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“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
In the above passage, Paul is writing to his protégé Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul tells Timothy that he needs to take care in preaching God’s Word accurately, because there are people who, rather than listen to what the Word of God says, prefer to find teachers who tell them what they want to hear.
Consider this: If God’s Word is truly the eternal truth, and if no person or culture is perfect, then it stands to reason that every person and culture will be offended by God’s Word at some point. And while the temptation may be to pick and choose what we want to believe or follow, when we do that we become like the people Paul warned again, people looking for teachers who will scratch their itching ears. Consider some of the ways this we like our ears scratched:
1) Tell me that God loves me just as I am and that I don’t need to change.
That’s a tricky one. Yes, God loves everyone, no matter what they have done or what they believe. However, the Bible also reveals to us that is we do not turn from our sins and trust in Jesus for forgiveness, then we are under His condemnation (see Jesus’ words in John 3:16-18 for a concise yet frightening summary). Teaching God’s love without including the part about the need for repentance makes people feel good in the short run, but leads them to Hell in the end. The truth is that God loves you just the way you are when you are trusting in Christ, because the Father sees the Son when He looks at you. But even then, He wants you to become holy as He is holy, not to stay the way you are. Preaching a God who loves you without desiring holiness reduces God to the level of Barney the purple dinosaur – he loves you, but not in a way that will truly transform your life.
2) Tell me that God wants me to happy, rich, and live a problem-free life
The easiest way to build a big church, as the televangelists have discovered, is to keep it positive at all costs. Convince the people that if they just have enough faith and say positive things, that life will go smoothly for them. They’ll get that promotion. Their marriage will be restored. Their bills will be paid. Their diseases will go away. Their kids will be successful. And they will live happily ever after! And as the people listen, they receive encouragement, feeling better about themselves and more positive about the future. Until, of course, they don’t get the promotion. And the marriage doesn’t turn around. And the cancer doesn’t go away. And until they realize that they can’t positively confess their way into heaven, because they never turned from their sins to trust in Jesus.
3) Tell me I’m better than those other people – whoever they might be
Tell me I’m special because I take the Bible seriously, not like those liberals. Or tell me I’m special because I’m not close-minded and judgmental like those Bible thumpers. Praise me for being open-minded and tolerant. Or praise me for being willing to stand up for what’s right when others just go along with the culture. Tell me that God favors me because I’m moral, or because I work hard, or because I give away my money, or volunteer my time. Whatever you do, don’t tell me that I have nothing to boast in except that Jesus Christ died for me, that I am no better than anyone else, that everything good in my life is an undeserved gift from God, and that God calls me instead to love my enemies and those who are different than me, rather than look down on them.
Mind your itching ears, brothers and sisters, lest you gather around you teachers who scratch them, telling you what you want to hear and never confronting you with the eternal truth of God’s holy Word.
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