What are different spiritual categories of hearers a preacher should have in mind when applying the text?
You should strive to apply your sermons to both:
Christians and non-Christians: You should explicitly address both in every sermon.
The complacent and hungry: The complacent need to hear warnings, and sometimes promises. The hungry need to hear promises, and sometimes warnings. The complacent need warnings more than promises, because God’s promises don’t mean much to them. They’re content in this world, like the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 The hungry need promises, because they’re already feeling what they lack, and they want to be filled: “Lord, help me to see. I do believe. Help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:24 . Be very careful about tempting the weak to discouragement. Be very careful about tempting the strong to self-sufficiency (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14 for both).
The legalistic and hedonistic: The legalistic will listen up as you talk law and rules, and they’ll overlook gospel promises. The hedonistic will be quick to hear your talk of gospel promises, but they won’t want to hear about repentance or Christ’s Lordship. So take care to apply your text to both kinds of people without letting either one off the hook.
When applying your sermon, you can also safely assume that all of your hearers share these struggles:
All of them struggle with idolatry. The essence of sin is worshiping something in place of God (Romans 1:18-32). All of your hearers will struggle with worshiping created things rather than the creator.
All of them struggle with loving the world. For some, sex. Others, things. Others, reputation. But all of them are tempted to love the world.
Find more great resources for church health from Mark Dever and 9Marks Ministries at www.9marks.org