“Preaching like that is just tickling ears.”
In preaching circles (Did you know there was such a thing?), there’s an ongoing debate about the best method of preaching.
Should one bring messages going verse-by-verse through books of the Bible (exegetical) or should one bring messages from different parts of the Bible based on a theme (topical)?
And when the verse-by-verse camp looks at the topical camp, they tend to feel the topical approach is based on “tickling ears” than presenting the whole of the Bible.
Both camps come from a good place: trying to develop Christians who actually look, think, and act like Jesus. The concern comes from our passage today in our journey through 2 Timothy, chapter 4 verses 3-5.
3 For the time will come when people 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. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.2 Timothy 4:3-5
New International Version
These verses we’re reading today are tied tightly to the verses before it. The importance of sound teaching of the truth of Scripture is important because, in time, truth is rejected.
This was already happening in Ephesus where Timothy was. It would get worse. The Church always needs to stay prepared to defend the truth and power of Scripture by maintaining the truth.
What is “sound doctrine”? In one sense, it’s the wholesome truth of Scripture. In another sense, it’s Scripture’s demand for life transformation.
But more and more, Timothy would be addressing people who surround themselves with Bible teachers who only say what they wanted to hear. People would want teachers who suit their own desires and sensibilities.
Instead of seeking to learn and apply the truth of Scripture, people who follow false teachers are interested in novelty.
I remember growing up how my little corner of the church world was obsessed with the “end times”. Books, charts, prophecy conferences, guest speakers talking about prophecy and their books, Book of Revelation studies…it seemed all anyone was talking about was the “end times”.
I don’t remember them talking about holy living, worshipping the Lord, surrendering our lives to Him, or being salt and light to the world.
But I do remember hearing A LOT about when Jesus was coming back in relation to the Tribulation period and who the Antichrist is going to be.
That’s what Paul is talking about: novelty. Making things that are secondary our primary focus. We are so easily amused as Christians and will crave new ideas that pretty much amount to quasi-theology.
And most of it just serves to make us seem smart.
At the same time, we can be interested in the novelty of adapting the message of Scripture to our culture. Before you read into that statement, please understand: the methodology always changes, but the message of the Bible never changes.
But when we make the vehicle more important than the passenger inside the vehicle, we’ve lost focus.
We can turn “right” towards quasi-theological trivia or “left” towards jettisoning the truth of Jesus to appease our culture. Both are myths.
Instead, “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (verse 5).
In contrast to the insanity that would be all around, we are called to spiritual intelligence. We stay alert. We’re aware of how easily we can slip to the right or left and start speaking myths as truth.
Based on this passage, either preaching philosophy could fall prey to novelty and sensationalism. The Apostle Paul would caution all of us to keep the goal of life transformation the primary driver behind why we do what we do.
Even when the people we’re speaking to are more interested in novelty than truth, we stay the course for Jesus. This is our calling as Christians and those who talk to others about becoming better Christians.