The Preaching Which Delights Itching Ears

by Mike Ratliff

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

Much of what I read online about what is going on in the visible Church that is nothing more than a form of entertainment is foreign to most of my own experience. I have visited one church in our area that is a first class example of the seeker-sensitive model and a few others that were blends of orthodoxy and attempts at cultural relevancy, but I have never been to one of those “churches” that are attempting to fill their pews with series on sex and sexuality. I have never been in a church where the Pastor dressed like a biker and talked like a drunken sailor, but I have seen the video of Mark Driscoll’s “sermon” on the Song of Solomon. I confess that I only watched the first few minutes of it though. It was obvious that Pastor Driscoll’s “sermon” was not based on serious exegesis of that wonderful book in God’s Word. I had several people contact me after that video went online who were aghast after comparing what he preached with what the text of the Song of Solomon actually said.

John MacArthur has released a four part series directed at Mark Driscoll’s misuse of God’s Word. It is called “The Rape of the Song of Solomon” and is well worth reading. Here is a link to an intro to it by my good friend Ken Silva with links to all four sections. Much of the article addresses the questions and concerns from many who do not have a clear understanding of the role of the godly Pastor and the Word of God in his ministry. Therefore, let us look at a Biblical contrast between the correct and incorrect way a Pastor should minister.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV)

The epistle of 2 Timothy was written by Paul to his beloved disciple Timothy. Paul is about to be executed so he pours himself into Timothy because it is his last chance to do so. In this passage, we read that as a Pastor, Timothy was being charged by Paul to be faithful in his ministry. Paul made the charge more serious by showing Timothy that his calling as a minister of God’s Word was according to the will of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. He stresses that our Lord Himself would judge the way he carried out his ministry. With this in mind, I wonder if the current crop of “pastors” in our time who wouldn’t preach a sermon in a Biblically expository manner if their life depended on it, understand that what they are doing in their “pulpits” will be part of their judgment.

The command is for the preacher to do what? He is to “preach the word!” This is the entire written Word of God, which is His revealed truth (2 Timothy 3:15, 16; Acts 20:27). This is taking God’s truth from His Word, preaching it to those God has given to him in order that they be edified by his opening it up to them for the glory of God. It is not about the preacher, it is about Christ working through his preaching to build His Church.

The faithful preacher is to be ready. The way this is structured in Greek we see that the preacher must approach his ministry with a sense of urgency, preparedness, and readiness such as a soldier prepared to go into battle or a guard who is continually alert for any surprise attack (Jeremiah 20:9; Acts 21:11-13; Ephesians 5:15, 16; 1 Peter 3:15). Coolness or cultural relevancy is not part of this. Those things are distractions. Instead, the faithful preacher must preach the Word of God in season and out of season. This means that he must be faithful in this when it is popular and/or convenient to do so, and when it is not. He must preach the Word despite the cultural restrictions on doing so. Those things that put pressure on the preacher to not preach the Word such as pop culture, tradition, reputation, acceptance, or esteem with people both in and out of the church must be given no consideration. The preacher must preach the Word  with complete commitment no matter how costly it appears it will be.

The faithful preacher will not shrink from preaching the truth in reprove or rebuke in order to correct the behavior of professing believers or to stand firm against false doctrine. This must be done carefully using only Biblical argument in order to help those in error to understand that they must repent. He will also exhort the body of believers in his care with complete patience and teaching in order to build them up (2 Timothy 3:16).

Why is it imperative that the preacher be faithful to this?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

The faithful preacher cannot conform to this. Instead, he must reprove and rebuke those who do give in, compromising their ministries in unbelief. The pastor/preacher who believes that contextualization and cultural relevancy must be a vital part of their ministry to the point that their churches and sermons are structured to appeal to the flesh, to never confront people about their sin and God’s standards of holiness, then what they have done is create a “church” full of people who will not endure sound teaching. They would never go to a church to hear a Pastor faithfully preach the uncompromised Word of God in season and out of season. No, that is convicting and these people are intolerant of the confrontive, demanding preaching of God’s Word. The unfaithful preacher, knowing this and in unbelief that our Lord will build His Church using faithful preachers of God’s Word, preaches and build his ministry to please those with itching ears. These preachers simply try to fulfill the fleshly passions of these who want only to follow their own desires. These people flock to preachers who offer them God’s blessing apart from their repentance. They want to be entertained by teachings that will produce a rush of pleasant sensations. They want to feel good about themselves; therefore, they will only tolerate preachers who preach according to their own desires. They dictate what they preach rather than God by His Word.

Now do you see why we have men such as Mark Driscoll who thinks he must rape the Song of Solomon? He is scratching the itching ears of those who come to hear him for this reason. He is certainly not alone. It seems that every month some really cool church somewhere is having a month long series on sex and/or sexuality. These things are simply the fruit of ministries geared to do one thing only, please those with itching ears who will not endure sound teaching.

I exhort all those in the ministry reading this to examine themselves, to look at their motives and their approach and attitude. If a Pastor or preacher is ministering primarily to please those who come to hear him then he is doing it wrong. God is the one who must dictate to the preacher what is preached and how the ministry is done, not those who only want their ears tickled.

Soli Deo Gloria!

12 thoughts on “The Preaching Which Delights Itching Ears

  1. Mike:
    Well said. I pray that the visible church continue its quest for sound doctrine and holy living. I was appalled at what I read of Mark’s sermon on the Song of Solomon via a link at The Shepherd”s Fellowship Pulpit blog… Thanks be to God for men like Dr. MacArthur and Phil Johnson…..and Mike Ratliff.


  2. It always comes down to self, doesn’t it, Mike. Whatever happened to “He must increase; I must decrease?”


  3. Thank you Wendy! That word “appalled” was my reaction to it as well. Driscoll’s continued trite attitude towards this reveals a heart that is not godly. Thank you for the encouragement my sister.


  4. *gasp* You’re one of “them”-a watchblogger! How dare you speak against the finest example of a me, me, me preacher! You should go and do penance-or something. Anyway, hope everyone can recognize sarcasm when it’s written. Wouldn’t want anyone taking notes and writing about me behind my back. Thanks for all your writings, Mike. You do it very well. And this does need to be said.


  5. I read the same link Wendy was talking about and my jaw literally hit the floor. What I see is someone who has a lack of fear for God and who has no business being a pastor no matter how good an orator he is.


  6. Bring it on……….the sooner the better because that means our Lord is on His way to come get us out of this mess!! Things are getting worse VERY quickly we’ve noticed. Hmmm, maybe those birth pangs are ready for the delivery since there is no break in-between 🙂 Come quickly Lord Jesus!!


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