Year C Revised Common Lectionary
Proper 25(30)

Ear Wax Religion

2 Timothy 4:1-14 (Good News Bible) In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and because he is coming to rule as King, I solemnly urge you 2to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it (whether the time is right or not), to convince, reproach, and encourage, as you teach with all patience.

3The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear. 4They will turn away from listening to the truth and give their attention to legends. 5But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God.

6As for me, the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life. 7I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. 8And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day---and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear.

This is one of the pastoral epistles. The epistle was written to give some direction as to how people should behave in churches and how congregations should be administered.1

There were serious problems with the beginnings of Gnosticism in the early church. To Gnostics, being in Messiah was not good enough. People needed to have some secret knowledge. William Barclay describes some of this secret information as passwords2 required to move from one spiritual level to another.

The God we serve is not a computer, complete with security software protection. And we can be very grateful our God is not a Microsoft, Windows or Mac operating system. No passwords are required. God is not password protected. You do not have to be able to spell the word “straight” to enter the Kingdom of God. Fortunately, you do not have to be able to live a straight life to enter the heavenly. We can come boldly to the thrown of grace!3

Moving from one spiritual level to another spiritual level could be compared to climbing a ladder.4 The thought of climbing any ladder to incredible heights is not a very pleasant one for me. A foot stool or a step ladder is about all I want. I do not even like going out on the balconies of high rise apartments.

Fortunately, we do not serve a God that makes us scale up the outside of a 50 story high rise, on a wobbly ladder to get to Him. The story of Jacob's ladder shows us that God comes down the ladder to meet humanity.

We do not climb a spiritual ladder to get to God. Humanity tried to do that with the Tower of Babble. The ancients want to make a name for themselves by building the Tower of Babble.5 And that did not work. The Lord made sure the efforts of man did not result in a good name. The good name is available as a gift. Through the atoning blood of the Christ, we are given the good name and we are made children of the King of the universe.

Gnosticism is a form of legalism. Instead of salvation being based only on God’s grace and faith, salvation is based on some form of knowledge. When we start adding things to faith and grace, we start getting into legalism.

Adding a specific sexual orientation or gender identification to the gospel is a form of legalism. Being heterosexual or being straight does not earn God's love or a place in heaven, but you would not know that in some churches today!

Some church groups teach that people need to believe certain specific and unique doctrine to be saved. When churches start teaching salvation depends on doctrine, they are getting into a form of Gnostic legalism, because they are teaching salvation is partially based on certain knowledge. Doctrinal legalism is a problem among some of the church groups that are commonly considered to be cults.

We adhere closely to the principles of the reformation - faith only, grace only and Scriptures only. The Bible and the Bible only is our guide to faith. Our beliefs are based on the Word of God and we strongly emphasize the active role of God in our salvation. God’s role in salvation is emphasized, because we believe God is a powerful God, a capable God.

Verses 1 and 2. I solemnly urge you to preach the message. Some versions translate this as “charge you”6 or “urge you.”7 This is a command,8 but it is more than a command. There is a “moral obligation” for the command to be “carried out.”9

The command is given in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. Timothy is reminded that the instructions are being witnessed by the Lord who will judge humanity.10 Now that is what I call being held accountable!

In Verse 3, we read people will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear. Donald Guthrie, author of a Tyndale Commentary on the pastoral epistles, says this literally means “having the hearing tickled.11 I’ve heard a lot of descriptions for good solid Bible-based teaching. “Ticked pink” is not one of them! Teaching that tickles the eardrums pink does not penetrate the eardrum and reach the head or the heart!12

Churches run the risk of falling into the trap of scratching itching ears. I hope I never start scratching itching ears. You just dig up too much ear wax.

Telling people exactly what they want to hear is an easy trap to fall into. We talked about the way some church groups try to flatter people into thinking that understanding some unique doctrine is required to be saved. And in the process they scratch itching ears.

