For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3
I see this verse used a lot as a condemnation of progressive teaching, especially the current political hot-button topics. But is it aimed at progressive teaching?
But what if I applied it to myself? What do my ears itch for? What do I really wish for?
- Not gay rights—I’m heterosexual.
- Not justice for the poor or oppressed—I’m middle-class and white.
- Not abortions—I’ve never had one, and I never plan to.
So what do MY itching ears want to hear?
- That God wants ME to be rich (or at least upper-middle class), and that I’ll never worry about running out of money.
- That if I work really hard and if I’m good, He will bless me.
- That “those people” are bad, and I don’t have to actually get to know people who make me uncomfortable.
In other words, if I were to suit my own desires, I would seek out right-wing fundamentalist teachers. I would hear that God blesses me because I please Him (but He doesn’t bless “outsiders”). That I deserve to be comfortable because I tithe and teach Sunday school to children who look a lot like my own children. And that I can ignore or vilify anyone who makes me uncomfortable or unhappy.
It would be so much easier to sit back and enjoy my life as a “good” Christian. But Jesus wants me to care about rights for the oppressed, justice for the poor, and caring for unwanted children. (FYI, I’m pro-life, not just pro-birth.)
So what kind of teachers was Paul talking about when he said this to Timothy? The answer is found above it, in 2 Timothy 3:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 31-4
I know some right-wing ideologues who fit this description. Do you?
Most importantly, I try not to read the Bible with other people’s sins in mind. What matters is that I don’t get too smug or selfish. I don’t assume that any Bible verse is mine to use as an attack on someone else. All I’m called to do is love them. Yes, I have an opinion, but I believe God’s message can reach anyone, even the hopelessly rich and pious… if they’ll only listen. The only person I need to work on is ME.