Application: Pressing the Text upon the Heart (Part 7)

In our last post we spoke of the different aspects of application. Now we move on to consider the different levels of application. While this topic is more relevant to those who preach and teach or lead Bible studies, there is value in it for every believer. In what follows, I am largely adapting what Mark Dever has done. Be sure to check out the multiple links on that page, especially the sample application grid and the blank application grid.

Our tendency, especially in the West, is to think of application in very personal terms. And in a sense, that is truly where we should begin, since our first responsibility before God when reading his Word is to respond ourselves. But application is much broader than that. There are many levels to application that we should think through:

  • Non-Christian: How does the passage speak to the unbeliever? How does it call him/her to repentance and faith? How does it warn, rebuke, correct, prod the unbeliever? What does it say about the danger of the unbeliever’s situation, the exclusivity of Christ, the sinner’s need for a Savior, or the sufficiency of that Savior as a substitute for the sinner?
  • Public: What does the passage say about our lives and roles in the public sphere, both as Christians and non-Christians (e.g., government and/or our neighborhood)?
  • Christian: What is the significance of the passage for the individual Christian? How does it call him/her to deeper repentance and faith? How does it warn, rebuke, correct, motivate, comfort or encourage the Christian?
  • Local Church: What is the significance of the passage for the corporate life of our local church? How does it call the local corporate body to tend to its corporate life together and corporate witness to the unbelieving community around it?

So let’s look at Philippians 1:27-30 and work through each of these levels:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

And now for each level I’ll suggest some possible application:

  • Non-Christian: (1) Since faith is a gift from God, this passage calls the unbeliever to ask God to overcome his/her doubts and give him/her the necessary faith to be saved. (2) Persisting in persecution of God’s people will ultimately result in his/her eternal destruction.
  • Public: (1) Persecution of Christians is evidence of a culture that is hostile to God and in danger of God’s judgment. (2) Because Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom, their final loyalty will be to God and not the state.
  • Christian: (1) Because suffering is a gift from God it should be embraced as an opportunity for growth rather than avoided at all costs. (2) The gospel of Christ is the measuring stick by which our entire lives are to be evaluated.
  • Local Church: (1) Because persecution is to be expected, we as a congregation should be preparing our people to suffer through preaching, teaching, etc. (2) Because unity is so important to standing firm in the faith, we as a congregation must pursue unity in the gospel.

These are just a few of the possible lines of application for each of the levels. But they should be enough to give you a sense of what I mean by different levels of application.

In our next post, we will address the different orders of application.

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