who helped us understand what they say and what they mean. Help us discover their significance in our lives. Spell it out—get specific! We as the congregation were usually left to do that on our own. It was like getting up from a meal and still feeling hungry. His exposition was incomplete.
One of the greatest heartbreaks any pastor must deal with is ministering to the same people in a congregation week after week, month after month, year after year, and observing that there is no visible, lasting change in many of them. So many are still walking in the flesh. So many seek their own ways. These are indications that the truth of God’s Word is not being applied. If this describes you, I urge you to break ranks. It’s time for a much-needed change. Today—this very day—start applying God’s Word personally. Remember: it’s never too late to start doing what is right.
No one would ever think of cooking a great meal and then not serving it. We naturally pay close attention to how the food we’re cooking tastes. The taste is one of the most important parts of eating. That’s what all the preparation is about and why we’re so careful to season the food appropriately. Just the right seasoning results in just the right taste.
The bottom line of application is this: the message of the Scriptures must grip us personally. Application is the crowning achievement of Bible study. We as believers are called to live out the message of Christ in our lives. Conviction must lead to repentance, followed by obedient action.
Don’t just prepare the meal from God’s Word; be sure to feast on it too!
Excerpt taken from Searching the Scriptures by Charles Swindoll. Copyright © 2016. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
We recently interviewed Dr. Swindoll on a popular episode of the ChurchLeaders Podcast.