What do you look for in a preacher?
Many desire someone that will appeal to them emotionally. Others want an erudite man, who can wax eloquent. Still others look for one who shouts, or one who doesn’t shout, or maybe one who makes them laugh. The criteria by which people judge a gospel minister is varied, and it is impossible to please everyone, though there are many who shape their preaching according to what they think will appeal to the broadest audience.
The apostle Paul, guided by the Spirit of God, admonished the preacher Timothy not to give in to such temptations and instead follow a different path. He wrote, saying; “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! … For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy4:1-2a, 3-4; NKJV)
Paul himself, elsewhere indicated that he took this advice to heart in his own ministry to the Lord. He reminded the Corinthians of his work among them saying, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-4; NKJV)
This is not to say that Paul couldn’t preach a powerful sermon, but rather that his focus, when he preached, was on simply sharing the message of Christ in a clear, truthful manner. He wasn’t preaching to entertain, to make a name for himself as an orator, or to please his hearers. He didn’t want to be in the business of scratching itching ears; rather he wanted to please Christ with his preaching and so he presented the truth about Christ in an unvarnished manner.
When it comes to itching ears, we must acknowledge that it is an affliction in which the afflicted typically does not realize the nature of their spiritual problem. It is thought of as an attitude afflicting others, never self. We live in a culture that encourages self-gratification, and provides ample variety in almost every aspect of life, so that if you do not like one particular restaurant, shopping center, clothing style, music style, or what-have-you, its a simple thing to go somewhere else and find a business that will cater to your tastes. It shouldn’t be surprising that, in matters of religion, we have done the same thing: if you don’t like the way one guy preaches, there’s plenty of other places out there that will seek to suit your religious tastes.
The complaints about various preachers grows long. This one doesn’t have enough humor, that one laughs too much. This one doesn’t appeal to the young, that one doesn’t appeal to the old. This one doesn’t preach enough about sin, that one preaches too much about sin. This one is too scholarly, that one is too unlearned. This one isn’t friendly enough, that one is too friendly. And on and on it goes.
Jesus commented on a similar attitude manifested in His day in relationship to Himself and John the Baptist. John was too austere. Jesus was too socially engaging. The Jews of that generation weren’t going to be satisfied with either one, though both were sent by God. (cf. Matthew 11:16-19)
There is a criterion by which preaching should be judged, but it’s not the criteria most often used: does the man preach the truth of the Gospel of Christ, or is he preaching some other doctrine. If it is true, then the manner of its presentation is a minor issue. If it is not true, then no matter how pleasingly it is presented, its nothing but lipstick on a pig.
The warning to Timothy was that itching ears would turn men away from the truth. Elsewhere God warns us that judgment comes upon those that did not receive the love of the truth. (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10) Preachers need to be careful not to cater to itching ears. All of us need to guard against the temptation to have our itching ears scratched, knowing that such temptation only leads away from the truth that saves men souls.
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us. We won’t try to scratch your ears, but we will seek to study the truth with you. Won’t you please join us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.