“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 4:3-4
“Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things … let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 30:10-11
These are words we know as Evangelicals. We know about liberal churches and wishy-washy Christians and even pagans for that matter, who will not listen to the Word of God. They want to hear smooth things to suit their itching ears. They want a positive message that makes them feel good. They don’t want a message that will make them feel uncomfortable and call on them to repent.
That’s how I used to think of the Pharisees when I read about them in the Gospels. The Pharisees were those religious, stubborn-hearted fools! But then I realised one day that I was looking in the mirror. The Pharisees are us: you and me. The Gospels are not written for the Pharisees ‘out there’. The Gospels are written for us. We are the Pharisees.
On one level, it’s true, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and Isaiah 30 are not about me. But on another level they must be. Could you and I ever be at the point where we don’t want to be confronted with the Word of God?
The doctrine of sin is always for me a key doctrine in the Bible. So many heresies and errors arise when we downplay our own sinfulness. I am utterly sinful. So are you. When we read the Bible our instinct is not to believe and obey it, but to disbelieve it and disobey it. Yes, there is a battle going on between my sinful nature and God’s Holy Spirit within me (Galatians 5:17), but that is the point: it’s a battle. It’s a battle to read my Bible and believe it and obey it. There is a Pharisee inside me that will justify my sin and rationalise my disbelief.
2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. The Bible reproves me and corrects me. I am sinful. I need reproof and correction. When I read the Bible I need to see where my beliefs and behaviour are in error, and let it correct me.
I wonder as a pastor what is going on sometimes when I and other folk at church come on a Sunday to hear the sermon and hear the Bible read out. Do I have a check-list of my own Christian beliefs and values, so that I listen to the sermon to see how it measures up? Am I critiquing the preacher to see if he preaches what I already believe and want to hear?
What if I hear something from the Word of God that challenges me, that causes some cognitive dissonance, that gets under my skin and makes me feel uncomfortable? What will I do with that? Will I dismiss it and say it can’t be so? Or will I allow the word of God to correct my long-held beliefs that may have been in error?
Am I sitting under the Word of God? Is it changing what I think? Is it correcting me? Do I come to church to be changed? Am I approaching the reading of the Bible knowing that I have a sinful heart in need of correction?
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