There are churches that tell people exactly what they want to hear regarding sexuality. They try to build on people's natural fears, because it is good for the offering plate, or because it is good for church attendance. So the pastor gets up and rages against gay, bisexual and trans-identified people. Scratching itchy ears is not standing for the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Some churches scratch itching ears by spending more time talking about pop psychology from the pulpit than they do talking about the Word of God. You could be as likely to hear the word of Freud as the Word of God. That appeals to people who want to go to church, but do not want to learn about the Bible or to be challenged by the Word.

Other congregations are like mega self-help groups. Every day of the week, you can meet with another group to help you cope with life. But just try to find a group that actually studies the Bible.

The Word of God is not an ancient, musty self-help book. It is a God-help book. Through the Bible, God touches our hearts and changes our lives. But it is the power of God that changes our lives. According to the Bible, we do not pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

I enjoy a really humorous story in a sermon. I’ve been known to tell the odd, and the emphasis is on odd, joke in a sermon. But there is a human tendency to get a bit carried away. The desire to entertain people can exceed the desire to teach. I’ve heard sermons where the longest part of the sermon were the jokes. That can be a form of scratching itching ears.

Verse 4. They will turn away from listening to the truth and give their attention to legends. Many people seem more fascinated by the idea of a secretive God, who only reveals some special wisdom to a select group of people than they are by a God who freely gives salvation to whosoever believeth.13

The remedy for this problem is found in verses 1 and 2 I solemnly urge you to preach the message and in verse 5 do the work of a preacher of the Good News. The instructions given to Timothy are to preach the gospel. Preaching the gospel, proclaiming the truth about the Messiah is one of the best methods of standing up against heresy. The gospel is a powerful force, a force that can counteract serious doctrinal errors, because the gospel shows that weird forms of legalism endorsed by some religious groups are false, are in error.

We gain more ground by standing for what we know is right, the gospel, than we do by attacking those who teach error. Engaging in angry debates with those who disagree with us only serves to alienate the very people who need to understand God‘s saving grace.

There is a place for political action by God’s people. At times, we need to protest that which we do not like. There are churches and Believers who protest like mad. They spend a lot of time at political rallies, marching up and down streets, carrying pickets and demanding that the nation become Godly. Unfortunately, we cannot legislate spirituality. The best way to make the nation Godly is to introduce people to the Christ.

Verse 7. I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. Paul kept the faith. To the very end of his life, he believed in the system of grace. Paul maintained his faith in the Author of the gospel,14 Jesus Christ.

As one who has kept the faith, who has believed in righteousness through faith, Paul can say, “And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God.“

This is very good news. Eventually, the spiritual conflict ends. Those who fight for the right, those who stand for the gospel reign with the Lord.

Paul continues and says the Lord will give the same prize to all who wait with love for him to appear.

We do not need to part the waters like Moses to be saved. The call is not to walk on water like Jesus for salvation. God does not demand that we convert 3, 000 people in one day to enter the kingdom. And we do not have to become straight to get saved! That is wonderful news. The victory prize does not belong only to the people of the caliber of the apostle Paul. The giants of the faith are not the only people who will receive eternal life.15

You are included. And you are included because God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.16


Lord, feed us, sustain us, protect us and build us up with the Eternal Truth, Jesus, so that You might share Jesus and Him crucified in our lives.



1William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Revised Edition. (Edinburgh, Scotland: Saint Andrew Press, 1975), 2.

2Barclay, 7.

3Hebrew 4:16 (KJV) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

4Barclay, 7.

5Genesis 11:4.

6King James Version.

7New Revised Standard Version.

8John MacArthur. The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. (Nashville: Word, 1997), 1880.

9Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow M. Kroll, et. al., eds. The KJV Parallel Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1994), 2515.

10MacArthur, 1880.

11Donald Guthrie. The Pastoral Epistles: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 167.

12Guthrie, 167, indicates that it is “as if what they heard merely scratched their eardrums without penetrating any further.”

13John 3:16.

14Geo. W. Clark and J.M. Pendelton. Brief Notes on the New Testament. (Philadelphia: American Baptist Pub. Society, 1903), 586.

15Bruce. B. Baron, et. al., eds. Life Application Bible: The Living Bible. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Pub., 1988), 1879.

16John 3:16.