Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What do your itching ears really want to hear?

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.  - 2 Timothy 4:3

[Jesus] taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him.  But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said. - Luke 19:47-48

Every few months 2 Timothy 4:3 becomes a trending topic on Twitter.  It usually coincides with a pastor or teacher making a statement that another pastor or teacher disagrees with.  Usually the statement has to do with homosexuality or who is getting into heaven or the double whammy of whether or not homosexuals get into heaven.  That is not really the subject of this post.  This post is more concerned about how we use this verse and verses like it to shore up our position and in essence become the people who “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

The text in 2 Timothy refers to a type of person that only wants to hear a certain kind of teaching and will actively shut out those who teach something they do not want to hear.  Paul encourages Timothy to teach “the Word” and “sound doctrine” which is a good encouragement but it begs the question; what was the sound doctrine he was supposed to teach?  It is a rather ambiguous term.   

Other uses of the term don’t really help us.  In 1 Timothy 6 one of the “wholesome teachings" or "sound doctrines" Paul encourages Timothy to teach urges slaves to have proper respect for their masters.  If their masters were believers slaves were told to work that much harder because their “work” was helping another believer who was considered a beloved member of the community.  The time has come and indeed already passed when we gathered teachers together to overthrow that “sound doctrine.”  I can imagine Confederate slavers accusing the abolitionists of defying the clear teachings of scripture and following their “itchy ears.”  I am thankful that they saw a greater Kingdom ethic at work behind the “clear” words of scripture.

This brings me back to how we use 2 Timothy 4:3.  I don’t think we use it to enforce sound doctrine, we use it to enforce the doctrine we want to hear.  If we want to believe that the biblical interpretation is unchangeable then anyone who teaches abolition or questions Greco-Roman family structure is suspect.  If we want to believe that the gospel is only for a select few then anyone who teaches it is open to all is an apostate.  Above all of this, anyone who teaches something that appears to be more popular than what we believe must surely be teaching the lies that the itchy eared masses crave.  Right?
We see in scripture that being accused of wrong doing or wrong teaching by the religious elite is a matter of course for our greatest heroes.  Jesus was often accused of being a false teacher and of opening his kingdom to the wrong sorts of people.  Paul and Timothy were too. Jesus was also accused of gluttony and drunkenness.  He was even accused of being in league with Satan.  In the Gospel of Luke it describes the teachers of the law wanting to silence and kill him but being unable because all the people hung on every word he said.  Popularity does not always equal heresy.  These “children” were following Jesus and he taught them how to sing praise. 

Sadly most of his followers did not understand him.  This also appears to be a trend among biblical truth tellers.  They thought he was going to come and be their homemade king.  They thought he was going to overthrow Rome and set up an earthly kingdom; one where the righteous elect would rule over their sinful oppressors.  Once he began declaring that he was going to die in weakness and that he would draw all mankind to himself people began to turn on him.  It seems that the wider and weaker the Gospel becomes the more it turns those who are invested in its power and exclusivity away.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.  It is a time where we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This celebration is usually tinged with a bit of sobriety because we know what will happen later on.  The lawmakers will get the upper hand and the people will reject the man they once celebrated. 

I wonder if we do this too when we throw around verses like 2 Timothy 4:3.  We will celebrate that the Gospel is open to us and that Christ accepts sinners.  Then we turn around and reject those whose sins are “worse” than ours and accuse those that do accept them of “heresy.”  We listen only to those teachers that tell us what we want to hear and silence any difference.  In a digital age this is frighteningly easy.  Doctrinal purity, as we perceive it, becomes the measuring stick of the true believer.  Our love grows cold in the process.  

This Palm Sunday I encourage you to not fall into this trap.  I encourage you to take Jesus at his word and believe that he died once and for all.  To believe that he said, “Neither do I condemn you” before he said “Go and sin no more.”  I believe that in the rush to defend “sound doctrine” we have more in common with the Pharisee than with Christ.  Jesus was at his harshest when confronting those who hypocritically elevated themselves above the masses; those who were more concerned with being right than being merciful.  Are you becoming more like Christ or more like his opponents when you decide to crucify anyone who disagrees with your view of things?

What do your itching ears really want to hear?

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