Dear Radio Friends,
God’s Word to us in II Timothy 3:1 is “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” We are in those last days prior to the return of Jesus Christ. And that means perilous times are upon us.
What makes these times so perilous? Paul answers this for Timothy in verses 2-5 of II Timothy 3: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
We are also told in verses 12 and 13 of II Timothy 3: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” This, too, makes these last days perilous or dangerous for the true church of Jesus Christ.
But there is more. This is found in the passage that we are going to consider today, II Timothy 4:3-5 a: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things.” The time will come, we are told in these verses, in the last days when people will not hold fast to sound doctrine anymore but will turn from the truth unto fables.
But why is the phenomenon of our text so perilous? Why is the occurrence of many turning away from truth to fables so dangerous or threatening to us the church? Because all of this takes place within the sphere of the church itself. Everything of which we read in chapters 3 and 4 of II Timothy concerning the last times takes place in the church. And this is what makes these things so perilous for the true church of Christ. The “they” of these chapters does not refer to the wicked world outside of the church, it refers to many within the church. In the church there will be those who have a form of godliness but will deny the power of it. In the church evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse. They will turn from the truth and to fables. They will have itching ears and will heap to themselves false teachers.
And that is why we are going to consider the warning of God’s Word in this passage here in II Timothy 4 today. In all things, we are called upon to watch.
Sound doctrine! Give me good, sound doctrine! That is what I like to go to church to hear. Doctrine? That is something that is heard less and less of today, is it not? Rather, it is more often heard: “Give me good, practical preaching. And, please do not make that too long. Tell me how I must live. This is all I need to hear. Those who preach doctrine? Ech! Their services are dead. There is no spirit, no life to them.”
“For the time will come when they shall not endure sound doctrine.” Such is the Word of God that we consider today. Paul uses the word “doctrine” a number of times in this chapter and the preceding one. We find it in verses 10 and 16 of chapter 3, and verses 2 and 3 of the chapter we consider also today. In chapter 3 the word “doctrine” is used in the same context as the word “truth.” We see that in verses 7 and 8 in particular. We find the word “doctrine” also in the same context as “the scripture.” We find that in verse 16 of chapter 3.
And the same is true in chapter 4. In our text it is synonymous once again with “the truth.” “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine,” and “they shall turn away their ears from the truth.” In every instance here in Paul’s letter to Timothy, the idea of doctrine takes on a very positive and a very good connotation. So what then is doctrine, according to this Word of God?
Sound doctrine is, in the first place, the truth. Now the truth is that which is opposed to lie. Truth is right as opposed to wrong. Truth is the correct perception of things. It is reality. It is fact as opposed to that which is the incorrect perception of things, that which is contrary to fact. Truth is not relative, as so many say today. It is not something for one person and another thing for another person. Truth is the objective standard of everyone’s life. It is the norm. It is the one constant that stays the same for every person and every age. It is what is right and good, morally and ethically correct. That is truth.
And we know, too, that in order to find what is good and right, we must turn to God. After all, all things were created by Him and for Him. He sets the standard for what is right and wrong. He sets the standard for what is truth. And that is true because God is truth. He is truth in Himself. He is a God of all truth because in Him there is no sin, there is no error, there is no shadow of turning. He is pure perfection.
Well, if God is truth, then He also determines for us His creatures what is right and what is wrong. It does not matter if we do not like it, which many do not. God is creator and He determines what is right and what is wrong for His creatures. And God makes that truth known to us. He speaks the truth to us. The Word of God that He speaks to us becomes truth. The Word that God speaks to us is recorded for us right in the Holy Scriptures. In other words, God’s Word is truth.
So, when the Word of God here in II Timothy 4 speaks of truth, then it is speaking, in reality, about God’s Word, the Scriptures. In the Scriptures is contained the truth. And when this passage that we consider today is considered, then, with respect to the truth, there will be those who turn away from it. There will be those who turn away from the Word of God, the Scriptures.
