Four Signs Your Ears Are Itching
It is pretty much the same in every pastor’s study. You begin to weigh what you are going to say during your upcoming sermon. How will this enter the ears of my people? Will it please them? Bore them? Irritate or even anger them? Will this cause them to like and affirm me? This strong temptation to preach to people’s felt-needs is nothing new. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely . . . my people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30-31a). In his last letter to his protégé, Timothy, the Apostle Paul sought to encourage him by reminding him that there would be an epoch during the last days in which God’s people would no longer endure sound doctrine. Instead, they would begin to search for teachers that would scratch their itching ears. We are living in such a “McChurch Age.” This is an era in which believers who don’t like the way their pastors/teachers are serving it up keep shopping. How do you know if you have “itching ears”?
1. You can no longer stomach sound doctrine.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure ‘sound’ teaching.” (II Timothy 4:3a). Timothy is evidently experiencing a moment in the church life at Ephesus in which some of the members are growing weary of his preaching and teaching. They are no longer being able to “hold on to” or “bear under” (endure) “sound” doctrine. The word for “sound” is the Greek word from which we get our English word “hygienic.” The idea is “healthy doctrine.” Apparently, a section of the membership of the Ephesus Baptist Church was becoming weary of the expositional, verse-by-verse sermons from their teaching elder, Timothy. Rather, they were clamoring for the more popular eloquence of the Greek orators who were energizing, humorous, topical, and more engaging to the community. More likely than not, there were also some at Ephesus who wanted Timothy to be more dogmatic in rants on their particular positions or “issues.” After all, the church at Ephesus was known for its separatism (albeit unloving) (Revelation 3). Those with itching ears begin to be irritated, frustrated, and bored with the careful, steady diet of sound doctrine.
2. You begin to look for teachers that will tell you what you want to hear.
“But having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (II Timothy 4:3b). Marvin Vincent said it aptly, “If people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.” In this current age of the consumer, people are beginning to view their church membership as little more than a previous favorite restaurant. So, their dissatisfaction with sound doctrine leads to them “shopping” for the teacher/preacher that will tell them what they want to hear. Pray for your pastors. How tempting it is to become a Q-Tip preacher that tickles the ears of the flock! To tell them what they want to hear. To preach what you know will get an “amen” or more money in the offering plate.
3. You find teachers who are primarily concerned about relevancy.
Perhaps the current climate could best be described like the description of the Athenians – they “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Ministerial students in seminary today are being taught how to engage a yawning, indifferent audience. They are being mentored with the consumer mindset that is premised on the thought that we are competing for customers. Preachers are being taught to attempt to become somewhat of an amalgamation of a stand-up comedian and a clinical psychiatrist so that they can touch all the felt-needs of the congregation. They weave in a few cleverly spun Scriptures with some emotive self-help tips that leave the hearer feeling completely scratched. The pragmatic pressure of this “how you grow a church” is intense,
mainly, because it works. Sadly, when we find teachers that only are concerned about speaking to our felt-needs, they will not “preach the Word . . . reprove, rebuke and exhort” (II Timothy 4:2).
4. You find teachers who will preach about issues that you agree with.
Often times, we hear about “itching ears” and “Q-Tip Preachers” who tickle the ears of their audience and we immediately imagine those kinds of teachers/audiences only as being those gathered in large stadiums to hear “health and wealth” or those who are part of liberal churches that do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. However, do we realize that we can have “itching ears” and/or be “Q-Tip Preachers” and still preach hard on certain sins? Itching ears means that I want to hear preaching and teaching that tells me what I want to hear. So, if I want to hear a preacher preach “hard” against the evils of contemporary worship, modern translations, social drinking, worldliness, etc., I have “itching ears” as much as the guy who wants to have his felt-needs scratched. If I love it when sins “I don’t struggle with” are preached against, can I humbly admit that I, too, have itching ears? If I am thrilled when the self-righteous are “hammered,” am I not also having a teasing Q-Tip applied?
Truthfully, we all have itching ears. What will remedy our malady? Only the wonderful ear oil of the Spirit that gives us ears for sound doctrine!
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