************ Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on September 9, 2018

2 Timothy 4:1-5
2 Timothy 4:3-4
"Preaching to Itchy Ears"
Kick-Off Sunday

Timothy was a true Christian believer. Paul addresses Timothy as "my true son in the faith" (1 Tim 1:2). Paul says Timothy had a "sincere faith," the same as that which lived in his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:1-5). The truths these two ladies taught Timothy from infancy -- truths about sin and our need for a Savior -- were able to make him "wise for salvation" (2 Tim 3:15).

Timothy was a faithful minister. He served with Paul for many years. He joined Paul during one of Paul’s later missionary journeys. He served as Paul’s representative to several churches (1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:19). He was with Paul when Paul wrote several of his New Testament letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). He served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3).

So why, then, does Paul command Timothy to be careful to preach the Word in all situations? Why does the Apostle Paul think it necessary to say this to a man who had shown himself to be both a true Christian believer and a faithful minister?

I The Pressure of Popular Culture
A On this kick-off Sunday Paul warns the church about "itching ears." The Greek word translated "itching" literally means "to itch, rub, scratch, or tickle." To want one’s ears "tickled" is to desire massages rather than messages -- sermons that charm rather than challenge, entertain rather than edify, and please rather than preach. Their ears itch to hear something pleasant -- words that will soothe them rather than convict them of their sin.

When people have "itching ears," they decide for themselves what is right or wrong instead of submitting to "sound doctrine." "Itching ears" are concerned with what feels good or comfortable, not with the truth -- after all, the truth can often be uncomfortable. Remember, this was the complaint of some of those who followed Jesus:
(Jn 6:60, 66) "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" ... [Do you remember the result?] (66) From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
After he preached, the Apostle Paul also had those who mocked him and refused to listen anymore.

There are people with "itching ears." And, just as sad, there are teachers and preachers willing to scratch those ears. Those with "itching ears" only want teachers who will assure them all is well; teachers who say, "Peace, peace . . . when there is no peace" (Jer 6:14). Paul says not only will there be great demand for watered-down, comfortable messages, but there will be "a great number of teachers" willing to steer people away from "sound doctrine."

B How did Paul personally respond to "itching ears"? How did he respond to the demand for watered-down, comfortable messages? Sometimes we have the wrong image of Paul. It is really easy to think of Paul as a fearless preacher of the Gospel who never hesitated to preach the truth. But Paul didn't think of himself that way. Rather, he was scared and hesitant in proclaiming the truth to the Corinthian Christians:
(2 Cor 10:1) By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you--I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away!
Paul tells us he was scared when it came to confronting the sins of the church in person.

How was Paul with unbelievers? He admits he entered the gates of pagan Corinth with weakness, fear, and much trembling (1 Cor 2:3). And, in Athens he must have had the same reaction when he faced the sneers and derision of some of the philosophers at Mars Hill when he told them the good news that Jesus walked out of the grave (cf Acts 17:15ff).

What am I saying? I am saying Paul was intimidated by popular culture. Paul personally faced the temptation to water-down the doctrines and demands of the Gospel in order to accommodate the world. Paul personally faced the temptation to preach anything but sound doctrine. To put it in today's language, Paul faced the world's pressure to bow to the gods of political correctness. He faced the temptation but, as you all know, he did not fall for this temptation.

C How are we doing some two thousand years later? I'm sorry to say we are still facing "itching ears." The college student engaged in casual sex wants to hear that God accepts a promiscuous lifestyle. The greedy person wants to hear the preacher tell him that casinos and lottery tickets are acceptable. The homosexual wants a god that blesses gay marriage. The single woman with an unwanted pregnancy wants a Jesus Who views pregnancy as an inconvenience to deal with. The alcoholic and drug addict wants to be told their craving is a disease they are born with instead of a sin for which they need to repent. The transgender whatever wants to hear that God mistakenly gave them the wrong sexual identity.

I need to repeat the survey results I told you about last week. People were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statements. Their answers reveal to us what people's itching ears want to hear today:
God loves me because of the good I do or have done
37% Agree strongly or somewhat

Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good
67% Agree strongly or somewhat

An individual must contribute to his/her own salvation
71% Agree strongly or somewhat

There are many ways to get to heaven
44% Agree strongly or somewhat
Do you know what these beliefs are? To use the word used by Paul in our text, they are "myths." Myths. Legends. Stories. Fables. None of them are true. None of them are trustworthy. None of them are believable.

And, as in the time of Paul, people can find preachers and teachers who tell them what their itching ears want to hear. There are popular preachers on TV and the internet -- preachers with thousands of followers -- who never once call upon people to repent of their sin; preachers who say people are basically good; preachers who say God is too loving to judge anyone; preachers who say that the cross, with all its blood, is not really necessary; preachers who say God wants His children to be healthy, wealthy, and happy in this world; preachers who cater to a demand for "new" ideas and "fresh" ideas. Messages that tickle ears can fill a lot of churches, sell a lot of books, and have a big following on YouTube and blogs.

