Paul's description of people having "itching ears" is picturesque. The Greek word, knethomai, literally means "to itch, rub, scratch, or tickle." This figure of speech implies that they have an itch that must be scratched, or as William Barclay puts it, "they have ears which have to be continually titillated with novelties" (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, p. 202). Such people open their ears to any teacher who will relieve their particular "itch" regardless of how it measures against the truth.
The solution to this resides in proper discernment based on God's infallible Word. This judgment must be based on His whole counsel. John writes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). Christ commends the Ephesian church for this:
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars. (Revelation 2:2)
Paul says it most simply, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21).
It is our Christian duty to evaluate the "causes" we endorse. Are they truly of God, or are they itches we want scratched? Have we allowed the world to influence our thinking, or are we on solid biblical footing? Have we held our ground against Satan, or have we given in to his relentless onslaught?
Our effort now should be presenting ourselves "blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 23), for God is not concerned with scratching our itches but transforming us into the image of His Son. That is our only cause!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Scratching Our Itches
Paul's repeated emphasis on sound doctrine implies that the body of teaching in the church is more than just a gospel about Christ. It is the gospel of Christ—what He taught and lived in His own life, and what He expects us to follow as well. His doctrine is "the pattern of sound words," the body of truth, once for all delivered to the saints. God inspired the writers of the New Testament to warn us that His church must have a solid foundation in the truth of Christ to defend and contend for the faith because of the constant bombardment of false doctrines.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Doctrine
We see here indications of the influence of the world, the influence of the Babylonian mystery religion, surrounding Christians wherever they might live. It gradually wears them down simply by its presence as well as by occasional, open persecution against Christians. These Christians were gradually weakening rather than growing, and beginning to feel that the best thing to do was to give in—inch by inch—to what was happening. They were beginning to request of the ministry teachings that were deviating from the truth that the apostles had given them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 4)
"Heap up to themselves teachers" is another interesting illustration. We might phrase it as, "They've got a whole smorgasbord of preachers to choose from." We would not say that they heap them up - that brings to mind a picture of bodies piled up, one upon another. We would probably picture what was happening as more like a cafeteria, where a person could pick this preacher's understanding of marriage, then a little further on, select another preacher's understanding of faith, and a bit later, for dessert, choose this minister's wonderful sense of humor.
Is that what we do? Do we dabble a little here, a little there? We fool ourselves sometimes by saying, "I'm just getting a well-rounded approach to the subject because this guy is really strong in this area. I need what he can give me." Are we heaping up for ourselves teachers, so that we can pull one from the bottom of the pile when we need it?
Do we flit from place to place as the mood suits us? Maybe this week we are in the mood for something really sober, so we go to a particular serious-minded group. The next week, perhaps, we want to fellowship, and the people at the sober place are not really entertaining socially - but the people at another place nearby really have a rip-roaring time after service every week! Then the week after that, we hear that "Minister X" is in town, so we go there. Is that the way we are? Yet, that is very much like "they heap up to themselves teachers."
James 1:8 reads, "He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." How true that is! One cannot trust a double-minded person because he is unstable; he flits from here to there. One never knows what corner he will be in that week. James' brother, Jesus, says in Matthew 6:24:
No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Consider the principle here. God is interested in loyalty. He wants us to be loyal to Him, as well as to those through whom He is speaking. Therefore, it is best, for our own growth, to find one such minister and stick to him. Then we will not be guilty of heaping up to ourselves teachers, for the basic motivation of doing so is self-satisfaction. And how often does that get us into trouble?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Paul gives Timothy a great deal to think about and to do. Notice, though, that he ends with a warning that false teachers and false gospels are inevitable. As time goes on, as he said earlier, things will get worse and worse.
We must be especially careful of this these days because Jesus tells us that, as the end approaches, it will get really bad! Those things will wax, not wane, as the end comes. And in our information society, not only have there been more bad things, but they are coming at us faster and faster. It is hard to keep up with all the false teachings, heresies, and strange ideas. And those are just what are in the church, and not what comes from Protestantism, Catholicism, New Age, or whatever!
The Internet has been a blessing and curse, just for that reason. It is wonderful for transmitting information—especially if it is the truth, but it is damnable for transmitting error. All "media" are. Any kind of media can be used wrongly. The two biggest users on the Internet are, on the one hand, pornographers, and on the other, churches. Is that not crazy? It shows how bad the times are, and how we have to be prepared to face these things, show the error of falsehood, and explain the truth. It is not easy in these times to be a true minister of God, because things are coming at us from right and left at 190 mph.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh