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What Their Itching Ears Want to Hear

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


       Its great to be together again as we look into the Word of God and apply it our lives.  The title for the lesson is: “What their itching ears want to hear.”  And our primary text is taken from the New Testament second letter to Timothy chapter 4 verses one through 4.  Please listen to the Word of God.   “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.”

This is the Word of God.  May he add his blessing to the public reading of his Word.

     We often hear in our churches that we are dying as a fellowship of believers.  It is true that our numbers are way down, true that many of our congregations are often not even half full.  So, what are we to do to increase our numbers?  First let’s survey our situation.  Let’s consider what many churches in America have decided needs to be done to fill churches with people.  The new emerging church needs to be ultra-seeker-friendly, and a people pleasing church as first priority.  That the pattern of Acts chapter 2 and verse 42 of “teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer” needs to be updated to 21st century standards.

     For example, people today learn better with audio-visual teaching that’s not boring, not old fashioned but incorporating, for example, drama to illustrate Bible stories, to be more of a sensory sensation.  Instead of stand-still preachers, have members dramatize scripture and you will grow audiences for church services, and thereby fellowship together will also benefit.

     To maximize time for dramatic type teachings, and praise and fellowship, separate, private rooms are available for those desiring prayer and communion.  Church services need to focus more on music and audio-visual teaching.  Many churches especially seeking to draw youth have added many large screens, rock music, Christian rock music, strobe lights, and even dancing for an exciting visual-audio extravaganza.

     After all isn’t the mark of a wildly successful church: a jam-packed place with people?  With high energy!  Ecstatic to experience!  With contributions overflowing!  That’s the emerging 21st century church template for spectacular growth!  Let’s consider closely: should the first priority be pleasing people or pleasing God? At a worship service is the audience actually the people or God?  At a worship service should the active participants be only those up front (performing) or should the active participants be all the people toward God?

     Are worship services primarily about people receiving entertaining audio-visual stimulation or about people giving their hearts and minds in worship to the living God?  Do we gather together in assembly primarily to please the flesh or the spirit?

     Consider this for application from 1st century to 21st century.  Revelation chapter 2 and verses 8 and 9 which says “to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich!  I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.”

     The church at Smyrna, according to scholars, was one of the smaller congregations of the seven churches of Revelation.  The church at Smyrna was a persecuted church.  This persecution came from two sources: a Jewish population that strongly opposed Christianity, and from a Gentile, pagan population strongly loyal to Rome and emperor worship.

     By application, today in the 21st century, conservative Bible-believing, Christ honoring churches whose numbers are dwindling in many places, are under attack.  This primarily from two sources.  First: a growing secular-humanist population who is poised to silence pulpits regarding any moral issue it deems as “hate speech” thus rejecting the moral standard of scripture.  Secondly: often widely criticized by the 21st century emerging, liberal church that claims conservative churches are losing the battle for the minds and hearts of people.  That a more forward thinking, innovative, non-traditional, non-Orthodox, people sensitive church must emerge.

     One last major point about the small church at Smyrna.  Jesus Christ stated, in spite of their obviously greater persecution “in afflictions and poverty, Jesus said, yet you are rich!”  Obviously not rich numerically, not rich physically, not rich economically, but rich spiritually.  Surely the members of this church were persevering in their faith, they were overcomers; they surely were anchored in the Biblical teachings, they surely had a loving fellowship together, regularly remembered what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for them on the cross at the Lord’s Table in communion with him and together with one another, and surely the church at Smyrna was a praying church.

     Only two churches of the seven in the book of Revelation, did Jesus Christ, the perfect evaluator, not have any condemnations, no criticisms.  And Smyrna was one of them.  Not successful in numbers but faithful in their hearts, minds and wills.  Now that’s not to say that only smaller churches, smaller congregations are pleasing to God.  That’s not true.  The church at Jerusalem grew into the thousands and God not man, “added to their number daily of those who were being saved.”  Acts chapter 2 and verse 47.