Yet we find in II Timothy 3:16 that there is also a distinction between doctrine and the Scriptures. The Bible is not a ready-made handbook on doctrine. It is not a systematic theology book. The Bible containsdoctrines. In fact, all doctrine is found in the Scriptures. But the Bible itself is not a doctrinal treatise. This is why the church is, to use Paul’s words in I Timothy 3:15, “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Because, you see, God has entrusted the Scriptures to His church. And through His Holy Spirit, He guides that church in the way of truth.
That is where the whole idea of doctrine comes in. In the church’s preaching and in her writings she teaches or instructs in the Word of God. She does that systematically, gleaning from the Bible and writing down, often times, the truth—the truth about God, the truth about Christ, the truth about man, the truth about salvation, the truth about the church, the truth about what will happen in the last days. As the church does this, the truth becomes known as doctrines, or the teachings of Scripture.
This is the importance, by the way, of confessions and creeds. They set forth the truth of God’s Word in a systematic way. They reveal the doctrines of the Bible as opposed to the heresy of evil men and seducers.
So that is doctrine. Doctrine is the systematic setting forth of the truth of Holy Scripture. Sound doctrine is good therefore. In fact that word “sound” doctrine means “healthy” doctrine, doctrine that is edifying, instructional, good for admonition, good for comfort, good for the daily life of God’s people. Healthy doctrine.
We emphasize sound doctrine because there is also unsound or sickly doctrine that can be taught, and often is taught, in the church. This is false doctrine, doctrine that is also taught in the sphere of the church but which is promoted in the place of and masquerading as truth. Paul speaks of “evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived,” as the end of time approaches. These men are, often-times, men of prominence and men of authority in the church. They can be elders or deacons, ministers or missionaries, or professors of theology.
But whoever these men are and whatever place these men may occupy, one thing characterizes them: these men teach, they are teachers, they actively promote, not sound doctrine now, but false doctrine. To use the word used in this passage, they teach “fables.” Or, perhaps, a better translation would be “myths.” They teach myth. A myth is an imaginary story, conceived by superstitious men and used to lend credence to their religious system. Myths are imaginary stories about gods, or the creation of this world, or natural events, or man’s life and destiny. All of these are used to support one’s idolatrous beliefs. We have almost all heard of the Greek and the Roman myths concerning their gods Zeus or Apollos or Venus or Mercury.
Paul uses that word “myth” in this passage to describe the heretical teachings that often come in the garb of sound doctrine. And that, I would say, is a good term to describe the heresies prevalent today. They are myths, made-up stories of the foolish, sin-darkened minds of false teachers; stories about a weak God, a weak Christ; and myths about all-powerful man and his evolution. That is what we are hearing today. False teachers teach the imaginary stories that make our sovereign God into a beggar or make our almighty Savior into the greatest humanitarian but certainly not the Son of God who comes to save from sin. Imaginary stories that make a sinful man, one who has no reason in the world to think positively of himself, even while he is walking in his sin, mind you. Imaginary stories about this creation and this universe as it has evolved over millions of years.
And so the fables go on. Teachers of this sort have always, throughout history, led many away from the truth into the lie. Yet Paul tells Timothy, here in this passage, that the time will come when they, that is, the members within the church institute in general, will no longer endure sound doctrine. They who have a form of godliness, but deny the power of it in their lives, will turn away from the truth and follow after these fables.
And this will happen to the extent that there will be very few faithful left in this world. It will be as in the days of Noah, that only an elect remnant according to grace will yet exist in this world. How does Isaiah put it? The daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
Oh, there will always be the church. There will be faithful pastors and teachers who uphold the truth. We still will find certain church institutes who exhort with sound doctrine. But the Word of God in the passage that we consider today tells us that in the end-times many members of the church will have “itching ears.” And all this means that people in the church will grow tired of the old, old story of Jesus and salvation for sinners. That just simply is no longer exciting enough for them. It will not be entertaining enough for them. They will desire to hear something new, something different, something that tickles their fancy. They will tire of the gospel and want to hear something different, something that will scratch their itching ears, something that will arouse emotions, something that will make them feel good about themselves. No longer will they desire to hold fast, that is, to maintain, to endure, sound doctrine. They will desire something new. They will desire a myth. Oh yes, that is what they want! Something new. An exciting twist on the Bible. And these teachers, who are false teachers remember, will always be there, and they will give them exactly what they want to hear. They will follow after fables with all the enthusiasm and zeal of recent converts to a newfound teaching.
