By Gregg Bing
In our last issue we began looking at Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy that, in the last days of this present age of grace, “perilous times” will come; times that present not only physical dangers but spiritual dangers as well. These dangers are the result of more and more people departing from the truth of God’s Word, a trend that is evident today. We considered the downhill slide that begins when men “stray from the truth”, continues with men “ever learning, but never being able to come to a knowledge of the truth,” and eventually reaches a point where men “resist the truth.” We conclude this study by looking at the final step in this apostasy: the point when men will
Turn Their Ears Away from the Truth (4:4).
In the final chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul’s last letter, Paul gives Timothy (and us) a final charge. Paul knows that he is about to die as he tells Timothy,
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Timothy 4:6)
He also warns Timothy how far men will go in their departure from the truth.
“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.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
There will come a time when men will no longer “endure sound doctrine.” The word “endure” means to put up with or to bear with, meaning they will refuse even to listen to sound doctrine. “Doctrine” simply means teaching. “Sound doctrine” is that teaching which is necessary for our spiritual health and growth. Sadly, Bible teaching has fallen out of favor in many churches and denominations and is rarely heard in Sunday school classrooms or from church pulpits. Why is this the case? Because most people simply don’t want to hear the teaching of God’s Word.
“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.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
This distaste for the “sound teaching” of God’s Word originates in the desires of the flesh, that is our old sin nature. Those who follow the selfish desires of their flesh develop “itching ears,” meaning they want their ears scratched or tickled with pleasing words, words that satisfy their fleshly desires. They want to hear only what makes them feel good about themselves.
Ahab, the king of Israel, was one of those people with “itching ears.” We read in 1 Kings 22 how Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, joined with Ahab to fight against the Syrians. Before entering the battle, Jehoshaphat asked Ahab to “inquire for the word of the Lord.” So Ahab gathered four hundred of his so-called “prophets” and asked them, “Shall I go against Ramoth Gilead to fight, or shall I refrain?” Ahab’s prophets answered, “Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.” However, Jehoshaphat realized these men were not true spokesmen for God; they were only telling Ahab what he wanted to hear; so Jehoshaphat asked Ahab, “Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?” Ahab reluctantly answered, “There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” (1 Kings 22:5-8).
More and more people today are like Ahab. They don’t want to hear the clear teaching of God’s Word; it is offensive to them. The Word of God does more than just teach; it also reproves (rebukes), corrects, and instructs men regarding God’s requirements for righteous living (2 Tim. 3:16). So, like Ahab, people today “heap up for themselves teachers” who will tell them only what they want to hear. Ahab had four hundred such false prophets. There are no shortage of churches and preachers today who fall into this same category. Instead of preaching the truth of God, they present shallow “feel-good” messages that will increase their popularity. Their purpose is not to “equip the saints” to serve the Lord (Eph. 4:11-12), but to provide another form of entertainment that will draw the largest crowds.
The final stage of apostasy is that people will “turn their ears away from the truth.” This is their own choice, a willful decision on their part; just as Ahab who refused to listen to Micaiah’s warning from God (1 Kings 22:26-27); just as the Jewish rulers who “stopped their ears” and refused to listen to Stephen’s admonition from God (Acts 7:57-58); and just as all those in Asia who “turned away” from Paul (2 Tim. 1:15). What these people don’t realize is that once you turn your ears away from the truth, you become vulnerable to any false teaching that comes along, and you are easily “turned aside (by someone else) to fables (or myths)” (2 Tim. 4:4).
In our world today, we find more and more people turning away from the truth. The majority of the people of the world never attend church at all. Traffic is lighter on Sunday mornings than any other time during the week. Of those who do attend church, most look for one that will entertain them and make them feel good about themselves. As a result, they never hear that they are sinners by nature and, thus, separated from God (Eph. 2:1-3). They never hear of the wonderful love, mercy and grace of God that led Him to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die for their sins, and rise again unto eternal life. (Eph. 2:3-7). They never hear that salvation is not obtained through any goodness in them or any good works they do, but by God’s grace, a free gift that is received through simple faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross of Calvary (Eph. 2:8-9). Instead of this wonderful good news, they hear messages on current social or political issues, shallow messages designed to boost their self-esteem, or “religious” teaching which is contrary to God’s Word.
How do we, as believers, respond to this sad trend? Paul’s answer is found in his final charge to Timothy:
“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:1-2)
It is the responsibility of every faithful pastor and teacher, in fact of every faithful believer, to simply “Preach the Word!” Since Timothy was serving as pastor in the church at Ephesus, this charge is of particular importance to pastors. There is a great need for churches and pastors/teachers to realize that their primary purpose is to preach and teach God’s Word that souls may be saved and that the saints may be equipped to serve the Lord.
This charge from God to “preach the Word” is not limited to those who stand behind a church pulpit. The word “preach” simply means to “proclaim” or to “herald forth.” This can be done by every believer; sharing the truth of God’s Word with a family member, a neighbor, a fellow student, a co-worker, even with strangers we meet each day.
The Word of God is the only thing that has the power to change people’s lives, so this is what we must proclaim, even when it is not always easy to do so. Paul told Timothy to “be ready in season and out of season.” There will be “in season” times when it is easy to preach the Word; times when people are receptive to the Word and there are no negative repercussions for doing so.
Unfortunately, these times are becoming less frequent. Most of the times you will find to be “out of season” times when it is quite difficult to proclaim the Word; times when people refuse to listen at all, times when they will make fun of you, possibly even persecute you for your stand for the truth. No matter what the circumstances, our charge remains the same: Preach the Word!
Perilous times are definitely here. The departure from the truth of God’s Word began in Paul’s day. It has steadily grown worse through the years and has brought about a spiritual decline in our world today which can often be disheartening. But, we must not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:1,7-16). Our God is still sovereign. He is working out His eternal purpose through Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:11).
While others may increasingly depart from the truth, as believers we must “hold fast” to the truth of God’s Word, especially the revelation of the mystery given by God to the Apostle Paul for this present dispensation (2 Tim. 1:13-14). We must be careful to “rightly divide” the Word of truth, that we may distinguish between God’s purpose for the nation Israel and His purpose for us today as members of the Church, the Body of Christ (2 Tim. 2;15). We must “continue” in the things we have learned, being faithful to remain under the sound of God’s Word and being obedient to His instructions (2 Tim. 3:14-17). We must be willing to boldly “proclaim” the Word, for it is the truth of God, alone, that has the power to touch the hearts and lives of the people around us (2 Tim. 4:2).
It is only as we remain firmly rooted and established in the truth of God’s Word, that we will be able to effectively serve the Lord in these perilous times.