Three Ways to Apply Scripture

When we preach and teach, we have to make sure that we are helping our congregations apply God's Word to their lives. So what does it mean to provide our congregations with biblical applications?

Application answers two questions:

• So what?
• What now?

If your preaching doesn’t ever answer these two questions, you haven’t applied the Bible to the lives of your listeners. Many of us struggle in this area. In seminary, we were taught to find the central idea of a passage, but many of us weren’t shown how to apply this truth to the lives of our hearers.

I’ve found the following three ways of applying Scripture to be very helpful:

The application pyramid
I adapted this from Dave Veerman, the senior editor of The Life Application Bible. He suggests you ask nine questions of the text:

1. People: Who are the people in this passage and how are they like us today?
2. Place: What is the setting and what are the similarities to our world?
3. Plot: What is happening? Is there any conflict or tension? How would I have acted in that situation?
4. Point: What was the intended message for the first people to hear this passage? What did God want them to learn or feel or do?
5. Principles: What are the timeless truths?
6. Present: How is this relevant in our world today?
7. Parallels: Where does this truth apply to my life? At home, at work, at school, in church, in the neighborhood?
8. Personal: What attitude, action, value, or belief needs to change in me?
9. Plan: What would be my first step of action?

These are nine questions you can ask of any biblical text that will help you see the application.

The application window
The next tool is the application window, which I borrowed from my friend, Bruce Wilkinson, the founder of Walk Through the Bible and author of The Prayer of Jabez.

He believes 2 Timothy 3:16 describes this application window, showing you four kinds of application. In this passage, Paul says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (KJV)

Simply put, the Scripture is given to change our beliefs and our behavior. When you find answers to these four questions, you’ll have an application:

Doctrine: What should I believe?
Reproof: How should I not behave?
Correction: What should I not believe?
Instruction in righteousness: How should I behave?

The application acrostic
A third way of looking at application is what I call my application acrostic. I ask 12 questions related to the text.

Is there an Attitude to adjust?
Is there a Promise to claim?
Is there a Priority to change?
Is there a Lesson to learn?
Is there an Issue to resolve?
Is there a Command to obey?
Is there an Activity to avoid or stop?
Is there a Truth to believe?
Is there an Idol to tear down? (That’s a big one.)
Is there an Offense to forgive?
Is there a New direction to take?
Is there a Sin to confess?

Remember, for most people the sermon is the only pastoral care they ever get in their life. They’re not going to get one-on-one time with you. What you give them in a message and how you help them with their problem ends up being pastoral care from the pulpit. That’s why it is so critical that you deal with the personal application.

But you also need to make a corporate application, where you deal with the implications of how the Bible relates to the church as a body. Fewer pastors do this. They’ll make the personal application, but they won’t make the corporate application to the church.

If you want your church to grow, you must learn to do both at the same time. You need to make both personal application and corporate application in the same message.

Revelation 2:11 says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” You don’t have to separate these, rather integrate them together.

Application and seekers
How do you make corporate application when you’re doing evangelistic preaching or a seeker service? You just tell seekers, "Folks, this is what you’re getting into: Today, I'm going to give you an inside look at what the church is all about.” You just tell them right up front what you’re doing.

Every personal problem also has a corporate application. For instance, if you’re talking about loneliness and you’re dealing with how people are lonely, you say, "By the way, that’s one of the purposes of the church. God created the church so that we could grow together and we could develop. It’s called fellowship.” Then you spend three or four minutes talking about fellowship.

If you’re talking about the need to be the best God meant for you to be, then you might say, “By the way, that’s why God gave us the church. It’s called spiritual maturity. And the Bible says God has given pastors and teachers to help you grow spiritually and become all that God means for you to be.”

When you talk about purpose in life, you say, “By the way, that’s what the church is here for. We’re here to help you find your purpose.”

No matter what personal problem you’re dealing with, you just keep coming back to the corporate implications. It’s kind of like a little ad for the church on the side. I’ve seen a lot of pastors who are pretty good at helping Christians grow, but they’re bad at helping their church grow. They don’t understand that with every personal application there’s also a corporate application that you can teach, one that will teach “body life” at the same time.

Until next week,


This article is adapted from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church.


Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at