Suffer the Sermon
An article from SVM Summer 2010
When there are itching ears about, the cure is to…
Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (doctrine) (2 Timothy 4:2).
Indeed, such times did come for Timothy, and in these latter times we can attest to this occurring in the church today. It will help for us to heed this same warning and consider what we need to do to protect ourselves and others from turning aside to fables.
From the context given, those who turn aside to fables are true believers. We have no reason to believe that they are not, and should not get confused in thinking that this applies to false Christianity. It is a message to the Church of God today. Therefore, “they” are “us.” Any individual in the Church of God is in potential view here, including you. A sobering thought.
Fables are not to be mistaken to be stories of Medusa, Hercules or other obvious myths. The myths about which he speaks are very believable by the converted.
In 1 Timothy 1:4, the suggestion is that myths surround speculations about the Old Testament accounts, misuse of the law, and fanciful ideas about not well understood scriptures or prophecies. They can be described as originating from the spirit realm, the doctrines of demons, which because of their source are powerfully deceptive. Those who are proud in their scriptural knowledge are the least likely to admit having been drawn away by believing myths. In fact, itching ears are the ones that look for re-affirmation that they are “in the know.”
The word endure is important. It means to hold oneself up against, put up with, forbear or suffer. The Greek word occurs in at least 13 other cases in the New Testament. It is often translated as suffer. In one case it is in reference to persecution and tribulation (II Thess. 1:4). In Hebrews 13:22 it is written “… suffer the word of exhortation.”
This word endure (used in respect to sound doctrine) suggests its teaching requires a significant effort to hear, incorporate or measure up to. We are to face sound doctrine, even as it exposes the discomforting truth about ourselves and our shortcomings. Sound doctrine tears down before it builds up; it won’t build upon what is wrong. It calls for submission and obedience, yet our carnal nature resists these very things. It is hard to admit we are wrong, and it is especially hard for converted Christians to admit wrong thinking after many years in the faith, after we thought we had it all figured out.
To compensate, instead of standing up to sound teaching and its requirements, and especially when it becomes grating, Paul is aware of what humans do, i.e., replace the teacher by directing our hearing elsewhere. The gospel calls for us to be honest, but men don’t want to be honest. They want the right to live the way they want and do their own thing. They want to be secure in themselves, and will appreciate teachers who “tickle their ears” and assure them that they are just fine and well deserving and should not have to put up with meddling preachers.
Why would they no longer endure sound doctrine and turn aside to fables? First of all, Paul is not saying that they no longer decide to “believe” in God, but wish to have a substitute god. The Israelites created the golden calf of a god more familiar to them, believing it was the same God that delivered them. In the same way, many remain within the church culture but listen to a more acceptable message. It is our desire to look for re-affirmation that says “I am okay; I am acceptable this way,” or “I have come this far and have not apostatized. That should amount to something.”
We are inclined to want to hear novelties such as fascination about the end times. Many in the church have been persuaded that the seven churches of Revelation are church eras, which is one of many novel inventions that are out there. Some are fascinated by cultural observances of ancient Israel, even visiting synagogues on the Sabbath.
What is healthy doesn’t often go down easy. All of us have different buttons to push. For some it is tithing, for others elements that relate to the Sabbath, marriage, or anything that undermines our pride. For whatever reason, the human carnal mind resists God. In the end God is looking for perfection, and it will be on His terms.
A Reality Check
Timothy was orthodox in his own views, and we have no reason to believe Paul wrote with concern for him having itching ears. For us however, we have reason to believe that we are in the very times where ears will get itchier and itchier. We need to do some self-examination; otherwise, this article is just simple commentary.
We are interested in reaching those who are wavering, or have wavered from enduring sound doctrine and are attracted to those teachers and teaching that are more acceptable to their current thinking or relieves them from the kind of commitment that is necessary in following Jesus Christ. What can we do to ensure that we ouselves and others continue in sound doctrine?
Perhaps in the way self-help books are written for assistance in self-diagnosis, we can consider looking at possible symptoms of wavering minds and itching ears. Let’s take a quick self-test we have put together below, and as the self-books advise, be honest with ourselves.
- The preachers you listen to the most spend little or no time on the application of the content of their sermons or in their writings.
- Application is making the connection with your need to change and the scriptures.
- You have left or are considering leaving a church because you are not learning anything. You feel you should be onto the “meat,” which you believe are deep Biblical truths.
- You feel that your vast knowledge of the Bible differentiates you somehow from your less learned brethren.
- You have made yourself the judge of who should teach you and what teaching is acceptable.
- Instead of embracing a given sermon message as a whole with gratitude, you take issue with any nuances in a message compared with your own understanding, and pick apart details you feel you understand better than the preacher.
- You prefer to stay at home when Sabbath fellowship is available, watching DVDs, keeping the instructors at a distance. After all, you’ve thoroughly disqualified local teachers being able to teach you anything.
- You believe “… dissecting the word of truth” (1 Tim. 2:15) means getting into the Greek before one truly understands the scripture.
Speculative end time scenarios are of continued interest to you.
- You have learned some nuggets of information or “Biblical truth” that you often share, and become contentious if others don’t agree.
- This article offends you in some way, or sounds judgmental or unfair.
How Did You Do?
We need to put on the whole armor of God to defend ourselves against believing myths and the purveyors of these myths. The Internet is full of information that is deceptive because it is designed to appear true, and the best way to make it look true is if the teacher wholly believes it for himself.
If there is any advice to give beyond this in the brief space we have, try to work with a ministry that cares. This may be best characterized in the context of these scriptures by those who present their ministries as willing to suffer long (i.e., try to work with you and your stubborn objections to change) and that minister in season and out of season (when convenient or inconvenient, when they are paid or unpaid, and travel short or far). Also, multiple elders help bring a balance. Remember we are to examine ourselves and seek the wisdom from above as we will have to make many decisions during our sojourn, and whom we look to as our teachers is one of the most important ones we make.
Enduring sound doctrine will bring great personal reward in this present life and beyond our capacity to imagine in the Kingdom of God. Let’s make it happen. Let’s listen and submit to sound doctrine, because our lives depend on His voice.
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