‘For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.’ – 2 Timothy 4v3From Hannah Black:
Do you ever have itching ears? I’m not talking literally about a prickly sensation on your ear, but rather about that feeling of itching to find someone who is saying what you want to hear. I think I feel it the most when I’m online – it’s easiest just to read the Twitter feeds of people whose opinions I agree with!
That is the kind of itching ears is what Paul is talking about in this verse from 2 Timothy. He is saying that a time will come where people will want to be surrounded by teachers who say what they want to hear. But rather than divisive tweets, these teachers are sharing false myths about who Jesus is, and how eternal life works. These wrong ideas are dangerous – they lead people away from the truth. Earlier in the letter, Paul has compared false teaching to gangrene, spreading wrong ideas through the church.
So why is Paul warning Timothy about this? I think it is to explain why it is so important that Timothy sticks to preaching the true word of God. In chapter 4 verse 2, Paul has charged Timothy to “preach the word.”
To flesh that out a bit: ‘Timothy, stand firm in preaching the word. Don’t compromise the truth, to please those with itching ears. Keep talking about the real Jesus and his offer of salvation by grace.’
What does this mean for us? If you’re reading this and you have a role where you preach or teach God’s word to others – anything from preaching a sermon to the whole church family on a Sunday, to sharing the gospel message with a friend at a coffee shop – then Paul’s instruction to Timothy is useful for you too. Keep preaching the true word, and fight the temptation to stray away from sound doctrine in order to say what people want to hear.
Finally, for all of us, I think there is a challenge here: not to give in to our own itching ears but instead to seek to learn from and support the ministry of those who faithfully preach the word to us. We should never give up listening to the truth, but instead put ourselves in a place where we hear God’s word taught faithfully.