Itching Ears

By Dr. Michael L. Brown

Over 1900 years ago Paul warned Timothy that, “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 Tim. 4:3). That time has come. We are witnessing it in our day. So few want to hear the truth anymore!

The Church of today is like Israel of old: “They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’” (Isa. 30:10-11).

“We’ve heard enough of this judgment message” — but the judgment is now at the door! “We’re tired of hearing so much preaching on repentance” — but you still have not truly repented! “We’ve had it with this holiness emphasis” — but the holy God dwells in our midst!

So many of us in leadership today are guilty of telling the people what they want to hear. We feed them what they think they need. What parent in their right mind would ever do such a thing with their child? Yet many leaders do it with their flocks and faithful supporters. “We don’t want to lose any of our members, do we?” Or, “This message will never bring in the bucks. It will hurt our ministry income!” Or, “If I tell the truth the people will get offended!” Yet we are willing to offend the Lord!

Remember, it was the people of Israel — not Babylon, not Assyria, not Canaan, not Egypt — but God’s own chosen nation that “made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy” (Amos 2:12). They told those who were set apart as holy to the Lord to lower their standards, to quit being extremists, to give up their separation to God. “Just be one of the gang! All of us are children of the Lord. You’ve taken consecration too far!” They told the prophets to shut up. They didn’t want to hear from heaven. “Give us good news and blessings. Tell us the future is bright.” But the prophets had bad news and curses. The future was dark and bleak. Israel wouldn’t repent. How could God shower them with grace?

King Ahab had itching ears. His “prophets” were yes-men and liars. They told him to go and make war against Ramoth Gilead, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand” (1 Kin. 22:6). Four hundred prophets agreed. But Jehoshaphat wasn’t satisfied. “‘Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?’ The king answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah’” (1 Kin. 22:6-7). He had the word of the Lord!

The king’s messenger went to get Micaiah: “Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably” (1 Kin. 22:13). What an incredible line! “Micaiah, tell us we’ll win! Tell us we’ll be victorious!” — even if God knows we’re doomed! How deceived itching ears really are! The four hundred prophets were wrong. The king and his court were wrong. The armies of Israel were wrong. Micaiah alone knew the truth: “So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you. . . . Mark my words, all you people” (1 Kin. 22:23, 28). Hours later, Ahab was dead, an enemy’s arrow lodged in his chest, and Israel was defeated and fled.

Sooner or later — by God’s grace may it be sooner! — we are going to have to learn that “where all approve, few profit” (John Wesley). The preaching of the cross does not always please the crowds. They reject a God who has standards and laws. They cast off His yoke as a burden. “He’s an old-fashioned kill-joy,” they say.

And some even fall further than this. They hear and agree but do not take heed. They ask for God’s message and ignore what it says. “My people come to you [Ezekiel], as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Ezek. 33:31-32). Those with itching ears really don’t want to hear. Never cater to them.

The road to destruction is still broad and wide, and the highway to life is as straight as it ever has been. Our big-hearted God has a very narrow mind when it comes to righteousness. We must tell our people the truth! “Ministers are not cooks, but physicians and therefore should not study to delight the palate, but to recover the patient” (Jean Daille). Compromise is cowardice. Flattery is foolishness. Man-pleasers are God-insulters. When will we get our priorities straight?

We have many who tickle the ear, few who prick the heart; many who soothe the grieving mind, few who search the guilty conscience; many who put the people to sleep, few who make them mourn and weep. Where are the prophets of God? We are strong on comforting the sorrowing sheep but weak on confronting the sinning saints; strong on building up what God has not established and weak on tearing down what man has embellished. Our hearts are caught up in this world. We need a blast from heaven.

How many of today’s radio and TV preachers are bringing a challenging, convicting, life-shaking message from the Throne? How many preach the cross and make the flesh uncomfortable? Who is waking up the slumbering church? Who is warning our nation?

Someone is going to have to tell America that she is sick and dying. Someone is going to have to tell her that the party is over. Someone is going to have to prepare her — including the church within her — for radical surgery. The time of pruning is now!

Enough with our feel-good gospel. Enough with our self-serving message. It’s time for the fire to fall — and wherever it falls it will scorch. Do our people smell the smoke in the air, or like Nero, will they fiddle their lives away while America (today’s Rome?) burns to the ground? The collapse of our society looms near. Will we be watchmen — or will we be wimps?

What an indictment it will be against countless pastors, prophets and preachers when their people stand up and say, “But you didn’t tell us the truth! You didn’t give us warning in advance! And we thought you were watching for our souls. You must not have really cared.”

Will that be the charge against us?

About Dr. Michael L. Brown

President, Professor of Practical Theology. B.A (Queens College), M.A. (New York University), Ph.D. (New York University). Dr. Brown served as a leader in the Brownsville Revival from 1996-2000 and birthed FIRE School of Ministry in 2001. He has preached throughout the United States and in more than twenty nations and has written twenty books on revival, holiness, radical discipleship, and Jewish-Christian issues, along with scholarly works in Old Testament and Hebrew studies.

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