The prophet Amos was sent by God to warn the nation of Israel concerning their impending destruction. Their sins of materialism, idolatry and wantonness had led them far away from a right relationship with God, and if they did not turn to God they would perish and be lost. Amos was faithful in delivering this message, saying, “Jeroboam (the king) shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land (Amos 7:11; ESV).”
This was not a message well received. The nation, as a whole, preferred to believe that they were not in danger, and that God was still happy with their choices. They could not endure the truth. Amaziah, the priest of the temple in Bethel told Amos in no uncertain terms, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom. (Amos 7:12; ESV)”
Rather than listen to the truth, they preferred to get rid of the messenger and listen to prophets more pleasing to the ears. Less than thirty years later, their nation would be in ruins, and their populace dead and scattered.
Jeremiah, the prophet, observed a similar phenomena in his day. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? (Jeremiah 5:30-31; ESV)”
Isaiah was told by God as he began his ministry, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. (Isaiah 6:9-10; ESV)” This was a fancy way of saying that the people would not listen to the truth, choosing instead to not be saved. It is worth noting that Jesus, in His day, quoted this passage from Isaiah as being applicable to the Jews of His generation (cf. Matthew 13:14-15).
It is a sad reality that most people do not seem to truly crave the truth, but instead prefer to have their own ideas and believes confirmed and reinforced. One can see this in matters secular. If we don’t like the way one channel delivers the news, we turn the channel until we find one which presents events in a way more pleasing to our world-view. If we don’t like what the polls say about our favorite politician or political cause, we reject the polls as being untrustworthy. If we don’t like the message, we attack the messenger.
Reality, however has a way of not caring whether you like the messenger, the message, or any combination of the two. If a weatherman tells you accurately there is a storm coming your way, disparaging his character, and changing the channel will not prevent the rain. Likewise, the Israelites not liking the preaching of Amos and telling him to go home, did not change the truth of God’s message to them. Closing their ears to the warnings only meant they would never take the steps necessary to prevent the catastrophe from coming.
When Paul wrote his final farewell letter to Timothy, he urged Timothy not to grow discouraged in presenting the truth. He told him, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4; ESV)”
People, even in the eternal matters of heaven and hell, will frequently look for those teachers who tell them what they already want to believe, rather than those who will tell them the truth.
God’s people can’t allow the issue of itching ears to prevent them from speaking the truth concerning the weighty matters of the gospel. Regardless of whether men want to hear it, the love of Christ should compel us to give every opportunity to those who might listen to hear the message.
Just as importantly, we each need to guard ourselves against the temptation of only listening to those with whom we already agree. The Bible tells us, “buy the truth and sell it not, (Proverbs 23:23)” but this is not the same as assuming you already know all the truth. If we refuse to listen to anyone who does not say the things pleasing to us, there will come a day when we close our ears to a message of importance, and miss an opportunity to learn, grow and otherwise improve our condition. In matters earthly, this will keep us stagnate. In matters eternal we will be lost.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.