Thursday, August 21, 2014

Itching Ears or Evangelism – 2 Tim 4:3-5

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (NKJV)
Endure Sound Doctrine
Putting the word endure in the first phrase makes It sounds like sound (good, positive, reliable, sensible) doctrine (principles, guidelines, teaching) is punishment instead of a blessing by which to live our lives. I asked a person who claimed to be a Christian why he didn’t attend church. He replied that it was boring and that he needed to be entertained. He would rather have a sermon with jokes and entertaining stories rather than hear from the Word of God and how to apply it to his life. His attitude is certainly one of many who believe that sound doctrine is something to be endured.
To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are closed, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn, they take no pleasure in it. (Jer 6:10 RSV)
However, Paul is most likely addressing those who are vehemently opposed to hearing and obeying the Word of God. This attitude prevailed throughout the Old Testament. Only a minority of people loved God’s Word and heeded it. Even some of the heroes of the Old Testament were led astray after accomplishing what God wanted. Gideon made a gold ephod and Israel worshiped it (Judg 8:27). Solomon, who was supposed to be the wisest man ever, was drawn away from the Lord and even worshiped some of the hideous gods of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:1-8). What it really boils down to is that most people don’t want to be told what is right and wrong. Instead, they think they have all the wisdom of the universe and can make that determination themselves. The problem is that their ways lead to death (Prov 14:12).
Own Desires
They keep saying to those who despise my word, “Don't worry! The Lord says you will have peace!” And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires, they say, “No harm will come your way!” (Jer 23:17 NLT)
The message that the world continually sends isn’t any different from one given by the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. Whether it is “Have it your way” or other advertizing slogans or self-help physiological talk shows or many preachers on television, the message is that we deserve to have what we want. Sometimes it is subtle and other times it is blatant, but at the root of it is that we think our desires are more important than anything else.
I have often wondered why the Declaration of Independence listed the pursuit of happiness to be an unalienable right. This sounds just too much like permission to do whatever we want if it makes us happy. Thomas Jefferson drafted this phrase and according to Wikipedia, he was influence by John Locke, Adam Ferguson, or others. There are two concepts regarding happiness, the first is that happiness comes from the ability to live free and acquire property (Locke), the second is that extending kindness to others is the source of happiness (Ferguson). Since Jefferson labeled himself an Epicurean, I would expect he believed acquiring property was his idea of being happy. [1] Certainly, most people today would agree with Locke and the Epicurean philosophy.
Where are the biblical principles of self-denial (Matt 16:24) and putting other ahead of ourselves (Phil 2:3-4)? How do we answer people who are under persecution and afflicted with other problem if happiness is based on our desires? Solomon stated that God is the source of our happiness (Eccl 2:26). (It’s too bad he didn’t follow his own advice.) According to the parable of the lost sheep, God is happy when one repents (Matt 18:12-14). Happiness is found in salvation (Isa 52:7), not in satisfying our own desires. The Bible is clear that following our own desires leads to sin (James 1:14-15).
Itching Ears
For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing. (Acts 17:21 KJV)
Paul was able to speak to the Athenians about the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they had itching ears. They hadn’t heard about Jesus or His resurrection so they wanted to hear more. Paul finished his short sermon by explaining that God was now calling everyone to repent and that God was going to judge everyone. The proof of this is that God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). The Athenians were listening right up until they heard this. The Bible says some mocked because of the resurrection (Acts 17:32).
This is exactly the same thing we find today in the lives of people who profess to be Christians but have itching ears. It is twofold problem. The first is that they want to hear new things, for instance, the latest ideas on how to be blessed. A few years ago, there was a big fuss over a booklet called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.[2] The whole book is based on two verses in the Old Testament that appear in the middle of a genealogy (1 Chron 4:9-10). People ate it up! It was a new way of finding a blessing from God that everyone wanted. On the cover, the author promises, “It’s a timeless prayer that produces timely results!”[3] He then asks the question, “Do you want to be extravagantly blessed by God? Are you ready to reach for the extraordinary? To ask God for the abundant blessings He longs to give you?”[4] The popularity of the book (nine million copies were sold in the first release) reveals that itching ears will pay to hear something that will be pleasing to them. Doesn’t anyone wonder how 96 pages about how we should pray to be blessed can be based on two verses of history that neither direct us to pray in the same way nor make promises if we do?
