Itching Ears, Cancer, and Burning Houses

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. (II Timothy 4. 3-4 ESV)

It’s always more pleasant to hear what you want to hear than what you don’t, even if what you don’t want to hear is actually better for you. It would be great for the patient to hear the doctor say, “No, we’ve found no cancer,” but what if the patient’s body is literally being eaten alive by cancer?

It would be wonderful to hear the electrician say, “Oh, it was just a short in one of the wires; no need to worry,” when in reality the whole house needs to be rewired. His failure to tell them the truth could result in their home burning to the ground. They will then have lost everything because the electrician gave them an unwarranted good report.

I distinctly remember a poster hanging in the backroom of a Christian bookstore, where I worked, with a picture of Jesus that had Him saying, “I never said it would be easy… I only promised it would be worth it.” Too often, I’m afraid, we simply do not hear that message in churches today.

And, no, I’m not talking about the lack of hellfire-and-brimstone, judgmentalist sermons being preached from the pulpit. That approach never really effectively worked anyway … at least not in drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Christ. What I am talking about is overly-positivistic, wispy, noncommittal messages.

Living out the Christian life, filled with the Spirit of God, is an amazing journey filled with an inner peace this world simply cannot give … but it’s also an arduous path to walk. Part of the reason for this is precisely because commitment to Christ involves sacrifice, sound convictions, and fearless counter-culturalism. 

Admittedly, it must be extremely difficult for pastors and priests, deacons and elders and teachers in the Church (especially in our culture) to plainly speak the truths of Sacred Scripture. Perhaps it is even painful to confront a congregation with an antidote for some particular ailment that they don’t want to take because it seems distasteful. 

Perhaps this is why more and more churches are shelving the antidotes and instead affirming people in their various illnesses. However, like the patient with cancer, the disease is still present, eating away at the mind, body and soul … and eventually, of course, the cancer will kill. 

No, people may not “put up with sound doctrine” because they have “itching ears” to hear what they want to hear and, so, “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” This is dangerous. What is the proper response, then? The physician must tell them about the cancer. The electrician needs to tell them their entire house needs rewiring. And who knows, but some might be saved despite their “itching ears” to hear only what they want to hear!

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