Guest post: Responding well to pointed application

This is a guest post by James Inman, a member at Oldham Bethel Church currently undertaking the North West Partnership Training Course. It was written in response to my article, ‘preaching, application and the sins of your people‘. Views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this blog.

In response to Steve’s recent blog post on preaching to the sins of your people, I thought it would be helpful to push our thinking a little bit further on the question of pointed application. Here are seven further thoughts on pointed application.

Equipping to pointedly apply to one another

Loving one another enough to say what needs to be said is important. I can probably count on one hand the number of times a brother or sister has challenged me regarding my sin. The helpfulness has always been more linked to the manner in which I have been approached than to its express content. It is better received when we are approached gently and kindly by someone clearly demonstrating love and concern. But the greater surprise has been finding genuine joy and gratitude as a result followed by a heartfelt desire to see the matter resolved.

Joy in pointed application

When preaching or conversation strikes home and we are granted a taste of the Emmaus Road experience we are to respond with thankful hearts. How vital then that we should seek to implement what has been drawn to our consciences both practically and prayerfully. There is a kind of Christian abroad who is never happier than when they are miserable. The more weighed down the better! Now I’m not decrying the need for clear repentance when there is just cause; nor do I wish to minimise the seriousness of sin and its consequences. But the believer is first and foremost one who is in union with Christ which brings joy and true freedom despite our sin.

Avoiding hypocrisy in pointed application

How can I tell others their faults when mine are so blatant: the plank in my own eye. This is understandably the hardest thing for all of us, or at least it should be. Be concerned if you are the kind of Christian who sees themselves as having some kind of calling to pounce on others for their sins all of the time. We are to ‘bear with one another’, knowing that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’, and being more conscious of our own weaknesses and failings than those of others. Nevertheless these thoughts should not provoke us to silence, but rather a more careful and prayerful approach.

Pointed questions as pointed application

It is often good to help people through questioning: allowing someone to see themselves more plainly through careful questioning. Jesus used this method of approach with devastating and disarming consequences. He used carefully chosen questions that caused hurting sinners to see themselves more clearly and gratefully as with the woman at the well in John 4. He used questioning to both rebuke and instruct his disciples and to expose clear enemies of the faith as well as to answer questions he was asked. A well-chosen, ‘Have you thought about…?’ or ‘What if….?’ can frequently do more to disarm a person than any frontal assault.

Pointed application in the home

Our husband/wife should simultaneously be our greatest fan and our harshest critic. In full relaxed mode in our own homes our guard is down and faults are laid bare that are hidden from view in the public arena. Here is frequently the best place to have our rough edges hacked, chiselled and chipped off.

Pointed application only in the pulpit

It is so easy for the preacher to relegate issues needing a gentle one-to-one conversation to the pulpit and believe his job is done. No wonder that listeners may go away muttering ‘priest craft’ under their breath. How difficult to drag a congregation away from an ‘us and them’ hierarchical mind-set into one of mutual love, admiration and respect that is happier to receive correction than to dole it out.

Developing relationships that welcome pointed application

Developing relationships with one another so that plain, frank speaking is as natural and expected as breathing. Ultimately this should be what we all want. The freedom to be ourselves, warts-an-all, without fear of judgement; recognising we are all on a glorious journey together and we need everyone in the local Church to help us and be helped by us. True gospel born, Christ-centred love and compassion for the brethren should motivate us to be more.

I’m sure these are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Since so little preaching has clear pointed application as a matter of course, many may find their hackles raised by Steve Kneale’s suggestions without knowing why. We have so imbibed and overemphasised the notion that ‘application is a work of the Holy Spirit’, that the Biblical data concerning the need for clear, pointed, penetrating application demanding change under the Holy Spirit’s conviction that change is insisted on throughout the Bible. This must be true for all of us both in and out of the pulpit.