The second problem with itching ears is that they will stop listening as soon as there is a hint of something that they don’t like. The Athenians mocked at the resurrection, but the resurrection of Jesus was just the proof that they would be judged if they didn’t repent. Do you suppose that all nine million plus readers of The Prayer of Jabez were reading it trying to find out how they could live more godly lives or because they wanted some kind of physical blessing now? Were they concerned with Scripture that says, “… all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12 RSV)? No, if the book had provided a balanced view of Scripture, it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as popular.
Heap up Teachers
Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. (1 Kings 22:6 KJV)
The Bible says that with many advisors, plans will succeed (Prov 15:22). However in the case of Israel, it must be noted that these prophets were all paid to say what King Ahab wanted or may have even been prophets of Baal. In the following verse, King Jehoshaphat asks if there is a prophet of the Lord whom they can ask for advice. Jehoshaphat recognized that Ahab was only relying on the people he accumulated to give an answer he wanted. What is our modern day equivalent?
Books! Thousands and thousands of books are written with some pretty terrible advice claiming to be Christian. On Amazon, I searched for “Christian prosperity” and stopped paging forward after seeing 108 books on the subject. Were they all biblical? Who knows, I’m not going to spend time reading all those books when the Word of God is available. The point is that out of all these books, people will read the ones that agree with their position. Seldom will they read an opposing view. Even if they do, they will be like Ahab who goes against the advice of the one prophet of God (1 Kings 22:17) and goes into a battle which gets him killed (1 Kings 22:35). Some books are of great value. They are written by men of God for many purposes, however if they don’t line up with the Bible or give glory to God, then they are nothing but heaped up teachers.
Turn Their Ears to Fables
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord. (Acts 7:57 KJV)
Have you ever seen someone put their hands over their ears than chant something so that they can’t hear what is being said? When Stephen was accused of speaking against the temple and attempting to change the customs of Moses, he launched into a long defense that showed that he knew all about the history of Israel. His accusers kept quiet because they all agreed with what he was saying. As long as the Bible is preached in a historical context or as literature, people have no objections. But Stephen finally got around to using that historical narrative to accuse his accusers. When the Bible is used to hold people accountable, either in the present or for eternity, people stop up their ears and start chanting ridiculous beliefs.
Creation versus evolution, Jesus as Lord and Savior or just a good teacher, eternal hell or universal salvation are a few things that people reject and replace with a belief that will not hold them accountable to God. Every excuse that a person can imagine boils down to the same thing. I don’t want to hear the truth so I will accept a lie regardless of how absurd it is.
I was thinking about postmodernism in this regard. While there are many points to this philosophy, one is their belief that any text (Bible, book, or means of communication) is a story and its meaning can only be interpreted by the reader. Essentially, if they don’t agree with the plain and simple wording, they can interpret it to mean whatever they want and they are “right.” To point out the futility of their thinking, Millard Erickson will say to a postmodernist, “I agree with you completely—and you’re totally wrong.”[5] Unfortunately, they probably interpret this to affirm whatever they said in the first place.
Was the modern age, the age of science that proceeded postmodernism any different? Within modernism, everything must be proven by scientific testing. They ruled out the existence of God because He can’t be seen or felt. That conveniently removed accountability to a creator and made man the center of the universe.
Where did it start, certainly each age has had problems of philosophy that allowed people to do what they wanted and ignore the clear mandates of the Bible. The problem started in the Garden of Eden. Eve listened to the lie and essentially stopped her ears to God’s clear command. She wanted what was pleasing to her and Adam wanted to please her more than he wanted to please God.
Where does it end? It ends at the cross of Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus chose the exact opposite of what any thinking man would choose. He chose to take all the sins of mankind, all our stopped up ears and desires to please ourselves, upon Himself. When we turn to Jesus, we can receive a new heart, one that allows us to hear from God and choose His ways instead of our own.
