Ep. 154 The Tricky Contours of Sermon Application

Shows Main Idea – When you hear a sermon, it is your responsibility to make any appropriate application of that message to your life. But what if you’re not sure if the sermon was for you? How do you know if you’re listening correctly?

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Because we are imperfect people, we will listen imperfectly, and this reality about our fallenness could cause problems in how we hear, process, and apply Sunday messages to our lives. In this podcast, I’m going to walk through some of those pitfalls.

Three Types of Hearers

  1. Sensitive, insecure, over-appliers: Those who always think the message is for them, even when it is not.
  2. Wise and discerning listeners: Those who can hear a message and make appropriate application to their lives.
  3. Dull or hard-hearted: Those who are “dull of hearing,” and do not make biblical application of the message.

Do You Disagree or Criticize?

It is impossible to agree with every aspect of every message that you hear. If you do agree with everything that you hear, more than likely you’re weak in the areas of discernment and wisdom.

There is a difference between disagreeing with a message and being critical of one. Disagreement should be rational, constructive, and clarifying while not speaking unkindly of the teacher.

Criticalness connotes a different spirit. The critical person is not seeking to be redemptive in his speech but is primarily about tearing down the message and the messenger.

With (our tongues) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. – James 3:9-10

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

What you want to understand–the best that you can–is the motive of the individual’s heart when they have a counter opinion.

  1. Disagreement has a motive of trying to understand.
  2. Criticalness has a motive of being divisive.

What If I Can’t Disagree?

If your church does not provide the “grace to disagree” with what you’re hearing, it would be a considerable problem. For example, people who “over-apply” messages need someone that they can talk to and that individual is willing to help them make appropriate application.

Authoritarian and “cult-like cultures” frown on any discussion that appears to go against the prevailing viewpoints. The irony is the church that does not encourage open discussion on areas in which the people disagree tempts their congregants to go elsewhere to find answers for the things in which they are struggling.

The harder a “tone deaf” authority tries to stop people from talking about things that are important to them, the more these inquirers will “double-down” on finding answers to their questions.

Illustration – It’s like the parent that squashes the children from discussing issues that are crucial to them. If the authoritarian parent doesn’t permit alternate opinions, the children will go somewhere else to find answers.

God made people to be part of a community, but if the “communal discussions,” especially on matters where they disagree are not valued, that group will experience fractures.

When people have problems, they need to be free to share those concerns. Our dinner table is one of the common contexts where we talk about matters that affect the entire family. We encourage discussions that have different viewpoints from each family member.

What If You Never Agree

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. – Philippians 1:15-18

  1. Are the points of disagreement about primary doctrines? Depending on the doctrine, you may have to separate from each other.
  2. Do you disagree on the gospel? If a person is preaching a different gospel than what Paul taught, you must separate. (Cf. Galatians 1:6-9)
  3. Are the points of disagreement about preferences or style? Most disputes in church life are about secondary issues or matters of preference. In such cases, you have two options if you can’t agree with each other:
    1. You can “agree to disagree” and continue serving together, recognizing your differences, but not being divisive about them.
    2. You can “agree to disagree,” but you must leave the church because your preferences are that important to you.

You’ll know if your preferences are that vital by how you talk about your differences among others. If you have a critical spirit, you either need to repent or get out of that environment. If a root of bitterness begins to take shape in your heart, you need to change or leave the church.

When a Struggler Comes to You

There will be times when a person will come to you with their disagreements about their church or church leadership. It’s okay to listen to them as long as you’re not permitting them to be disrespectful, angry, or divisive.

Your goal is to get the person to meet with the individual with whom they disagree. Sometimes you will be successful with this and other times you won’t. There can be complex reasons why the two do not meet, but if the struggling person cannot be at peace, they may need to leave.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Romans 12:18

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