Written by Paul J. Bucknell on January, 26, 2021
Teaching Bible Books, Discover the Power of Teaching God’s Word: Part 3, Finding Applications
In part 3, we learn how to find applications and reshape the outline for teaching and preaching purposes. Part 1 helped us prepare for these Bible book studies; Part 2 reviews the formation of its outline, title points, and purpose. Whether you are a new teacher or have been teaching for a while, it’s great to learn how to develop useful applications consistently. I believe one reason expositional sermons can be so powerful is the way they consistently relate our world to the scriptures. God still speaks!
Preachers and teachers of God’s Word often neglect to make proper applications. Colossians 3:16 reminds us that God’s Word, Christ’s message, can powerfully speak into His peoples’ lives. Theologians tend to scoff at applications as unnecessary, assuming that rightly presented truths do not need application. For them, articulating theological truths is sufficient; they do not see how truth applies to our daily lives. However, Jesus pointed out many times how certain truths demanded a certain change in one’s behavior and attitude (e.g., prodigal son, the widow’s mite).
Believers are spiritually starved. They contently sit through the preacher’s message without getting fed. It reminds me of a restaurant business that made and sold dumplings partially made out of used cardboard. For the longest time, no one knew! Sunday worshippers assume knowledge of sermon content is adequate. They have not seen how God design of His Word enriches their lives by directing their life decisions and fulfilling their spiritual needs.
Let me illustrate how many of us poorly respond to God’s Word. Consider the parent who instructs his child to pick up his room, but the child ignores his parent’s request and goes off on his own to play. Will the parent be content with no obedience? No, otherwise, there is no reason for the instruction. The child is expected to allow his parent’s words to affect his decisions and sufficiently influence him to go pick up his room. Unfortunately, God’s people allow God’s truths to act as these dead-end trails, negating the words of God. Alas, His Word brings little impact.
The Teachers’ Responsibility
Christians desperately seek God’s will, but they don’t hear from God due to the teacher and preacher themselves not deriving daily guidance from the Scriptures.
God’s Word holds great importance to our lives, and it’s up to the teachers to effectively present the Word of God to shape the lives of His people. We do this in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, who imparts the teaching gifts and works through His Word. God’s people are hungry for God’s Word, but because God’s Word is often not rightly prepared, prayed over, and delivered, His people go hungry. They conclude that God is not actively working in their world. Satan, meanwhile, buffets their minds and souls, convincing them of their little or no faith. The church’s lifelessness is often due to the lack of the powerful teaching of God’s Word.
The Teacher as the Student
The primary way to bridge this gulf that separates God’s people from the Spirit’s use of His Word in their lives is for the teacher to approach God’s Word as a student, seeking the Lord. Good teachers maintain a student’s mindset. By linking the passage with its purpose, we get a hint on how God wants to use His Word in our lives. The attempt to seek God’s purpose further awakens our faith in God, knowing He wants to speak to us as we dig into His Word. The gentle breeze starts picking up but then is followed by gusts of the Holy Spirit blowing into our souls.
Many people, including teachers, become frustrated “getting into” God’s Word. Teachers get stale; pastors are bored. It’s imperative to study the passage’s purpose to discover its application. I am not implying that this is the only avenue of discovering applications for a passage, but it is a sure one. The Spirit uses His Word in many ways to affect our souls. Sometimes, it’s a word, a phrase, or even the general context through which the Spirit speaks. These illumination outbursts of life application spontaneously happen, bringing hope, conviction, or praise—all delighting the teacher who seriously and studiously meets God in His Word.
This deliberate study of God’s Word delivers a steady stream of refreshing thoughts, not just for you but for you to teach others. We teach what the Spirit has taught us. This inner delight in God’s Word, in turn, develops faith for how God might work in others. The teacher’s faith grows for his students, generating expectation, energy, and hope for ministry. This confidence in how God worked in one’s life, moves and motivates the teacher to look forward to teaching God’s Word.