So we have all the bad teaching around us, most of them are telling us it is ok to do whatever we want. It isn’t condemning sin or teaching us to live lives that deny our sensual desires in order to be pleasing to God. We are tempted to listen only to teachers who will tell us what we want to hear. That is the way the world is, but it isn’t the way we should live. That’s why Paul inserts the word “but” into this passage. Instead of satisfying our sinful desires in seeking people and teaching that will agree with us, Paul provides a few things to do instead, just as Jesus taught.
Be Watchful
But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life … But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34, 36 RSV)
The first thing Paul says we should do that is the opposite of being lured into false teachings. We need to stay awake. Other versions say we should be sober. Jesus referred to it as drunkenness and it fits. A drunk has his ability to make good decisions diminished and easily falls asleep. All false teachers are spiritual drugs that cause spiritual drunkenness. Instead, we must be alert in all things. False teaching saturates the world so we have to be aware of philosophies that come at us from the media, popular fiction, movies, TV, talk radio, music, advertisements, or even family members. All these things try to convince us that there are more important things than looking for ways to please our Lord and be ready for Him when He comes or we are called home to Him. Fortunately, Jesus also provides the strength to be alert by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom we received when we first believed (Eph 1:13).
Endure Affliction
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13 NASB)
There are so many verses that tell us that suffering trials is a normal part of the Christian life that it is hard to choose which ones to focus on. The call to suffering is in opposition to the fables of prosperity teaching. I’ve heard that prosperity is a harder trial than affliction; however, the reality is that more people suffer fiery ordeals than suffer trials in prosperity. The principle is that as Christ suffered, it is more natural in the spiritual realm to have suffering than have none. Jesus considered the outcome of the cross to be joy (Heb 12:2), so we should also rejoice in our suffering. The ultimate joy will come when Jesus is revealed in His glory and we are revealed with him (Col 3:4).
The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. (Matt 11:5 ESV emphasis mine) 

So what does it mean to evangelize? If you look at the verse above and see the words that are in bold, you have the primary sense of the word used in the Bible. Those six words are one in the Greek text. Euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id'-zo); to announce good news ("evangelize") especially the gospel.[6] The word is used 54 times and it is almost always translated as preaching in the King James Version except when the word preaching is also added to the sentence. The word for evangelist, euaggelistes, means a preacher of the gospel.[7] It is only used three times in the New Testament.
So what is the point of all this? Because the translations used the word preached, many believe that it is the job of the minister or the professional evangelist. However, there is little difference between this and other commands that include euaggelizo. The great commission tells all of us to go and make disciples and teach them (Matt 28:19). How is it possible to make a disciple if we don’t first tell them about the good news? We are told to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). What exactly are we going to witness about if not the good news?
The translators picked the word preach many years ago and it has stuck. Perhaps it was used differently when the King James Version was introduced. Perhaps we have given it the incorrect connotation in our culture. Either way, to euaggelizo, simple means telling the good news. If we stopped telling the good news, the church would die in one generation and we would be like the nation of Israel. Judges 2:10 says, “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (ESV). The result is evident in the rest of the book of Judges. The ESV caption before verse eleven reads, “Israel's Unfaithfulness” We can’t complain if our country is going down the tube or our churches are preaching anything and everything, ignoring the Bible and especially the gospel. It is the natural consequences of our disobedience to euaggelizo.
So what is it going to be in your life and mine? Are we going to keep on looking for the things that please us in this life? Or are we going to accept the hard things that help us to grow and become what God wants us to be? Are we going share the good news that will bring eternal pleasures that will far outweigh the temporal hardships? If you want to follow Jesus, the answers should be clear.

[1] “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Wikipedia, accessed June 13, 2014,,_liberty_and_the_pursuit_of_happiness.
[2] Bruce Wilkinson with David Kopp, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking through to the Blessed Life, Anniversary ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2005).
[3] Ibid, cover.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, USA.: Baker Academic, 2013), 41.
[6] Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, (2006), NT:2097. It is made up of two words, good and messenger. 
[7] Ibid, NT:2099.