Online Bible Commentary
They Say What Your Itching Ears Want to Hear
2 Timothy 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For 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. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (NIV)
In this passage, Paul gives his final charge to Timothy. Paul is turning over his ministry to Timothy, and his successors. False Teachers in the churches of Asia Minor have turned the Christians against Paul. It may be that he is hoping that Timothy, and his successors, since Paul is also calling Timothy to his side in Rome, will be more effective with them than he could be at this time.
Also, Paul is anticipating his own demise. He is living in deplorable conditions, in a prison cell in Rome. His health may be declining because he is now in his mid sixties and living in poor conditions, including a poor diet. He also has to be concerned that he may be executed as part of Nero’s extermination of Christians. Peter, who was executed by Nero, may actually have already met this fate. Paul, indeed, was executed within a year of writing this letter, which he likely wrote mid 67 A.D. He was executed prior to Nero’s death in June, 68 A.D.
Paul gives his charge to Timothy, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” (v. 1a). His charge is nine-fold. First of all, Timothy is to “preach the Word” (v. 2a), the Word of God, the Bible. Secondly, he is to “be urgent, in season, out of season” (literal Greek for v. 2b) in his preaching. This means that he should be faithful to preach the word regardless of the circumstances, whether the people are tuning in to him or tuning in to the false teachers.
The third part of Paul’s charge is that Timothy should “correct” (v. 2c) the Christians of Ephesus. The Greek word translated “correct” in this verse is not the same word translated “correcting” found in 2 Timothy 3:16 as one of the uses of the Word of God. The word translated here for “correct” is the Greek word “elegcho”, which means to convict or rebuke. Timothy is first to rebuke, to convict them of their sin, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth part of Paul’s charge is to “rebuke” (v. 2d). This is from the Greek word “epitimao”, which is better translated “to admonish” or “forbid”. So first Timothy should rebuke, and then he should forbid the behavior, the sin, that he has rebuked. This is equivalent to imploring the Christians who have turned to false teaching to confess their sin and repent, turning from it.
The fifth part of the charge is to “encourage” (v. 2e). When we call for confession and repentance we should encourage by giving the benefit of such actions. The benefit of confession and repentance is forgiveness. We should encourage “with great patience and careful instruction” (v. 2f).
So why is Paul giving this charge to Timothy? It is because “the time will come” when Christians will reject “sound doctrine” (v. 3a). “Instead, to suit their own desires” they will listen to false teaching that tickles their “itching ears” (v. 3b). “They will turn…away from the truth” of Scripture and “turn…to myths”, untruths (v.4).
This is the nature of false teachers. They say what your itching ears want to hear. False teaching is the same today as it was in Paul’s time. It is always targeted to fulfill the desires of its listeners, whether true or not. If the listeners are happy, they will reward the messenger. False teaching is always designed to reward the messenger with financial gain, which is why the false teaching of today embraces the “prosperity gospel”, homosexuality in the church, and other sins.
Paul completes his charge to Timothy with four more instructions on how he should proceed, in light of the presence of false teaching. He should keep his head, endure hardship, evangelize, and, in summary, faithfully discharge all of his ministry duties (v.5).
Thus, Paul gives Timothy, and us, a mission. The mission is to confront false teaching by speaking the truth of the Gospel. It is to encourage those caught up in false teaching to confess that the teaching is false, and repent, turning back to the truth of the Bible. It is to remain calm, endure criticism, bring others to Christ, and be faithful to the Lord in all ways. This is our mission, should we choose to accept it.