The Lord always gives more, much more, than I have the opportunity to teach. I have never taught a bulk of my personal studies. Even when now preparing a passage for teaching, I usually can only use half of the content and application. God wants me alone in the classroom with Him, finding ample blessing before preaching. We teach out of abundance! This abundance resembles the Lord’s feast where He asks me to share what I have with others.
Example of the Book of Joshua
I’ll use the Book of Joshua to show how this works. There is a great bubble of delight that arises in my soul as I write this. For almost fifty years, God has filled my life with His Word—many times through Bible book studies. The Book of Joshua has become a reliable stepping rock leading me to meditation on a rich portfolio of God’s riches for seeking God’s will, the importance of meditation, and God’s desire to work through all believers powerfully.
By glancing at Joshua’s purpose statement, students can use the Book of Joshua to establish hope and direction even in challenging situations.
God’s good purposes are always gloriously fulfilled when we faithfully trust and obey Him. — The Purpose of Joshua
The teacher insightfully builds on this theme and has everyone think through a challenge that they now or recently have faced. The Israelites had to face all sorts of challenges as they entered the Promised Land, and yet, God was with them. If desired, the students can mention a challenge they face in their marriage or ministry.
The teacher then shares with the students how the Book of Joshua helps them obtain the necessary faith and courage to do God’s will—no matter how difficult the test.
Having already completed most of his book study, the teacher, fearlessly leads them through the Book of Joshua. He can share a few highlights colored by his own experiences. By using the outline and a bird’s eye view of each section’s purpose statement, Joshua’s message becomes alive in the students’ minds. The Holy Spirit cultivates this inward hope and conviction in the teacher’s life during his study and transfers it to his students. Other reference works are fine, but, in the end, we must do our study. The material must become ours.
This challenge from the Book of Joshua appropriately raises several pertinent questions among the students—whether congregants, seminary students, or disciples:
The wise teacher begins to whet the students’ spiritual appetites with such questions, for it is precisely here that they start to discover how the Book of Joshua touches on their life questions.
- “What is my chief ministry challenge?
- “How do I now face these challenges?”
- “What if this or that problem arises?”
- “What if my faith is inadequate?”
- “How can I handle my fear of doing new things?”
- “What about those ‘enemies’ that are threatening me?”
- “What happens after a victory?”
An introduction to the whole Bible book is immediately followed with introductions to each section, taking one section at a time, allowing sufficient explanation and time for the purpose to become clear. It’s easy to step into the application via a summary of a passage’s purpose. By observing that the whole book is applicable to their lives, students unconsciously adjust their time and focus priority. They make room for God’s Word, for the teacher awakened their spiritual appetite by having strengthened their faith. The students’ interest level moved from lighthearted to keenly absorbed.
Hopefully, the teacher does not disappoint. This exciting introduction highlights the crucial need for the teacher to work far in advance to seed the powerful truths hidden in the Bible book properly.
The Development of Application Themes
We proceed with developing applications by writing two statements for each event.
The first statement briefly restates what the author has said, while the second identifies the differences that God wants to make in one’s life through His Word. The first connects biblical characters and their words with our lives; the latter links these events’ significance to our lives. Excellent teaching must have both (though not always descriptively written down).
- First, identify the significant events in sentences or sometimes in a keyword (e.g., God spoke to Elijah or Jeremiah).
- Second, tell the purpose for which these things are recorded (e.g., God wants Elijah/Jeremiah to pass on His message to His people).
While some passages such as David’s defeat of Goliath are interesting enough, we must venture beyond the description to the why—the purpose. What was God showing to David? To Israel? To the enemy? How does that relate to our lives?
A Moment with my Grandson
To highlight the importance of the application, allow me to retell a recent conversation with my seeking 13-year-old grandson. I told him that his plan to read ten chapters is good (his idea), but whether one reads long or short—even one sentence, it’s critical to note what line or words pop up when reading. One should pay attention to that insight or intrigue, mark it off (in mind or on paper) and return to it after one’s reading (or one could pause there). One wants to increase one’s knowledge, but that is only a minor part of what you want during your quiet time with the Lord. You desire for Him to speak to you. By daring to pause, you insist that He give you some direction or help in your life. (Honestly, we often don’t have a clue on how it might help us.) This is the faith that God rewards. You believe in Him and in His Word, becoming dependent on His given input on a particular day—spiritual manna (Mat 6:4). That reflection becomes faith-enriching and helps one spiritually grow in one’s relationship with God.
