27 February 2012

Itching Ears

by Phil Johnson

"For the time is coming . . ." (2 Timothy 4:3).

ere Paul paints a vivid picture of what he merely alluded to in verse 2: an era when biblical preaching would be "out of season." This is what it looks like: "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."

Paul is describing the exact brand of obstinacy we see in full bloom in our own culture. Enlightened postmoderns simply have no time for the unyielding truth-claims of God's Word. And the average evangelical church leader seems obsessed with fitting into the culture rather than pointing out the dangers of it. Rather than feeding the flock something nourishing, pop-star pastors love tickling ears. But thereby they actually turn people away from the truth and set them loose to wander off into mythology.

The people who demand to have their ears tickled are guilty, too, of course. The expression "itchy ears" was a common figure of speech in ancient Greek literature, and its meaning is clear. It describes the very same phenomenon Luke described in Athens in Acts 17:21: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." They had a compulsive lust for novelty. It's the same pathology that makes people today endlessly surf the Web in search of the latest trending topic.

In the Greek text there's a definite article attached to the expression "sound teaching" in verse 3. Literally "people will not endure the sound doctrine"—i.e., the system of healthy teaching Paul himself proclaimed and defended. There's a conspicuous example of someone who didn't endure sound doctrine in verse 10. Demas deserted Paul because he loved the present world. Paul is saying Demas's attitude would become a widespread problem. People would desert healthy doctrine because they would grow to love worldly values and develop a lust for self-gratification. That is apostasy, and it is a dead-on accurate description of the mainstream evangelical movement today.

We don't have to follow the the world's fashions. In fact, the whole gist of 2 Timothy 4 (and all of Paul's pastoral epistles) is that we are not to follow the drift of superficial "culture." Paul tells Timothy: "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

Phil's signature


mike said...

I think it is instructive that even if the congregation has "itching ears" and seeks to be entertained by the preaching of myths, Paul makes it clear that the preacher is still responsible for proclaiming the sound doctrine of the word. Preachers don't have an excuse to preach nonsense or avoid Biblical terminology just because the people in the pews don't want to deal with the truth. The rock star gives the audience what they want. The preacher should give them what they need.

μαρτυς said...

Ah, The Doctrine of Christ, I remember it well...

I'm not sure from your tone whether you're bemoaning today's apostate fetishism or celebrating it. Seems to me it's arrived right on time. All part of the Great Winnowing--Praise Yeshua!

Roll on Joel Osteen.

GW said...

We talk about these verses in the letters to Timothy a lot these days. Today as I read this I was struck by how it almost seems like Paul was writing this just for us. It affirms for me that All scripture is breathed out by God indeed!

Tom Chantry said...

Oh great. More change at Blogger. Meh!

donsands said...

Even the truth about how people don't want to hear the truth doesn't satisfy those itching ears.
We had John chapter 7 preached to us yesterday, and Jesus said: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil."
John 7:7

When we stand and call sin sin, then get ready to be shunned, and even hated. If you go and tell the world that Homosexuals are sinning, and speak out against the whole "homo-marriage" thing, you will not be received to say the least.
And this isn't a hate statement, but just the opposite:-it's because we want others to see the truth, and ask our Savior to save them.

Thanks for the good post.

Aaron Snell said...

It proves we're not robots, Tom, because robots can't feel frustration.

DJP said...

Perhaps. But they can be programmed to type "Oh great. More change at Blogger. Meh!"

Aaron Snell said...

Well, I know I'm not a robot, anyway. Frustrator ergo sum.

ANiMaL (richard) said...

"It's the same pathology that makes people today endlessly surf the Web in search of the latest trending topic."

Um, ouch. Apparently I'm the only one on this blog who has been guilty of that. /repenting

Robert Warren said...

Hmm...9 comments.

Is it possible our fannies are still stinging from Friday's spanking?

AM Jackson said...

Given that preaching sound doctrine and rebuking brothers is what we are to do (instead of idly tickling ears), we can expect most of those coming for entertainment to walk away. A question that has been on my heart is: Do we then pursue those dropouts? How do we pursue them? Is it the pastor's job? Is it the congregations job? Is it the close friend's job?
Also, where is the middle ground (not the standard emergent church with couches and latte's, but a true outreach) for the seeker who may have grown completely out of touch with God?
I am not saying that the Spirit cannot work in any space, but I am simply wondering how far God wants us to reach out to those who need accesibility and relevance?

Blessings on the Pyro's.
And I would greatly appreciate feedback from anyone - I am doing a college Apologetics project on this stuff and I need deeper understanding.


Strong Tower said...

"Is it possible our fannies are still stinging from Friday's spanking?"

You know, when Phil post these kinds of posts there isn't alot left to say.

Brent said...

Can I at least say that as gloriously untrendy as you are pastor Phil, your graphic design is still very good (where did you get the steampunk R-2 D-2?). In a way, it removes the smokescreen that others would throw up that you are fundamentally against art, culture-making or beauty and makes their rejection of what you say even more inexcusable.

Kaj Ballantyne said...

"Oh great more change at Blogger. Meh!"

A Reformed Baptist preacher upset over change?! Who knew?! :)

SamWise said...

"Wander off into myths"

I believe these would be called "Meta-Narratives" by the PoMo. Yet they are the largest fans of mythology! :)

I believe the overaching myth since say about 1860's would be, "Chance x Long Time = Order!" Yet, many consider that myth unassailable!

And today we hear "Mother Earth" being praised (hopefully not by the PoMo but you never know these days).