I once went to a church that prided itself on the practical applications made from the pulpit; applications which would take up the bulk of the 1 hour plus sermons. The problem was, way to many of the applications made had little connection to the main intent and purpose of the passage discussed. As a result a careful exegetical and contextual exposition of the passage would end up being thrown to the wind as the preacher, all to often, would grab a hold of any faint allusion or possible interpretation to go off on their latest “trolley car" issue.
Any application from a given passage of Scripture needs to flow from the historical redemptive context, meaning, and intent of the passage. To press applications beyond that is to turn the Bible into a book of moralisms instead of the unfolding Redemptive Story it is. It’s at this very point that I found Walter Kaiser’s “Toward an Exegetical Theology” particularly helpful.
There will also be times when we come across things God wants us to know about Himself and His work in historical redemption where the practical application is not that apparent or clear. That does not make that doctrine data any less valuable. It still remains something God wants us to know even if His reason for wanting us to know it is not clear or apparent to us.
What this means for the preacher is that instead of trying to wring all the possible applications out of a passage he can, he will limit his applications to those few that flow from the historical redemptive context, purpose, and intent of the passage. In doing so he will help his people focus on that very meaning, intent, and purpose of the passage instead of distracting them with a plethora of applications that actually distract from that meaning, intent, and purpose. And yes, that means the preacher will have to do his homework/preparation, and may have to sweat a little in doing so.
How much of the desire to get something “practical” out of the sermon or worship service is a subtle way of making me and my "felt needs" the center focus instead of God and His glory? Let's make the practical applications that are there and intended, but always remembering it is not primarily about us.
~ The Billy Goat ~