Summary: This is no time for fear, no time for cowardice, and no time to quit. Instead, it’s a time to take a deep breath and march forward into battle.
Preach the Word!
I’d like to begin by calling your attention to verses 3-4 of this passage. They describe a scene that seems amazingly contemporary: “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” (II Timothy 4:3-4). Note that Paul makes three predictions in these verses:
1) There will come a time when men will not put up with sound doctrine. They will not only reject the truth, they will refuse even to hear the truth.
2) These men will prefer lies instead of the truth because they have what Paul calls “itching ears.” “Itching ears” are ears that are eager to hear every new idea, every new theory, and every wild idea, no matter how fanciful or farfetched it may be. “They have an itch to be entertained by teachings that will produce pleasant sensations and leave them with good feelings about themselves” (John MacArthur). People with itching ears want preachers who tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
3) There will be many teachers who will be glad to tickle the itching ears of their hearers.
This passage came true for the Episcopal Church last week when that denomination elected its first-ever openly homosexual bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson. How could such a thing happen in a church that ostensibly believes the Bible? Writing in the Wall Street Journal (August 8, 2003), Katherine Kersten has a very clear answer. She says the Episcopal Church:
has just tossed aside 2,000 years of bedrock Christian teaching about marriage, the family and sexuality. It has rejected beliefs fundamental not only to Christianity, but to Judaism and Islam. Episcopalians’ inability to defend core doctrine suggests that mainline American churches are losing their theological moorings, and increasingly falling prey to the prevailing winds of secular culture.
She goes on to talk about what she calls the new “gospel of inclusion,” which means that we should bless same-sex unions so that homosexuals will feel welcome in the church. She then adds that the new gospel “subordinates thinking to ‘feelings.’” And that’s exactly what Paul meant when he said men would turn away from the truth in order to “suit their own desires.”
It’s almost as if the Apostle Paul, writing from a dark prison cell in Rome, knew all about America in 2003. Second Timothy 4 has come true before our very eyes. And there is more to come. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Somewhere this week I saw this predicted future headline: “Episcopal Church elects first-ever openly-Muslim bishop.” Well, why not? Once you depart from the Word of God, where do you stop? I know there are quite a few evangelical Christians inside the Episcopal Church, including members of my own family. They are understandably dismayed and many are angry at this betrayal of the Christian faith. One Episcopal friend said simply, “The national church is run by pagans.” One can only hope and pray that God-fearing Episcopalians will be able to turn their church back to the truth, but the outlook does not seem promising. In fact, it seems likely that this same battle will be repeated over and over again, in the Lutheran Church, in the Presbyterian Church, in the United Church of Christ, and eventually in the American Baptist churches.
“Make Me Happy”
“Itching ears.” That’s how you get homosexual bishops. We live in a world of itching ears, where people come to church and demand to be told what they want to hear. And it’s not just in the liberal churches, either. It happens in evangelical churches as well. People come to church with a personal agenda in mind:
Make me happy.
Meet my needs.
Don’t talk about sin.
Tell me how to be successful.
Don’t be so negative.
Bible doctrine is boring.
Theology doesn’t matter.
Sermons are too long.
Make the gospel relevant.
Tell more stories.
Make me laugh.
Tell some jokes.
Help me feel good about myself.
Build up my self-esteem.
Don’t be divisive.
Don’t talk about hell.
I want a happy religion.
And the answer comes from the Apostle Paul: “Preach the Word!” This is what the church must do in times like these. “Preach the Word!” This is our calling, our challenge, our mandate. Let’s take just a moment to examine that phrase. To “preach” means to stand as a herald on the street corner. When a king wanted to send an important announcement to his subjects, he sent heralds who scattered across the realm, publicly declaring the king’s message. They went to every corner, every city gate, and every public marketplace, announcing the king’s message. The herald had one responsibility and only one. He was to announce only what the king told him to announce. He was not free to add or subtract or to summarize or paraphrase the king’s message. He was not permitted to add his own personal opinions. In this sense, to preach means to authoritatively declare the truth of God. That’s why Luther and Calvin said that when the preacher truly preaches the Word of God, what the preacher says, God says. That’s right—as long as the preacher is truly preaching God’s Word and not his own opinions. But note the limitation of the preaching. We are to preach “the Word.” Not “Preach your ideas” or “Preach your theories” or “Preach your analysis of current events” or “Preach the latest hot gossip.” And we are not to preach “a” word, but “the” word, the Word of the Living God. We are to stand and declare to an unbelieving world, “Thus says the Lord.”