There is a little Pharisee in all of us.
Luke 18:10–12: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
We do not like to admit it. We will even deny it. However, if we are honest we all have these thoughts and beliefs that we hold to that make us self-righteous, especially if we let them go unchecked. We all cling to our good works to define how good we actually are. Like the Pharisee here we apply things (sin) to others and not to ourselves. We do obviously do everything right, it is the other people that do it wrong.
Here is a big pharisaical trait for me: itching ears.
Our ears can itch so much not even a Q-Tip would help.
2 Timothy 4:3–4: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Here is where I hold on to that little bit of Pharisee in me. I apply this to other people all the time. I mean, it’s true of others all the time (see, I must still cling to being right). There is a reason people like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Benny Hinn have huge followings. It is great to hear that God is at your beck and call if you say the right prayer and go through the right motions. I will be rich, healed, and live my best life now? That sounds amazing to me. It just does not sound like the bible.
It is easy to look down on people from the theological pedestal I place myself on. When it is blatant false teaching it becomes simple to point out the itching ears of others. But what if it is not always false teaching that is intended to tickle the audience’s ears? Why do I only listen to the five pastors I agree with? Could I not learn from someone I am not in 100% agreement with on every theological point?
We, as pastors, want to itch people’s ears more than we care to admit. Even now can you see what I did there? I put “We” to deflect from myself a little bit. I, as a pastor, want to itch people’s ears more than I care to admit. I have always done my best to teach the bible and not traditions. I have always tried to say things that were true, whether they would be well received or not.
But the question is, how many times do I say things specifically to get the reaction I want?
Now, part of that is good preaching. Know your audience. Always. But when does it cross the line from knowing your audience to pandering to your audience? If I am being honest, right now there are two big subjects I want to tackle, but I do not know how they would be received. There is another that I will teach on in the summer that I am not confident everyone will give a fair shot to. Maybe I will get to those subjects, but I want people to like my teaching, so I may hold back longer than necessary.
I was recently at a gathering of pastors and ministry leaders here in Statesville. The room was white. I was as brown as it gets. The room was also old. I was about as young as it gets. So, then of course someone simply makes a quip about the horror of the NFL kneeling protests. The room, mostly older and white, nods and vocally affirms the comment. It is the most “Amens” I have heard at any Baptist gathering.
And all I could think was that if that room had any African-Americans in it, that remark would not have been made. Not that person making the remark did so maliciously. They were only stating their opinion. It is fine to have that opinion. They just happened to know that the comment would be well received. It would endear them to the listeners. It would scratch that itch.
You, dear reader, have itching ears. You simply have to do some introspection. There are too many traditions being held onto in churches and we equate them with the bible. There is too much politics in bible belt pulpits. There is too much shying away from the confrontation of sin in California pulpits. All over there is too much therapy being preached rather than the gospel being preached.
And this is obviously not true of my teaching…right? But again, I am a Pharisee that applies everything to everyone else and not myself.
How do you combat your itching ears? Know your bible. If you want to endure sound teaching you must know your bible and what it says. Then you must unashamedly confront your itching ears every time you listen to a message. Do not ask, “Did I enjoy that message?” Ask instead, “Was that message biblical and true?”