I shouldn't limit what I say to preachers. There are popular authors who do the same thing -- who cater to people's itching ears. So they write books and blogs and devotions and Bible Study materials that Paul would dismiss as myths.

Itching ears. And those who scratch those ears. That is as big a problem today as it was at the time of Paul.

Sinners have two options. They can submit to the authority of God's Word, confess their sin, repent, and throw themselves upon God's grace in Christ. Or, they can find a church that has changed the message to fit today's culture.

Ministers and churches and teachers and authors who change the message from God to fit the desires of the world aid in the destruction of lives, families, and civilizations. Consider the prophets who were preaching in Judah during the time of Jeremiah. They were seduced into preaching messages that were popular with their audiences. They preached that Judah was not under God's judgment. Their sermons ignored the gross sins of that society and spoke of peace and prosperity (cf Jer 6:13-14). This kind of preaching was not a blessing. Rather, those prophets were guilty of providing a comfortable pew from which people fell to their physical and spiritual destruction. By catering to itching ears they actually contributed to the nation's destruction.

What am I saying at the start of a new church year? From this pulpit we do not cater to itching ears. In Sunday School and Catechism class we do not cater to itching ears. In Bible Study we do not cater to itching ears. In family visiting we do not cater to itching ears.

II Sound Doctrine
A It is not enough to tell you what Christians cannot do. I also need to tell you what we must do. As I told the children, we need to use Q-Tips. The Christian's Q-Tips is the "sound doctrine" of the Bible. We need to hear sound doctrine. We need to study sound doctrine. We need to learn sound doctrine.

Since January of 2017 I have been using the phrase "sound doctrine" over and over again. I keep telling you that the Catechism, because it is based upon the Bible, is sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is a phrase Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus. Paul says preachers are commanded to teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). And, elders and pastors are commanded to encourage members with sound doctrine and to refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

What is sound doctrine? Sound doctrine is doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of God (1 Tim 1:10-11). That is, it is based upon the Bible. Therefore, it is true and reliable and trustworthy and dependable. It is truth you can believe and stake your life upon.

B Isaiah and Jeremiah proclaimed sound doctrine to the people of Judah. Contrary to every other prophet -- those lying prophets who scratched people's itching ears -- they dared to proclaim that God's judgment was falling upon the people and land. For three generations they preached that Babylon would be used to destroy Jerusalem and carry the people into captivity. This did not make them very popular. In fact, because of this Jeremiah suffered persecution. Some of the king's officials even wanted Jeremiah to be put to death because he was discouraging the soldiers as well as the people. When the king refused, the king's officials took Jeremiah and put him into a cistern, where he sank down into the mud and was left to starve or freeze to death.

If you lived in Jerusalem during the sixth century B.C., would you have wanted your family to sit under Jeremiah's preaching? Would you have been comfortable hearing him condemn your sins? Or, would his preaching have alarmed you?

C Here we come to the main point of this sermon. We either encourage or discourage our ministers to preach the truth. We either pray for our ministers to be filled with the Holy Spirit and preach with His fire or we don't. I am sad to say that some congregations resist and disregard the preaching of the Word. Some congregations put pressure on the minister to modify his message.

Do you know what this preacher wants? I want people with itching ears -- but not the itching ears Paul was talking about! I want people whose ears itch to hear the truth. I want people whose ears soak up God's truth much like a sponge soaks up water. I want people whose ears itch for the Gospel even if it confronts their own sins. I want people who cheer the true prophet as he preaches.

And, do you know what this congregation needs? A preacher who is far more afraid of offending God than of offending people's sensibilities. God is not concerned with scratching our itches but in transforming us into the image of His Son (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 4:4).

Every church and every pastor and every congregant needs to engage in self-examination:
-Are our teachings truly from God or simply itches we want to scratch?
-Are we standing on solid biblical grounds, or have we allowed the world to influence our thinking?
-Have we guarded ourselves from the schemes of Satan (Eph 6:11)?
-Are we keeping ourselves "blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23)?

D We stand at the start of another church year. For the sake of our children and youth we need true preaching and true teaching. It starts in the home where we are to follow the example of Timothy's mother and grandmother and teach our children the Word of God. As parents, we are to prepare our children to distinguish truth from error. We are to read the Bible to them and pray with them. We are to regularly bring them to worship. We are to send them to Sunday School and Catechism and provide them a God-centered education.

And, parents and grandparents are to model this for our kids. You can't expect them to attend GEMS and Cadets and Youth Group and Young Adults if they don't see you reading the Bible and attending Bible Study.

I have a doctor friend whose wife and brother have cancer. He quickly realized that the primary care physicians for both of them made a mistaken diagnosis. His brother was told to change his diet and to get more rest. His wife was told it was nothing to worry about. If my friend settled for this, both his wife and his brother would be dead right now. So he said the truth: you have cancer and it needs to be dealt with right now.

That's the approach we need to take with itching ears and scratching preachers. They endanger the church. They endanger our children. What we need is the truth of the Gospel or we too will be lost.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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