2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 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.
Do you feel that, the spot that starts like a little tickle? Maybe you can avoid it, thinking it will go away on its own, but then it keeps nagging you. Before you know it there’s so much irritation that you are screaming for relief. And so you scratch, thinking, “It’s not that bad, just a little itch and it will go away.” Only, that’s not how this itch works. It’s quiet for a while, and then spots start popping up again. What started as a little nuisance is now so hard to ignore and it’s not going away.
We’re not talking about chickenpox or poison ivy. We’re talking about the ideas that pop up at work, in school, around the neighborhood, and even in churches. These little ideas start so small. You might not even recognize them right away, but that itch is there and it’s festering.
The subtle itch might say, “Cable or DirecTV, you must have one or the other, and a 50 inch TV to watch it on.” “A parent needs to be first and foremost a friend for their child.” “This new diet craze or these new dietary supplements will make you feel so alive. You need them for a better life.”
Maybe you can avoid scratching at some of the smaller annoyances, but what if they spread, what if they get more intense? “If you want to live the dream and if you want every problem to be taken care of, then you need a great government. This election is a going to fix everything. Get out and vote!” “In order for us to have a peaceful life, we need to be accepting and supporting of every lifestyle and every choice.” “Young ladies have to dress a certain way if they want boys to pay attention to them.” Similarly, “If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, sex has to be a part of that relationship. Then, if things are getting serious, you have to move in together to see if you are compatable.” “It’s her own body, she has the right to chose what she wants to do with it.”
Maybe all of these can be summed up with the common thread of our world right now: “knowledge is a free-floating system that has no foundation and no correspondence with any absolute reality.”[i] In other words, if you think something is wise or true, then it is. Someone else might not think it is, but that’s OK. Wisdom doesn’t need an absolute basis in objective facts anymore. People have their own ideas and you have yours. That’s the rash that has been spreading all over the place. It’s not going away…
…and it’s spreading into churches, too. Paul writes, 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. What exactly do these scratchy spots look or sound like? Well, like a lot of skin irritations, it starts small. “Jesus is the Savior; so believe in him and be a generally good person and you will go to heaven.” Did you catch that little itch in there? Or this, “Jesus plus going to worship, Jesus plus giving cheerful offerings, Jesus plus penitent prayers, Jesus plus service to the church will get you to heaven.” One final subtle itch that churches scratch. “Let’s not get too bent out of shape about sin, because God loves people and forgives people.” Do you feel that little itch every once in a while?
Maybe you’ve even scratched it before. But that doesn’t make it go away. It leads to bigger ones. “We should have open communion for everyone. It gives the wrong, judgmental, superior impression when we tell people they aren’t invited.” “We should let women vote and have authority positions in our church, because all are equal in God’s eyes.” “We need to join the club and support the LGBT community so that our church can celebrate all shapes, size, styles, background, and types.” Or should we go along with what the pope has been saying lately? “Churches should join forces more. We can do more good for Christianity if we work together.”
These are some of the wise things that churches are saying, which God simply does not say. Do you know what happens when we scratch these irritating spots? They don’t just go away. Rashes spread. The bug bite irritates more. When you give in to those itching ears, it’s not going to make it better. It might even start to be painful after while. Paul says when people start itching they turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. A myth isn’t going to do anything good for you. It’s going to leave you on the opposite side of truth. It’s going to leave you opposed to God. I mean, you can’t turn lies into the truth because so many people are saying it, doing it, believing it. Myths don’t turn into facts because they sound good to our itching ears. The problem is the itch not the truth.
It’s always going to be wrong to treat your child like a friend. Parents, you aren’t friends. You are a parent. You are a representative that God is using for a child. You are an example of real, selfless love. You are the example of right and wrong. You are the moral compass for you children. You provide the structure and discipline that God designed for the family structure.
It’s always going to be wrong to fall into the trap of our oversexualized world. You don’t have to dress provocatively. You don’t have to move in together before being married. A person cannot chose their gender. You don’t have to go along with a definition of marriage that contradicts the way God designed it.
It’s always going to be wrong to think that the government can save the nation. Trusting in our political and economic systems is putting worldly circumstances ahead of God’s promises. That’s a recipe for eternal disaster. This election, and for that matter any prior or subsequent election, won’t fix what’s really wrong. Only Jesus does that.
It’s always going to be wrong for a church to pursue things that don’t come from God in his Word. We are built on something much bigger, much better, much holier than popular gimmicks and trends. When a church tries to change or improve the foundation God has laid, how do you think that’s going to work?
When people start scratching those itching ears it makes things worse. We end up with mass confusion and chaos. There’s entitlement rather than hard work. There’s selfishness rather than humble service. There’s lust and lies rather than love and truth. There’s single moms in high school with under cared for kids rather than the unit of a mature man and wife loving their children. There’s abortion, rape, school shootings, terrorism. There’s acceptance and support for every kind of religious distoriton. Churches become a place where Jesus is merely mentioned as a positive influence and not the only source of truth, life, and salvation.
