The apostle Paul wrote a warning for the church: “The time will come when men 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).
The Greek word translated “itching” literally means “to itch, rub, scratch, or tickle.” To want one’s ears “tickled” is to desire massages rather than messages—sermons that charm rather than challenge, entertain rather than edify, and please rather than preach. The people Paul warns about will have, as one commentator put it, “ears which have to be continually titillated with novelties.”
“Itching ears” is a figure of speech that refers to people’s desires, felt needs, or wants. It is these desires that impel a person to believe whatever he wants to believe rather than the actual truth itself. When people have “itching ears,” they decide for themselves what is right or wrong, and they seek out others to support their notions. “Itching ears” are concerned with what feels good or comfortable, not with the truth—after all, truth is often uncomfortable. Paul’s warning is that the church would one day contain those who only opened their ears to those who would scratch their “itch.”
Those with “itching ears” only want teachers who will assure them that all is well, teachers who say, “Peace, peace . . . when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Where there is a demand for something, the suppliers are not far away. Paul says that not only will there be great demand for watered-down, personalized messages, but there will be “a great number of teachers” willing to provide such pap and steer people away from “sound doctrine.”
There is Evidence today of people having “itching ears” which includes the popularity of messages that people are not required to change, as if repentance were outmoded; that people are basically good; that God is too loving to judge anyone; that the cross, with all its blood, is not really necessary; and that God wants His children to be healthy, wealthy, and content in this world. As people turn their backs on the truth about sin and condemnation, they disregard their need for repentance and forgiveness. And a craving for “new” and “fresher” ideas grows—even though there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–10)—accompanied by a longing to feel good about who they are and where they’re going. Messages that tickle ears can fill a lot of churches, sell a lot of books, and buy a lot of time on cable tv. But, what does it really offer anyone?
Do you know others in your circle of family and friends with itching ears? Let’s love them enough today to pray for and encourage them to find truth in these evil and deceptive times! Can we pray with you? Russ Hobbs Ministries, e-mail email@example.com