Now, look around and observe. Is this the spirit that has taken hold of our church-world today? Do not close your eyes now to what God’s Word teaches us here. It is frightening how the trend in almost every (not every, mind you, but almost every) major denomination is away from the truth towards the myths of heresy. Churches do not emphasize doctrine anymore; churches claim that doctrine separates men and that we may not emphasize anything but that which we can all agree upon. All we want is to have a great moral influence on society. No negatives. Doctrines divide. We accept all doctrines.
These false teachers will boast about their self-help programs. They will boast about the fact that they can, through the gospel, make you rich and give you earthly prosperity and happiness in this world. Doctrine? Who cares about doctrine? We make you feel good about yourselves.
It is frightening that few churches are exempted. So many seem to be affected with the myth-disease. Look what they make of God. Look what they make of Jesus Christ. Look at what they do with the Scriptures. Boasting themselves to be wise, they say of the Scriptures that God’s Word is myth, and that what they teach is truth.
That trend in the church-world today is catching on. Make the Bible and what it says to be myth. Creation? Ha! Fall into sin? The Flood? All myths, they say. And people with their itching ears listen with delight and follow after that false doctrine.
But what is striking is what will happen because of these itching ears of unbelievers within the church. After their own lusts, we are told here in II Timothy, they heap up unto themselves teachers. After their own sinful cravings, that is, their loathing of sound doctrine, their loathing of truth, and their own desire for myth, they heap up teachers. Heap up! That surely is a descriptive way to describe the activity of those with itching ears. They heap up, that is, they gather in piles teachers. And that, too, describes what seems to be happening today. These members who are not content with the truth anymore are also discontented with teachers or preachers who insist on proclaiming the truth. And since these members have slowly gained the majority in the church and are very vocal, they begin to win the day. They defy and despise the faithful preacher of the gospel who will make a stand on truth. They challenge those who would insist on sound doctrine. And those who maintain it weakly are forced to give in and follow them.
They begin to heap up, gather, in important places and positions in the church false teachers, missionaries, professors, ministers of the gospel, elders and deacons, Christian school teachers, and so on. They all begin to teach myths. It really does not matter what myth. Everyone has a right to believe what he wants, after all. Everything is tolerated but the truth. It is happening.
And that is why Paul adds in the first phrase of verse 5: “But watch thou in all things.” The word “watch” in this phrase has rich meaning as well. It means, first of all, that we are called upon to observe this phenomenon that is taking place in the church. We may not close our eyes to this and ignore it. As the children of the light and of the day, we must not let the coming of Christ overtake us as a thief. We must be watching and prepared for Christ’s return. This is true because we must observe the times and the seasons—the signs of the coming of Christ. So we are told to observe this sign too. We ought to be preparing ourselves even now for the coming of Jesus Christ.
But while we do, we must not fret and worry. Worrying can be a natural result when we look at the distressing things going on in the church-world of today. That is why we also find in the word “watch” in verse 5 a command to remain calm and circumspect. We ought not to panic. We ought not to cringe in fear. We must do all these things circumspectly. And we must take a balanced approach to them. What must be our reaction to the warning of this Word of God? Radical reaction? Wild and antagonistic resistance to what is happening? No. The church and its faithful pastors and teachers are called upon to preach the Word, in season and out of season. God’s people are called upon to hear the preaching of the Word of God and to gather in His church, though it may be small. Listen to the preaching and do not follow after every teacher who comes along, but follow after those who preach the truth.
That is our calling as God’s people. And it is our calling to teach that to our children. Sound doctrine. Christ comes. Let us watch in all things.
Let us come before God in prayer.
Father in heaven, teach us more and more to watch the signs that are transpiring around us in the church as well as in creation and in this world, in order that we can be prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. May we not give in, Father, to the false teachings and the false teachers who are so prevalent in the world today. Give unto us faithfulness to Thy cause and Thy kingdom. Continue to watch over us and guard and preserve Thy church in this world. For Jesus’ sake we ask these things, Amen.