Does that sound like a good thing? No! But people have been scratching ever since the serpent slithered and crawled through the Garden of Eden. Peopele were scratching in the days where false gods were little statues and big monuments. People were scratching in the days of Paul and Timothy as they argued the meaning of life and the proper philosphical study. People were scratching during the darkness of the Middle Ages. And they still are today. Are you?
If you are, do you realize where that leads? It’s worse than having an itch you can’t scratch. It’s worse than having a rash spreading all over your body. It’s worse than physical pain. When people give up the truth for the myth, we’re talking about a place where the itch is never cured and where the pain is neverending. It’s called eternal death for a reason. There is no wisdom in that. None. Period.
But with a loving God there is something better than scratching the itch. With a loving God who knows where we struggle and succomb, there is real hope to clear it all up. God has the cure for all the different itches we have. He comes to us with love and compassion, seeing the rash of problems that our itching has caused. He comes to us with the simplicity and sufficiency of his Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. There’s the cure. It’s the wisdom that comes from the Bible.
Do you know why God’s Word works so well at curing those itching ears? Because all Scripture is God-breathed. I didn’t come up with it. I didn’t have to go searching for it. I didn’t have to decifer or decode it’s message. God gave me the simple and true message of his forgiveness through Christ. With his power and his love, he tells me how this world was made when he spoke. Without trying to soften the blow, he tells me how it was all wrecked because of my ancestors. He points out each and every spot and scar where my itching has wounded me. He tells me with clear language that my sins mean death and hell. He tells me how God became man so that man could live with God again. He tells me about his own Son, Jesus, who faced the punishment I deserve. He tells me how Jesus wiped every scar from my itching away. He tells me how the Spirit cleansed me with water and the Word, so that I would be pure in God’s eyes. He tells me how much power and presence he has, that nothing can step in to take me away from him. He tells me about the home that is mine because of Christ’s payment. He tells me how I can be a part of his work force so that others won’t have to keep itching. He tells me all of this good news. And he makes his good news my good news. It’s all here in the Holy Scriptures. This is the wisdom that you and I have because God breathed it into us.
See, God doesn’t use worldly wisdom. He doesn’t use popular opinion. He uses his simple and divine power found in the Word to cure me and to cure you of those itching ears. So if I’m cured from all sin by the forgiveness of Christ, then that means I don’t have to itch any more and neither do you. Instead, Paul says Preach the Word. People need the cure for itching ears. They need to know the truth and wisdom that gives salvation. People need Jesus. So give it to them. Don’t give them popular opinions. Don’t give them worldly wisdom. Give them God’s Word. You know, Paul doesn’t say you need to have a certain degree or specific training. He just says use God’s Word. Use the simple and superior wisdom that comes from heaven.
Be prepared in season and out of season. Think of hunting season or football season. When pheasant season is open, that’s when you have all of your equipment, and clothes, and everything else ready. When the NFL is in full swing that’s when you watch the games and talk about your team. God’s Word doesn’t have an off season. Paul is saying that we can use it when it is popular and when it isn’t popular. We can use this good news when people are feeling great and when people aren’t. We can invite friends and neighbors when it seems like there is a good chance they will say, “Yes,” like at Christmas or Easter or maybe when we have no idea what they might say. It’s always the time to be ready to share the good news of Jesus.
Correct, rebuke and encourage. Sometimes people need to be corrected because they aren’t listening to the truth but to myths. Sometimes people need to be rebuked when they won’t listen the first or second time. Sometimes people need to be encouraged because their guilt is overwhelming and their sin is crushing. The Word of God has all of the above. It gets people back on track or finds people who didn’t know they were off track. It shows how bad the rash of sin has spread. But the Scriptures also show how completely Jesus has cured us.
But it might take some time and some clarity. Paul says use the Word with great patience and careful instruction. If you lack one of these things, don’t worry. Your God doesn’t. He is patient and careful with you. So spending time with his Word is going to help you with this. Maybe now’s the time to review in a BIC class. Maybe now’s the time to get involved with one of our Bible study groups. Maybe now’s the time to go over your catechism that you had when you were a kid. It’s always a good time to be connected to the Scriptures. It’s always a good time to listen to God’s Word.
This is how to avoid those itching ears. This is how to be thankful for God’s truth. This is how to serve in ministry and take care of our church. It’s with the Holy Scriptures, the true wisdom that comes from God. Brothers and sisters, thank God for the truth that gives salvation. Thank God, and then use it. Amen.
[i] © 2012 Clayton J. Whisnant. All Rights Reserved
Citation: Clayton J. Whisnant, “Some Common Themes and Ideas within the Field of Postmodern Thought: A Handout for HIS 389,” last modified November 19, 2013, http://webs.wofford.edu/whisnantcj/his389/postmodernism.pdf