Having defined and described each section, we work towards each message along with the sub-points. The major points generally reveal the major areas of applications. However, within those messages, we develop practical and relevant applications, developing some of them while teaching.
Many preachers and teachers have great difficulty in articulating good applications. They lack the simple training mentioned above. By going from event to application, we fail the student. We must first go via the purpose to find consistent applications.
The event => The purpose => The application
One looming obstacle to writing good applications, then, is understanding the purpose of a passage. We must go the extra step and ask, “Why did God record this event or words?”
Teachers must dutifully trace God’s purpose for speaking His Word through His Spirit. He says; we intently listen. The clearer we see God’s purpose, the easier it is for Him to engage and direct us on how to teach the class or congregation. For this reason, good messages rest on prayers for wisdom, boldness, and sensitivity to the truth.
On Studying the Book of Joshua
Notice the pathway through the Book of Joshua, proceeding from one main section to the next. Each central section has tried to capture the key purpose that God has for those represented chapters.
Develop God’s People => Understand God’s Strategy => Grasping God’s Good Purposes
Is this purpose complete? Probably not, and yet it does summarize or generally observe what God is doing. This method unifies an outline and helps us enter into its individual passages.
The Bible book becomes a sharpened sword as we meditate on His Word—just as the Lord told Joshua in Joshua 1.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will achieve success” (Joshua 1:8).
The more one meditates, understands its contents, and observes the insights, the sharper the sword gets, enabling one to discover applications easily. The individual messages work along with the section’s emphasis, mutually increasing their power. So let’s look at how this might work out.
Chapters and Messages
“Developing God’s People” is my title for chapters 1-5 in Joshua.
Initially, I concluded chapters 1-8 composed section 1. Jericho’s battle could be placed in the former section as part of the training of God’s people, or as one of the battles within the conquering section (section 2).
We could phrase this first section’s purpose, “Success is determined by one’s ability to become and remain sensitive to the Lord’s authority and methods.” Or, if we want to emphasize the importance of leaders in training, we could say: “The key to success depends on how well the leader trains the people to follow the Lord’s authority and direction rightly.” God meets with key leaders and shows His faithfulness in difficult situations to safeguard the development of His people’s faith in Him.
The attempt to capture the leading development in these five chapters enables us to raise many applicable questions for any church or ministry. The students’ respect for this ancient book will grow as they gain insight into how much this book applies to their families and ministries. I’ll give you several questions that came to my mind. These questions on leadership piggyback on the purposes of the different passages.
All these questions are pertinent; leaders and congregations likewise seek such answers. The great news is that God desires to give the answers. One chief reason that He has given us the Book of Joshua is that His people will see how He helps those who seek Him.
- How do we know what God’s will is?
- What happens if we make a mistake on carrying out God’s will?
- What happens if the leader stubbornly does it his own way rather than being careful to follow God?
- How important is leadership? How do we raise up godly leaders?
- What problems do leaders find leading God’s people?
- How do leaders rightly communicate God’s will to the people?
- What if the people don’t listen?
- Can we trust God to lead our ministries on this day?
Of course, there are other sections to Joshua. They, too, need to be coordinated around one theme or motif.
Dive deep into the book and find one central theme. This theme should derive from the purpose statement and the main outline. They must integrate well into the Bible book.
One might find one sectional theme is better suited for the overall theme. Instead of being the topic for section three, one needs to seek the Lord for a new sub-topic by further meditation, wrestling back and forth as to what He is trying to teach from that scripture passage in contrast to the overall purpose. Using short titles and summaries forces us to consider the text’s topic and purpose seriously. This discipline (I think it’s fun) identifies the confusing places, It forces us into refining our outlines and individual thrusts for each passage, bringing great reward to one’s preaching and teaching.
