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5 Ways to Preach Like a Pharisee

Pharisees and Jesus

Photo by bbaltimore.

Many of the Pharisees were probably great teachers and skilled speakers. I’m sure many were charismatic, skilled communicators. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, on the whole, were killing the culture around them spiritually. Jesus had a lot of work to do just to unwire people from the performance-driven, legalistic trap of pharisaism.

I’ve been guilty of preaching like a Pharisee before, and as I review my sermons from the past, I cringe a bit as I peruse certain periods of my ministry when I placed undue burdens on my listeners in the name of “preaching the Word.” I’m writing out of my own past tendencies (and present tendencies I’m still trying to snuff out) as well as out of what I observe across the landscape of evangelical preaching.

The following tips will work to draw a moderate-sized crowd. A pulpit characterized by negativity and belligerence will draw a moderate-sized crowd of masochists who draw energy to go on another day by being beaten up spiritually. But it won’t make Jesus-like, craveable disciples. So use them at your own risk.

How do you preach like a Pharisee?

Preach Your Opinions Instead of the Absolute Truth of Scripture

Exalting your own opinions about extra-biblical issues as though obedience to them is equivalent to obeying Scripture is dangerous. It creates the very burdens on the backs of people that Jesus came to remove. It also hurts the trust of your hearers. Consider my hero, W. A. Criswell who once promoted segregation as a biblical mandate only to repent and change his policy later. His opinion about a cultural issue caused many to question his credibility. Thankfully, he had such a high respect for the authority of Scripture that he changed course, publicly and with apology. Besides, you’re probably wrong more than you think you are.

Promote Moralism Over Grace-based Living

Your role is to present biblical truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of your hearers with the power of God’s revelation. Your role is not to make people behave. Repentance has to do with changing the mind and belief system so that behaviors follow, but when we promote better behavior, we put the cart before the horse and fail to exalt the grace that enables us to live differently.

Make People Feel Guilty Enough to Make Short-term Commitments

Guilt is a terrible motivator. Yes, we sinners must come to grips with our sin by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring that conviction. I can get people to give more money, sign up to serve in a ministry, or go share the gospel by making them feel guilty about not giving or doing enough. Or I can empower them to give, serve, and share by inspiring them with hope. God dangles rewards in front of us in eternity as motivation for action rather than feelings of guilt over our sinful past. I owe Him everything, but He doesn’t remind me of that. He simply challenges me to go forward in hope and for the pure enjoyment of Him and His grace.

Beat People Into Skepticism

Jesus once told the Pharisees that they had a tendency to make people “twice the child of hell as they were before.” What did He mean? People had come to the Pharisees, as religious leaders, to find the ultimate fulfillment God could offer. What they received was a long list of rules that were impossible to keep. After their repeated failures, they would finally turn away in disgust and it would be a long time before they listened to another religious leader again. Sound familiar? My heart breaks for the victims of spiritually abusive churches that have little understanding or compassion for the hurts and problems of people in pain.

Dress the Part

If you wear a three-piece suit and cuff links because you’re into that sort of thing or because it appeals to the community you’re trying to reach, more power to you. But if you just like to wear the “preacher” uniform and appear lofty and ministerial, repent now. I get a bit nauseated when I see a leader who has that “preacher strut.” I won’t describe it – you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually the result of my desire to impress my peers outweighing my desire to connect with the lost. This is not a rant against “dressing up.” It’s just a warning against trying to “dress the part” of the superior religious leader.

More than ever, a skeptical, broken world needs our authentic, truth-saturated, grace-based, Spirit-filled message of the cross and the resurrection. And they need to see it embodied in our lives as much as they need to hear it proclaimed from the podium.

The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Leadership

The Threat… is you. We often guard against the negative impact of others or our perceived threat from other leaders, but at the end of the day, we leaders are our own worst enemies. The most damaging things that will happen to your leadership will be carried out by you.

  • When pride prevents you from learning
  • When anger destroys someone close to you
  • When your ego prevents you from mentoring those who might surpass you
  • When you fold to temptation and risk everything important
  • When you let your profession outrank your family
  • When you turn inward and withdraw into a shell
  • When the approval of people outranks the smile of God
  • When you get too busy to hang out with human beings
  • When you stand God up regularly
  • When you quit just before God is ready to really start using you

Paul once told Timothy, “Watch yourself.” He echoed the same to the Ephesian elders in Miletus as he said, “Take heed to yourself.” I think the aged apostle understood this principle well. There is no greater threat to your ministry than you, and there is no greater guarantee of success than focusing totally on Jesus.

You’re quite a threat!

Why Don’t Men Ask For Directions? Answered.

Can’t view it? See It On Youtube.

I’m not sure that the creators of this commercial have the actual answer to why men don’t ask for directions. What I do know is that I often don’t ask for directions for reasons of my own…

  • I just ought to know.
  • I do know… I just can’t remember… yet.
  • Who could possibly know, if I don’t?
  • If I’ve started in the wrong direction, I don’t want to know.
  • I’m just enjoying the journey.
  • There’s always another route, and I’m finding it!
  • Trust me, this is a shortcut.
  • I’m afraid to show weakness.
  • Stopping for directions will take too long and if we’re lost, we can’t waste time.
  • Asking for directions can get you maced, mugged, or made fun of.

Some of those excuses are illogical, and others irrational, but all of them have gone through the minds of men in panic.

I remember an episode of Home Improvement in which Wilson, the wise neighbor, explains to Tim that he is better with directions than his wife because men tend to have larger amounts of iron stored in their nasal cavities, which results in a stronger connection with the magnetic poles. Tim recounted this to Jill later in his own defense, proclaiming, “Look, I just have more iron boogers than you!”

When we’re just trying to get back to the main highway on vacation, this is not such a crucial issue. But when men hit real crises in their lives, these tendencies remain. So let me just give myself some advice, man-to-myself, and you can listen in…

  • You need direction.
  • God created you and He created the course you are running.
  • God put you in the path of other, often wiser men.
  • Speak up. Reach out. Dump the pride and admit your need for a Counselor sometimes.

Ask for directions.

Take a Lesson from Goliath

You’ve probably heard the story of David versus Goliath, and you’ve probably heard all kinds of applications of that story such as how to face the giants in your life, how to fight by faith, etc. Most of the sermons we preach from the story revolve around the victory of the little teenager against the big giant, and most of the life applications we hear are from this angle as well.

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn some lessons from Goliath along the way though. For example…

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Hate Sin or Hate Self

Moments ago, I was spending some time in prayer and I was confessing known sin in my life. As I prayed, I said, “God, I’m sorry for this sin, I ought to hate this sin.” Almost instantly God spoke to my heart and I blurted out what I heard Him say, “Brandon, you’ll either learn to hate your sin, or you’ll wind up hating yourself.”

As we confess sin and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome it, we ought to remember that we have a new identity in Christ. We are not to be subject to a very popular but perhaps erroneous “miserable sinnerism” (coined by J. Sidlow Baxter) but rather we are to see ourselves as forgiven and freed. Sin no longer defines us, Christ does, if we’ve been washed once for all in His blood.

In order to preserve a close intimacy with God and forward spiritual progress, I desperately need to see myself as “in Christ,” to see sin as something to be loathed, and to see cleansing as a continuous need. If we loathe ourselves, we’ll give up. If we exalt ourselves, we’ll blow it because of pride. But if we hate sin and exalt the indwelling Christ in us, we’ll see the victory!