preacher.jpg“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…” - 2 Timothy 4:3

Pastors who tickle the ears. Many of us read this verse and nod our heads in agreement.

Ahh, yes. Lord, deliver us from the liberals who don’t believe anything and don’t preach anything!

Lord, deliver us from those who give good advice and moral platitudes without the good news of individual salvation!

Lord, deliver us from the stand-up comics who fill stadiums with ear-tickling, side-splitting sermons that are all about us and not about God!

But are these the only examples of preaching that tickles the ear?

Is it possible to preach harshly against certain sins and yet still be an ear-tickling preacher?

I say yes, and here’s why.

The human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We think that preaching hard messages with hard truths will necessarily keep us out of the “ear-tickling” category. But such is not the case. Paul tells Timothy that itching ears want teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. And many congregations hope to hear a preacher who every week will tell them what’s wrong with everybody else.

Itching ears? Judge for yourself. 

The congregation of teetotalers who hires a pastor who every week, without fail, will condemn alcohol in the pulpit…

The congregation of staunch Republicans who hires a pastor that will preach against “the gays, the liberals, and the environmentalist wackos” every week…

The congregation of Calvinists who hire a pastor that will preach against the errors of those pesky Arminians every week…

The congregation of door-to-door evangelists who hire a pastor that will rail against all the namby-pamby ”lifestyle” conversations that pass for evangelism in this day…

Can you hear the hearty “Amens” coming from the pews? Yes, Lord! Help us not to be like those timid Christians! Help us not be like those divine-sovereignty-denying Arminians! Thank you, Lord for delivering us from the liberals of this country! Thank you, Lord that we’re not like the social drinkers!

Suddenly, the Amen corner sounds more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. 

Don’t misunderstand me. There are times when a pastor should address the issues above.

But let’s not underestimate the evil intentions of the human heart. We crave a message that puffs us up. And ironically, the very message that is supposed to cut us low, the message of the cross can be delivered in such a way that people walk out of the congregation having patted themselves on the back. Thank God I’m not like those people!

Ear-tickling preaching may be more common than we think. Ear-tickling preaching may step on toes, but they’re never the toes of the people in the pews or the pastor in the pulpit.

Lord, deliver us from ear-tickling preaching of all kinds. Even the kind of ear-tickling that comes from hard, pulpit-pounding preaching!

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

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Spurgeon’s Advice to Seminarians on the Gospel
Let Grace Abound in Us, Fellow Seminary Students
Joel Osteen’s Negative Message

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6 thoughts on “Preaching that Tickles the Ear”

  1. Nathanael says:

    This is so true, so true.
    Good word!

    Shalom

  2. Bill Blair says:

    Ah, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. How many times do we read, teach, or study that story and follow with a prayer of, “Thank you Lord for not making me like the Pharisee.” :)

    I think you should make up a matching question where we have to match the preacher to “tickling” message, or have you had enough matching for awhile?

  3. AC53 says:

    And let us not forget the ear-tickling blogs that point fingers at all the wrong things being said and done in the name Jesus. :)

  4. Excellent post. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months, and this one feels like you read my mind. I posted something very similar to this at my blog. The church I pastor now would absolutely LOVE it if I preached against homosexuality, alcohol, and I don’t know, dancing every week. You are right on the money. We can’t give them a steady diet of that even though they itch for it. Thanks.

  5. Some people think ear tickling is when you are preaching love with no condemnation.We preach the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with no apology and no condemnation.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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