The danger of ‘itching ears’ 2 Timothy 3-4 a sermon for BCP by Revd Alex Pease

2 Timothy 3-4

This is probably Paul’s last letter; maybe written a few weeks before he was beheaded on the Ostian way in Rome.  So its his last shot to encourage the diffident Timothy how to continue his ministry in difficult times.

He must have wondered whether Christianity, the Way, was going to survive him and all the other  apostles, those who had seen the resurrected Christ in the flesh.  Would the new generation actually manage to carry the torch into the future?

So a lot was riding on this letter.

Like all Christians since, we can be, like Timothy, diffident about the gospel; whether we are called to preach it in words, as I am to you now, or to preach it by living it, as in St Francis words: ‘Preach the gospel,  use words of you have to’.  Or preferably both!

We may feel wholly inadequate, as I often do, whereas we look back to great apostles of the past, like Paul, we feel that we cannot be like them; that we stand in the shadow of the great, recognising that we are not good enough and tempted to give up.

But Paul says to Timothy 3:10, “you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my faith, my patience, my love, my persecutions and my suffering…..yet you have also observed how the Lord rescued me from all of them!’.

Paul reflects (verse 12) all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, which all of us who are reborn Christians will want; if we want that we will be persecuted, it really is the litmus test of being a Christian.  

Its inevitable, being persecuted in some sort of way, but Paul encourages us (verse 14) to continue in what we have learned and firmly believed, because scripture is God breathed: It’s not just knowledge, not just information.  It’s inspired by God which means It will do its work, if we preach it, In word or deed: that’s our task, transforming others’ lives Is His…..

Paul says that the gospel is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.  This is what we are doing, if we are Christians.  He says that we as Christians should go on proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

However, there is always a temptation in preaching and in speaking to our friends and neighbours or even in the way we live to tone things down; not to say anything or do anything or fail to do anything which offends.  But the difficulty is, as James Greig will preach this morning at Valley Worship,The Greatest Honour – James Greig at Valley Worship Jesus does offend, he just does.  The gospel is good news, but it does challenge all of us and many of us don’t like being challenged and if we are proclaiming the gospel whether in church or when speaking to our friends or living life as a Christian, we will be persecuted, there is always be collosal push back and if there isn’t something is wrong….

Paul explains the problem 4:3  The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths

And this is not just a problem for preachers, but for congregations also, as they are lulled along for years and years listening to talks which are designed to give a vague warm fuzzy feeling or to entertain and thus have ‘itching ears’, always looking for novelty and confirmation in their life styl,e but never actually hearing the gospel, the gospel which always transforms, painful as that can be sometimes, but is always good.

Paul encourages Timothy verse 2 to proclaim the gospel, proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, be persistent in reading and speaking about the teaching in the Bible whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, convince rebuke and encourage but he urges Timothy to do this all with utmost patience and love.  

And as we do so, as we seek to fulfil the commission given to Timothy, given to us, the gospel will continue to be preached down the generations, people will continue to be offended, people will continue to be persecuted and people will continue to be saved.


2 Timothy 3:10-4:5

Paul’s Charge to Timothy

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 

 4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (2 Ti 3:10–4:5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


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