2 Timothy 4:3-5“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around themselves 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 hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Who are these people with “itching ears”? It is tempting for us to see them only in those churches which have most obviously caved into the sinful culture in which we live. We think of the liberal churches, which have publicly changed God’s teaching about godly morals to avoid offending anybody. Maybe we think these are the people in the big and popular churches, which haven’t necessarily changed their teachings. They just don’t talk much about the unpopular ones so that they can concentrate on topics people consider “relevant.” They don’t “change” the sound doctrine. They simply hide it. That way they can tell people what they want to hear.
Can Bible-believing, conservative Christians also be guilty of itching ears? I don’t like change so much the older I get. It makes me tired. Does it really make things better? Look at all the examples of bad changes we can identify. Maybe we can make some rules and policies that prevent change. Maybe we can find other people in the church who agree with us. Maybe we can convince the pastor we are right, or find another one who will take our side.
You see where this is going. Before long we are adding our rules to God’s. We make a law where God gave freedom. We do it all to suit our own personal tastes. It is another variation on gathering “a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Legalism is an attack on the gospel, as much as immorality. Preachers and laypeople have a solemn duty to oppose them both.
In contrast to modifying the message to make us feel comfortable, Paul urges: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
A preacher’s work is not just about the things he says. It is also about the way he lives his life. God expects calm, steady, self-control. “Keep your head.” When things aren’t going well for a congregation, it won’t do to have the pastor in a panic. He, of all people, needs to live by faith and trust that God has it under control. If others are opposing him, it won’t work to have him explode in anger. And if things are humming along the way they should, who wants a cocky pastor?
Paul is also realistic about the kind of life to expect. “Endure hardship.” That’s not to say that ministry is all hardship. There are many pleasant things, many blessings that come to those who serve God’s people. But if a man’s ministry is only about making life comfortable for himself and his family, or doing what is popular, or taking the easy road, something isn’t right. You can’t parent that way. You can’t expect any other calling in life to work that way. Of all people, the pastor needs to carry the cross that comes with the work God has called him to do.
But the heart of God’s expectation is in the phrase, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Don’t think of a person who serves on a committee that visits people in your neighborhood. Paul is calling on Timothy to do his work in an evangelical way. The gospel–the good news about Jesus’ saving work, the love of God in his grace and forgiveness, the seeking of souls and the building of faith–this flavors the ministry that is fulfilling the solemn duty God has given. All preaching and teaching, visiting and confronting, pleading and counseling wants to lead us back to the gospel. There we see that our sins are all pardoned, God is our Father, and heaven is our home.
That is what our ears need to hear.