Jump Start # 2203
2 Timothy 4:3 “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”
Up here in Indiana, fall has finally begun. The air is cool and in one day we’ve gone from air conditioners to furnaces. This happens every year. We expect it and we are ready for it. We’ll soon be getting out sweaters, jackets and before long, winter coats. Change is in the air. Paul’s words in our verse today speaks of another coming change. It wasn’t the weather, but it certainly was the temperature. The temperature of a congregation was changing. “The time will come,” speaks of a shift in thinking and a change in the temperature. What was changing was the heart, faith and dedication of a congregation. They were no longer putting up with sound doctrine. They had enough. They were making changes and they were going to find someone who would preach what they wanted to hear.
Several things drop out of these thoughts.
First, there was a time when they did endure sound doctrine. The expression, “The time will come,” indicates a change. It’s not that they never believed this. Nor, were they this way all along. No, there was a time when all was well. Timothy is at Ephesus when Paul writes these words. Read Ephesians. Read what is said about them in Revelation two. There was a time when they seemed to be clicking on all cylinders.
Second, something changed. We are not told how or what. But they no longer tolerated sound doctrine. Was there a discipline problem among them? A moral issue within one of the families? Not only would they not tolerate sound doctrine, but they would not tolerate those that taught sound doctrine, and in this specific setting, that meant Timothy. The days were coming when Timothy would be on the outs. He would be replaced. He would no longer be wanted, accepted or used.
Third, that change in the heart of the congregation is what is so important to catch and identify. The change from enduring to no longer enduring doesn’t happen in one sermon. Things brew for a while. People put up with things they don’t like for a while. Change is hard. Changing preachers is hard. But there comes a breaking point, and then the flood waters flow and immediately it becomes evident that they were holding all of this in for a long time. Now that it gets out and in the open, there is no holding it back. Private feelings become proclaimed publicly. Others jump on the bandwagon. Those that could go either way, go the way of the majority. And before Timothy’s eyes, is a different congregation. They don’t want commitment, faithfulness and devotion to Christ. Too much doctrine. Too much expectations. They want a softer, kinder religion that doesn’t offend any and is easy to follow.
It’s essential that elders and preachers recognize the change before it gets to the point of no return. Listen to what people are saying. Pay attention to what folks are reading. Notice what they are liking on Facebook. Timothy didn’t have any of these things. He didn’t have religious bookstores that sold every flavor of idea. He didn’t have social media as we do. It is too easy to assume that everyone is following along just fine. Changes were coming for Timothy. Paul was warning him. Paul had warned the elders of this same congregation. Changes were coming from among them. That’s where most of this started. They changed and the congregation followed the changes.
Fourth, it is also interesting that the changed congregation did not quit completely. One would think that if they were finished with sound doctrine that they would walk away from the Lord, the Gospel and just go back to the world. But they weren’t doing that. They remained as a congregation. They simply wanted things their way. They were interested in a different choice, another brand. Something less of doctrine and more pleasing to the ear.
What tickles our ears? Hearing our names in a positive way. Hearing that we are amazing. Hearing that we are doing a great job. Laughter tickles our ears. Funny stories tickles our ears. Cute stories that warm the heart tickles our ears. Hearing that everyone lives happily ever after tickles our ears. Hearing that we don’t have to change a thing, just keep doing what you’re doing, tickles our ears. Paul had told this congregation in his letter of Ephesians, to lay aside falsehood. They were not to sin when angry. No more unwholesome words. They were to forgive others. They were to walk away from the old self. Sound doctrine. Change self or change the message? They changed the message.
Fifth, Paul’s solution to this coming storm was to keep preaching the word. In season and out of season simply means when they want to hear it and when they don’t want to hear it. Hardships would come. They won’t like this. Timothy was told to endure even when the congregation no longer endured. Timothy wasn’t to make adjustments. He wasn’t to turn down the dial on sound doctrine. He wasn’t to give them a break from this form of teaching. Preach on, are Paul’s words.
The situation Timothy faced is repeated in our days. People that started off with the Lord change. They no longer accept what first brought them to the Lord. They don’t want to go entirely back to the world, so they find some who will tickle their ears. Good preachers are let go and replaced with those who have no backbone, conviction or heart. They know who butters their bread and they can preach any way the money flows. And, those kind of preachers are a dime a dozen. They love to be loved and to tickle ears. And as they and the congregation have a great time together, the faith of these people becomes more shallow and weaker. In time, any little storm will blow them over. In time, their watered down faith will be of no use to them and of little help to them. In time, this too, will be a waste of time.
How does a congregation change like this? It happens one by one. No one notices. No one tries to stop it. And it spreads like mold on a wall. Once it’s noticed, it’s almost too late because it has spread so far and so deep within the people.
So, we must hold the mirror up to ourselves. Do we still endure sound doctrine? Even when it knocks the shine off of our shoes? Even when it means we must change? Even when it calls upon us to do things that are uncomfortable to us, such as forgiving others.
The church changed because the people changed. That’s where it always begins.