Communicating the Applications
Don’t be afraid to show your students/congregation how the titles and applications work together. One doesn’t have to use the word application; the word ‘purpose’ also does fine. God wants to bring about change in them but also us.
Once we have this introduction of the overall Bible book, it is much easier to see how smaller sections fit. Focus on each significant section and each subsection under it. If a subsection title doesn’t fit the central theme, one might need to rethink how the section is divided up or reconsider the section’s title. Applications should get more practical as one moves down from the sections to the passages themselves.
Remember to teach the purpose of those individual passages. No one outline is ideal; devise and seek the Spirit’s purpose. Instead of being threatened by other approaches to a Bible book overview, learn from each other. Whatever, make the outline you use your own—even if someone else worded it nicely for you. Your sections and purpose titles shape the perspective you use to approach the book. In the end, stay focused on the purpose that the Lord has given you and use your words when possible.
Preaching and Teaching with Applications
Discovering useful applications enable the preacher/teacher to step into the lives of the students. Applications are like keys, opening the hearts of the listeners. Applications need to be given with a dose of faith, confident that whatever God prescribes will do the people well.
Applications, however, can become difficult to handle. For example, what if we have too many applications? If we are not careful, the applications will overwhelm the exposition of the text. Again, go back to the purpose and refine the applications in light of God’s purpose and the congregation’s needs. Prayerful consideration of the passage and their need help us secure a more precise focus. Our purpose is not to regurgitate all that we have learned but to pass on what the Lord desires prayerfully. Danger occurs when we get excited about the application to become our focus rather than the text. Of course, it’s good to handle the applications, but we need to carefully build the foundation, streaming from the text to the application.
We might have many possible applications but settle on one or two. Don’t allow an application to become the dictator. So for chapter 1, we might narrow our application to the need to meditate on God’s Word and apply how this works for the youngster, for the university student, for the overwhelmed mother, etc. The application follows well the topic and purpose. We all ought to meditate. We ought to graciously apply this truth to different contexts. Stay focused, however, and do not drift into the danger of too many applications.
What if the passage has an important topic that doesn’t quite fit into the outline—perhaps the importance of godly leadership? We can handle that situation in various ways, but one way is to briefly step out of the main message and focus on this mini-message. Your purpose is very defined, limiting it to 5-10 minutes. You show how it links to the main topic but can switch in and out so that you don’t confuse the main outline. But then, you return to the main topic of, perhaps, the importance of meditation for all of God’s people.
Suitable applications arise from determining the passage’s purposes, which serve as the powerful introductory thrusts of a book, causing great interest in the attendees. By stating the biblical truth and connecting it to God’s purposes, the application becomes quite welcomed, driving genuine spiritual growth in God’s people. Expository preaching through Bible books brings sustainable spiritual growth both to the preacher and the listeners.
Bible Book Study Method
- Pick a Bible book and familiarize yourself with the Bible book-outline and theme.
- Read a Bible passage within that Bible book several times so that you know its general content.
- Summarize what happened or what it says. Use a simple outline to clarify the progression of thought. These will become major points.
- Enter into meditative prayer, asking the Lord what He wants to say through this Bible book and its passages. Jot down notes. Keep context in mind.
- Review the passage’s context in light of the whole book. Write down at least one title for the passage consistent with the book theme.
- Write down at least one application for the passage’s major points.
- Commit the message to the Lord in prayer. Pray for the people. Finish preparing to teach with a purpose statement, summary, illustrations, and at least one key application.
- Why does the author stress the importance of finding a passage’s purpose(s)?
- How does the author connect purpose with consistently finding good applications?
- Share how the passage’s purpose connects to the section’s (e.g., chapter 1-5) purpose?
- Describe a time when a pastor’s introduction of a Bible book fostered much hope about that upcoming series.
- What is an application?
- Why are applications so important?
- Why do you think many pastors and teachers minimize the importance of applications?
- Why does stating too many applications confuse a message?
- When reading a Bible passage, do you look for and find applications? Explain.
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