For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB)
I used to think this meant that people would get tired of being told what to do/what not to do and search for teachers that told them they could do whatever they wanted. Now, armed with a fresh revelation of God’s Grace, I have a different view on these verses. It’s not only that people are looking for less harsh teaching than what the Bible says, but some are seeking teaching that is more harsh than what the Bible says.
Paul wrote this letter to his padawan, Timothy, further instructing him on his pastoral duties. Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Galatia (the book we call Galatians). In it he makes it quite clear that there was a faction within the church trying to get them to teach a mixture of God’s (New Covenant) Grace and the (Old Covenant) Law. John wrote about problems with gnosticism. Jesus confronted the hyper-religious of His time that were so obsessed with their rules and rituals that they would stop to help someone for fear of becoming “unclean.”
Every generation has its religious heretics: you can find someone, somewhere, that will tell you exactly what you want to hear!
I submit to you that Paul, in this (his second) letter to Timothy, is warning us not only of his congregants searching out “anything goes” teaching, but also performance-based teaching. Honestly, some people want to be told what to do and what not to do so that they can go to Heaven some day rather than live in the freedom that the Bible actually teaches – it’s what their “itching ears” want to hear. Paul is insisting that Timothy continue to preach the Good News – the true Gospel – that it is not about what you do or don’t do… It’s about who you know.
Paul knows that by preaching freedom, the people will come to appreciate the One who set them free and will live an honorable life out of appreciation for Him and His sacrifice. In essence, Paul tells Timothy, “Some will want to go to the right, some will want to go to the left, but you tell them what they need to hear: tell them the truth.”