Itching ears, greedy stomach (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Your average preacher is the spiritual equivalent of the TV weatherman.  He pays enormously for an academic education, then he gets put in front of an audience that expects him to be entertaining—and gets furious when he tells them something they don’t want to hear. 

Paul understood this.  This is why he tells the young pastor Timothy to press in, because times are tough and there will always be rivals.  In his letter to this young pastor, Paul writes:

 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

What was the danger?  Paul knew that Timothy would face an era where people turned from God’s truth to instead embrace a seductive lie.  Itching ears?  By that he meant that sometimes our “felt” needs outstrip our deeper, spiritual needs. 

I hope you recognize that this danger is no less real today.  Go into any bookstore—even the Christian bookstore—and you’ll be confronted by a wall of self-help teachers that offer advice on finance, dating, weight loss, and anything else you can conceivably think of as leading to personal happiness and fulfillment.  With itching ears and greedy stomachs, modern day Christians have unrepentantly devoted themselves to a curious blend of spiritual platitudes and consumerist delight. 

Why is this so dangerous?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?  But that question only assumes that my deepest problem is unhappiness.  If my deepest problem is financial, then financial planning is my surest savior.  If my problem is singleness, then dating advice becomes my gospel.  If my deepest problem is low self-esteem, then a self-help manual works wonders.  But the gospel says that my deepest problem isn’t a lack of personal fulfillment, but the excess of personal fulfillment.  What the Bible calls “sin” is a form of self-indulgence, self-interest, self-absorption.  And the only true remedy for that is the gospel. 

You see, the greatest problem within the walls of today’s church is that we’ve assumed the gospel to be elementary when it should be elemental.  We’ve assumed that the God has saved us from hell, but fail to recognize the ways he has saved us for new life.  And when we minimize that, we’re left to thrive on the petty dalliances of consumerist religion.  What today’s church needs is not a change in her substance, but a return to it.  To refocus our eyes on the beauty of Jesus and his message of forgiveness and transformation.   To realize that when—not if—we fully understand the exhilarating, electrifying joy that comes from knowing Christ, that our so-called needs and “itching ears” will seem trivial by comparison. 

Paul’s letter to Timothy was the last that would appear in the New Testament—and most likely his final before being killed in Rome.   Paul faced this inevitability with courage, with conviction, and with words of encouragement for the rough road ahead:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

If we care deeply about others, it naturally means caring less about self.  Often people struggle to find a church that “meets my needs.”  But such an approach treats faith as if it were a series of projects, self-improvement schemes with Jesus as the means and self as the end.  But Christianity says that religion isn’t something that you can master; religion is something that must master you.  And so if the gospel is true, I find hope and purpose and joy in Christ alone—and not the cares of my earthly appetite and itching ears. 

 

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The Two-Season Preacher – 2 Timothy 4:1-5

First, let me thank all of those who have prayed for me over the past 24-36 hours during my unexpected vacation to the hospital with blood clots in both lungs. The original source has been found but not the reason for it to have happened. So, I’m going to continue to IMG_0826[1]make lots of new friends with the staff at Meritus Medical Center for a few days. Though not the theme of today’s reading, experiences like this remind us of how fragile our lives are and how quickly they change. I’m told that had I not come in when I did, I might not be loading this devotional in the program or doing anything else this side of glory – which also reminds me to say that if you are reading this, it means that I figured out how to do it remotely from a hospital bed with two IV lines and two monitors attached!

The Two-Season Preacher – 2 Timothy 4:1-5

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The front entrance to Dallas Seminary

When I was a boy growing up and going to church and Bible conferences with my parents and grandparents, most of the great preachers we heard had a common heritage – this place called Dallas Theological Seminary. If you know me well at all, you know that I am intensely proud of my graduate and post-graduate connection to this school that has surely trained more pastors/teachers with greater impact worldwide than any educational institute in the history of the Christian Church. And the theme verse of the school is from verse two today – PREACH THE WORD!

This is ground zero. Now, one can successfully argue that God and the work of the Gospel through Christ is ground zero of the faith. That is a true statement. But let me ask you this:  “What would you know about God/Christ/salvation/eternal truth without the Scriptures?”  Not much – just the stuff of what we call “general revelation” from Romans 1 and Psalm 19 – which, in a sentence, is sufficient to condemn but insufficient to save.

There is simply no connection to God, nor is there a successful way of living life in a manner that counts for eternity without a significant understanding of Scripture. And yet it is oft resisted or set aside for another day by God’s people. Learning the Scriptures involves a large measure of “want to” … and of work, diligence, discipline and thinking.

So in our passage today, Paul is telling Timothy that he has one charge or commission that is above all others in his service as a minister/pastor/elder/shepherd – to preach God’s Word. As we would put together a sort of personality profile on Timothy, the picture is one of a more timid and gentle soul than the feisty Apostle Paul. He was a guy who seemed to sometimes need to be a bit “pumped up.”

So Paul is exhorting Timothy to be a two-season preacher, and of course this is not referring to winter and summer or anything of that sort. Rather, it is “in season” and “out of season” … essentially all the time. Clearly there were going to be times when the preaching ministry and church leadership work was going to go well, but others times when it was going to struggle. Through it all, Timothy was to be faithful and diligent in the teaching of the Scriptures – that would be his guide and measure of success, not the current seasonal response.

This teaching ministry would at times also feature varied tones. First there is a negative slant that involved reproof and rebuke – often not a natural proclivity for a typical pastor who is by personality frequently a lover of people with a soft heart. But secondly, there was a positive tone – to exhort with gentle patience and instruction.

Let me ask you:  As a general pattern of life, do you enjoy preaching and Bible teaching? Do you enjoy reading Scripture and expositional writings about the Word? Do you have a plan of life that you are executing to be known as a life-long learner of God’s truth? If not, you are being a fool and hurting yourself terribly.

At Tri-State Fellowship, our vision is that we will have a church of people who have such a continual hunger for the Word. And this is the second element of our Pathways Vision statement that we will continue to talk about this week.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

4 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: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 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.They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.