Application Driven Sermons?

March 21, 2008

A good question by PJ Tibayan: What do you think about Bryan Chapell’s suggestion to label your main headings in the second person and use the imperative to make sure the application is being driven at as you prepare and deliver the sermon?

My brief response:

I think Chapell’s approach can be quite gripping to listen to – purely from a homiletical point of view. I sometimes use it myself if I feel its appropriate. Obviously, if the listener knows from the big idea itself how the truth will apply to them, they are bound to listen more intently.

That said, I think there can be a danger to follow this format rigidly. For one thing, I’m not always convinced there is something for us to *do* in response to every sermon.

We can run the risk of conveying the idea that responding to sermons involves merely the ticking-off an activities checklist (pray more; read the bible more; evangelise more). I’m not saying that’s what Chapell is proposing – after all, his whole thing is preaching redemptive sermons. I’m only suggesting that the approach itself, woodenly used, could lend to that kind of misuse.

The bible is fundamentally gospel. It tells us of God’s great ‘work’, and conversely our ‘failure to apply.’ Thus we must be sure that people approach God by grace not merit.



  1. Thanks for the answer. That helps us stay away from the danger of moralism or legalistic to do lists as the fundamental dimension of living in Christ.

    Personally, I like the approach and commend it as a regular habit to keep one focusing on applying the text to the hearers. The way I’ve found it helpful to keep from overdoing the “do” in every sermon is by also (and primarily)using the “understand” or “believe” imperatives in my main points. The Christian life is first understand what God is saying and trust in it, rest in it, be satisfied in him and what he says. This keeps the grace of God central.

    I think, in relation to this discussion, of Piper’s comments to his daughter in law who didn’t like his title, “What Jesus DEMANDS from the world.” She said it sounds oppressive. Piper responds something along the line of, “With demands like ‘rest in me,’ ‘Come to me,’ ‘Trust me,’ ‘Be satisfied in me’ how can we still think that way?”

    Thanks for responding and reminding me of the danger of woodenly using the imperative in the ways you delineated above.

  2. Good thoughts.

    It seems to me that all preaching and teaching is done to the end of life change to the glory of God. However, that life change can be cognitive, affective, and/or behavioral.

    Some focus merely on the latter, but hitting the other 2 will typically result in the latter as well.

  3. I very much appreciated the answer. I have often used the second person imperative in a homiletical outline. However, there are times when it is not appropriate at all because there isn’t always a “do” response to a sermon.

    By the way, I have enjoyed reading the blog.

    Cliff Buttermore
    Berean Baptist Church

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