Technology experts have said that humanity is doubling its data creation every 18 months, and clearly one implication is that there is an article online somewhere right now to further validate and affirm anything you already believe or desire to believe. We have seen this tangibly throughout the pandemic – as there are articles citing experts to affirm any view on any subject related to the pandemic that one has already adopted. The explosion of information online makes it increasingly easier to choose a viewpoint and then find someone to validate that viewpoint, rather than researching and studying before forming one’s viewpoint.
Sadly, the same happens, and has always happened, when it comes to teaching about God, the faith, and the Scripture. Instead of beginning with truth, people can easily begin with what they desire to believe, what they wish were true, and find teachers or teaching to validate their viewpoints. With increasingly more access to different teaching, we can decide what we want to believe and then easily find teachers to affirm what we desire to be true. In the midst of charging pastor Timothy to preach the Word of God, the apostle Paul warned him that this would happen.
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. (II Timothy 4:1-3)
According to the apostle Paul, people will find teachers to tell them what their itching ears want to hear rather than what the Scripture teaches. Here are four types of itching ears that seem to be common:
1. Theological Itching Ears
God reveals Himself to us in the Scripture as holy and compassionate, sovereign and caring, angry towards sin and gracious towards us. In my finite mind, there are times I have struggled with some of His attributes, but sitting under His Word is what matures me and increases my trust in Him. To sit under the fullness of the Word is to sit in the discomfort and the comfort of realizing God is beyond our figuring out and tracing. Discomfort because He is challenging us. Comfort because we have a God who bigger than us. Itching ears cause people to find teachers that only speak of the attributes of God they prefer, so as to fashion a God for their own tastes – which is a God too small to worship.
2. Lifestyle Itching Ears
Often itching ears don’t begin with beliefs; they begin with behavior. The person with itching ears wants to live a certain way and searches for teaching that validates that approach to life. Surely, we all face the temptation to seek confirmation that our behaviors are acceptable before the God we sing to each week. But do we really want at God who is never challenging us, who has given up on forming us? Joy comes not by editing the Bible to fit our lives, but by allowing the God of the Bible to edit our lives.
3. Ethical Itching Ears
Ethics deals with moral principles that govern how we live, and every generation is confronted with ethical debates. Instead of looking to the Scripture about what God has already made clear, those with itching ears decide what they want to believe about the ethical issues of the day and find teaching that supports those viewpoints.
4. Political Itching Ears
Because we are thankful for our Country and the amazing freedoms we enjoy, we rightly care about the political leaders and political decisions that impact our Country. But being too attached to a world that is not our home can lead to itching ears that searches for teaching that affirms one’s strong political viewpoints — even if other aspects of the teaching are outside of “sound doctrine.” Rather than starting with the Word, a political itching ear starts with a political viewpoint and finds teaching to support that viewpoint.
With all the itching ears, the starting point is the error. Instead of beginning with the Scripture, the person begins “with what they want to hear.” Itching ears are never sanctified ears because instead of being conformed by teaching they curate teaching “for what they want to hear.”
The sad reality is that we can find teachers, even teachers who hold Bibles in their hands, to support whatever we want to believe. The charge to the preacher is both simple and profound: “Preach the Word.” Instead of twisting Scripture for an itching ear, the preacher is to preach the pure and faultless Word in season and out of season.