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
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)
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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Timothy 4:4: