Paul’s Warning About “They”
Robert Wurtz II
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2-5 KJV)
In our previous entry I entitled, The Power of Paul’s Preaching, I closed the entry by demonstrating that Paul continued to preach the message of repentance from sin and faith towards God to the very end. In fact, he passed a solemn charge to Timothy that he carry on the work in like manner. Paul inserts into this charge a prophecy about a type of people that he simply calls “they.” They are characterized by three things:
1. They will not endure sound doctrine; i.e., reproving, rebuking, and exhorting.
2. They will heap to themselves teachers that tickle their ears and fuel their lusts.
3. They will refuse to hear the truth, but will turn to fables (stories and myths).
This prophecy is given as a future reality as the verbs are future tense. It is certain that Timothy could expect at some point to have to deal with “they”. I suggest that “they” would arise as a consequence of Paul being dead. This is akin to the warning Paul gave to the Ephesians that after his departure wolves would enter in, not sparing the sheep. In the absence of sound preaching, the lusts of men and women come to the fore and a band of so-called ministers rise to feed them.
After Their Own Lusts
Markets are driven by demand. This is true in all walks of life. When demand for something dries up- the supply chain for it dries up. Flow is created by pressure; and in this case the pressure is lust. The Greek word for lust is the standard word for strong desire (epithumia). These people are not driven by God’s will or His word- but their own strong desires. Whereas the Kingdom of God is designed around God’s desires, these have traded God’s desires for their own desires. Nevertheless, they chose to remain in the churches. This creates a very serious challenge for preachers. Feed the peoples lusts; or preach for the glory of God?
Heaping to Themselves
The very fact that Paul told Timothy that “they” will heap teachers to themselves that tickle their ears- suggests that Timothy is going to be woefully outnumbered if he carries out Paul’s charge. It suggests that even in the first century there was a serious disparity between the number of true preachers and ear ticklers. “They” are able to vote out truth by majority. In other words, majority rules. “They” are deceived into thinking that the more people agree with their lusts the more likely “they” are to be right. Add to that the false idea that popularity equals authority and you have a recipe for wholesale deception.
In our times heaping can be done on an exponential basis. The television and Christian networks are loaded with speakers that have carved their niche in meeting the lusts of men. Simply put, they tell people what they want to hear. They almost never serve up news that would agitate their base. Therefore, their TV audience, radio listeners, and Internet mailing lists keep growing. Obviously not all are in this category, but clearly the majority are. In Timothy’s day “they” could heap a handful- today the sky is the limit with so much access to various speakers.
An Encouragement to Timothy
Paul was telling Timothy what “they” were going to do and what their speakers were going to tell them. Fables. Falsehoods. Twisted notions. All sorts of things that distract them from the truth. Typically these notions seek to bless “they”, that is, the very people God is wanting reproved or rebuked. It means that Timothy would have to live with what Leonard Ravenhill called, “rejection.” Paul dealt with it too. even among professors of Christ. When Timothy got up to preach he could expect a house of reluctant hearers that seemed to merely endure his preaching; but then came the ear tickler and the house was full and the people anxious and attentive. He would have seen it and it would have grieved and vexed his soul. But then, we could expect, Paul’s words would come to mind.
But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
Almost as if Paul shot down all the arguments from the beginning. “They” are thronging the ear tickling preachers you say? ” But watch thou in all things. I know what “they” are doing but “thou” are to watch in all things. The word for “watch” here could be translated sober. “They” may be drunk on the elixir of this world and stagger at the lusts that are heaped up, but be thou sober in all things. “They” might be doing it, but you must not. You fill to the full your ministry and leave “they” and their speakers to God. No matter how insignificant you may think your contribution is- keep preaching the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.