     So, lets consider what most conservative, Bible-believing, Christ honoring churches practice in our worship services and what should we change, alter, add or subtract?  Should we teach by drama?  Should we teach from other sources rather than the Bible?  Should we teach only people pleasing portions of the Bible?  Should we enhance fellowship with more entertaining formats?  Should we reserve a back room for those that desire the Lord’s Supper?  Should we drop, or diminish prayer as considered – boring, wasted time in assembly?

     Do we realize that when we add our ‘Amen’s’ that we are affirming the public prayer, therefore we need to be participating closely and listening?  And we can also pray silently as we are prompted by the prayer leader, or by the Holy Spirit.  That means prayer time is participatory for us also.  Not wasted time.

     Moreover, we should understand, from scripture, that we are today living in times “when men will not put up with sound doctrine…instead they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Second Timothy chapter 4 and verse 3 and 4. For example, itching ears do not want to hear Second Timothy chapter 4 verse1 “of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead.”  Itching ears only want to be scratched with soothing words, pleasing, pleasant, always positive words.  Is life always positive?  Many itching ears do not want to hear Second Timothy chapter 4 and verse 2 “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

     That is to preach the entire written Word of God, the whole counsel of God.  The faithful preacher, teacher, pastor must teach when it is popular and when it is not popular.  God’s word does not change, but the people constantly change, including regarding their opinions of morality and ethics, and regarding proper practices.  The dictates of popular culture, society or acceptance of what must be or not done must not alter the proclaiming and teaching of the Word of God.

     Itching ears definitely do not want to hear the negative side of preaching the Word, that is, the “rebuking and correcting.”  Yet we know that all people sometimes need rebuking and correcting for our ultimate good, not just to point out the error of our ways.  For example, what kind of youth would there be if no rebuking or correcting was properly administered?

     Instead, itching ears only want to be scratched with the soothing words, pleasing, pleasant words from the ‘positive side ‘of preaching and teaching the Word of God always.  I once heard a teenager state that he really loved to listen to his preacher because he always told the best jokes.  Is that what preaching the Word of God should be primarily praised for?  Jokes?   Sadly, congregations across our nation are drawing crowds to hear a great number of teachers desiring to tickle their ears.  Too many preachers today are actors in search of an adoring audience.

     The apostle Paul who wrote the Second Timothy letter is actually criticized by some ‘Emerging church’ leaders as not a people person, but only about dry doctrine.  Really?  Do you realize that the apostle Paul included in the fourth chapter of the Second Timothy letter, this same letter, seventeen personal names of people that he interacted with?  But Paul was not just a warm, fuzzy person; he charged young man Timothy to: Preach the Word!  Don’t dodge scripture, stay the course continue to correct, rebuke, encourage and instruct.  That’s the proper balance!

     The Word of God, being God-breathed, is the only part of our worship services that is from God.  Everything else: fellowship, our remembrance at the Lord’s Table, prayer, singing, is man-made!  Originates with us. The Word of God, which many want to suppress is needed by both saints and sinners, by speaker and listener alike!

     An old rule for preaching the Word is “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”  But that’s not what itching ears want to hear!  How do you grow the church numerically?  Is it primarily by the shepherd or by the sheep?  Actually, it’s the sheep that reproduce, not the shepherd!  We all need to invite and witness Christ to others!   And if they come and listen and don’t return then is what we are doing wrong?  Or is there something wrong with what they desire?

     Certainly, we are not a perfect church, the only perfect church is next door in the cemetery.  All we can do is witness and invite.  It is the LORD who adds to his church.

 Let us always remember:

Also remember:

     God does not measure us individually or corporately as a church in terms of human success standards.  Or corporate success standards.  God measures us individually and corporately as a church in terms of our faithfulness to him and to his Word.

So, Are you a person of faith?

How are you persevering in your faith?

Are you inviting, witnessing and praying for both spiritual and numerical growth of people who truly desire to be and grow as sons and daughters of the living God?


      David Johnson is minister of Sellersburg Church of Christ. He resides in Sellersburg, IN.

One Response to “What Their Itching Ears Want to Hear”

  1. Beverly Flora says:

    Very good lesson. Thank you David for your messages.

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Romans 14:8