General or Specific Application?

April 30, 2008

I can relate to what John Koessler, professor of biblical studies at Moody Bible Institute, writes about applying the sermon:

“With sermon application I struggle between two extremes. When my applications are too general, listeners affirm the truth of what I say without seeing that they need to act on it. As long as Nathan preached to David in parables, David could affirm the heinousness of the sin the prophet had described without referring to himself. It was only when the prophet moved to application and declared, “You are the man,” that David said, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

On the other hand, when my applications are too specific, it is easy for listeners to disqualify themselves by noting that they do not fit the specific conditions described in my examples. This kind of case study approach was often employed by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, allowing the Pharisees and Scribes to exempt themselves. One of Jesus’ purposes in the Sermon on the Mount was to help his listeners see the general principles behind familiar truths that had been particularized away. On the other hand, an overly specific approach to application can lead to legalism, a focus on the letter of the law without regard to its spirit. Effective application must be both general and specific.”



  1. Good thought.

  2. I can see how his point on being too specific can lead to legalism. However, it’s when a specific application is addressed from the pulpit that I seem and feel most convicted. Balancing the general and specific application certainly seems like something that comes over time. Great post Colin.

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