At the outset, I want to write a disclaimer. If you are not a Christian, that is to say if you do not believe the Bible to be the word of God, and you do not believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay for the sins of his people, rose from the dead, and will someday return to judge the world, then this post is really not written to you. You are welcome here, and I am thankful you are reading, but you are not my intended audience today. If however, you do claim to be a Christian, and you do affirm the very basic, yet foundational Christian beliefs mentioned above, I hope you will consider what I have to say. Really it is not as much what I have to say as it is what the Apostle Paul has to say.
Paul as you know wrote most of the letters or epistles found in the New Testament. Paul wrote letters for several reasons; encouragement, definition of doctrine, confrontation, and warning. In all of that his end game was the glory of God, by the work of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are three letters known as the pastoral epistles, and those are the letters he wrote to Titus and Timothy. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he speaks about what it will be like for Timothy in the last days to preach the word of God. He warns Timothy as follows:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.- 2 Timothy 4:1-5
This letter may very well be the last words we have from Paul. One of my pastors refers to this letter as Paul’s last will and testament. Paul knows his race is run, and he awaits the time when he will see Jesus face to face. These words he writes to Timothy are somber, and stern. For our purposes here, I want to look at the following line.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
To be sure, Paul had specific myths and false doctrines in mind when he wrote this, and every generation has had people who have fallen into these temptations. Our generation is no different. If we are honest, we will admit that on some level we all do this. But the people Paul is referring to cannot or will not tolerate the truth of God’s word. When God’s word disagrees with their own likes or desires, rather than submitting to the word and repenting, they go out and find authority figures who will tell them what they want to hear. Paul says they “accumulate for themselves teachers.” It’s not enough to find one or two people to soothe their consciences. They accumulate “experts” and build a case against God’s teaching to try to silence their own consciences. This is a dangerous position to take, and it leads one away from God and toward falsity.
America is the land of the itching ears. Our cardinal doctrine is independence at all costs. True freedom in the American psyche is the intersection of intellectual, moral, and financial autonomy. Financial health can be a great blessing, but the desire to be financially independent (from others and from the provision of God) often times leads to corruption, greed, and in the end disappointment when it fails to give the security and finality of hope it promised. The desire to be morally independent is more sinister. Moral independence masquerades as progress or enlightenment, but in reality it is the sin of idolatry. Moral independence denies the truth of God and replaces it with the foolishness of man. This is where I will start to lose some of you. Stay with me if you care to see the end of this argument.
As a Christian you are not morally independent. Whenever the Christian stares into the revealed will and word of God (the Scriptures) and finds that God’s word disagrees with his or her convictions, the Christian MUST repent and ask God to change his or her heart on the issue. The problem is with us, not with God’s word. This is an absolutely ridiculous statement to the non-Christian American. Regardless of the issue, we are not at liberty to change, negate, explain away, lessen, or mitigate the word of God. While there are definitely fine points of theology over which men and women of goodwill disagree, there are plenty of truths in the Scriptures that do not align with the new morality that are simply not open for debate in the Christian mind.
The temptation on our part is to go and find a pastor, priest, professor, or theologian who will give some sort of credence or weight to what we wish was true but know full well the Scriptures do not teach. This is the folly that Paul warns Timothy about. We want our itching ears scratched and soothed. But we must trust God enough and be humble enough, as Jesus was, to say “not my will but yours be done.” If you are a Christian, and you find yourself gladly siding with the culture in the new definitions of right and wrong, good and evil, ask yourself the following questions, and ask them honestly:
1. Have I taken this position because I have truly studied what the word of God has to say about it?
2. What has more influenced my belief on this subject, my political party or the word of God?
3. When I read the Scriptures, do I see my position in their pages?
4. Have I willingly denied the clear teaching of Scripture on this issue, because I am afraid to be called out by those around me if I side with God on this?
5. Have I knowingly searched for an authority to tell me what I want to hear, or have I reached this conviction out of submission to God and his word?
You see, whether we would admit it or not, we long for moral autonomy. This was Adam’s sin; to be like God and to be independent from him. Adam and Eve longed to set their own rules. But they quickly found that they were incapable of sustaining their own universe. They could not be their own point of reference for meaning and truth. When we set ourselves against God, we commit this sin of pride and rebellion. And if our consciences begin to sound the alarm, we look for the soothsayers. At the end of the day, if we search long enough, we will be able to find someone to tell us what we want to hear. They may even claim to back up the lies with Scripture. They may carry the title of Dr., Pastor, Elder, Bishop, or even Pope. But we know better. We know what we are doing. And in the end, there is only one voice that matters. It’s the voice of the one who said “let there be.” His voice is sovereign over all others. Listen to him.