S132 - Tickle the ears of their listeners
2 Tim 4:3 says,
‘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.’
We are not referring to ‘the people’ here. For that, please see S9, Worship idols. We are talking about ‘teachers’ who suit the passions of their listeners.
The Greek word for ‘itching’ is knetho and it means rub, tickle, scratch, itch. People who want their ears scratched will seek biblical teachers that captivate rather than challenge, entertain rather than enlighten, and tickle rather than toughen.
In the Old Testament, we see Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah, who made himself horns of iron and declared
“Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed’ (1 Kings 22:11).
King Ahab sought favorable words rather than a word from the Lord.
And there was Hananiah who contradicted Jeremiah’s counsel to the children of Israel to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Instead, Hananiah prophesied in the presence of the priests and all the people that
‘within two full years, I (the Lord) will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house’ (Jer 28:3).
In both cases, these comforting prophecies proved to be false; they pandered to the people and the king rather than what the Lord had intended them to be.
People will gravitate towards reassuring words, and words of encouragement. But the harsh reality is sometimes God’s words can be tough, politically incorrect and even ‘insensitive’. It even occurred when Jesus was on the earth. Many of his disciples struggled with his teachings and called them ‘hard’. As a result, ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him’ (John 6:66)
More than one hundred years ago, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army and an Apostle no doubt, said these words,
‘The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.’
Shepherds of the people must speak the word of the Lord with clarity and not acquiesce to the fear of offending people’s sensibilities. Preachers and pastors must also be careful not to stroke the egos of congregational members in their churches while missing out on their duties as ‘God’s under-shepherds’.
‘You are the sale of the earth but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet’ – Matt 5:13
As shepherds, beware of tickling the ears of our listeners.
S133 - Hold on to the traditions of men (and not God's)
Humans enjoy tradition as it provides stability and normalcy. But following wrong traditions can lead us down the wrong path.
Jesus upheld a few traditions especially the Holy Communion, and Baptism. He also instituted a way in handling offences between believers which will be discussed further in another section. In other parts, the disciples in the Book of Acts created a tradition of church governance consisting of elders and deacons. And the Book of Hebrews encourages Christians to meet together regularly ‘as is the custom’ (Heb 10:25).
As the church is more than two thousand years old, there have been several prominent Christian leaders who have come and gone. They have also led good movements which some of their followers have turned into denominations. Among them are the Methodists, the Pentecostals, and the Brethrens, each with their own flavors which may not be what the Bible endorses. Over time, new leaders emerged within these denominations carrying on these add-on traditions and endorsing them as regular church practice.
In Matt 15:1-9, the Pharisees and scribes observed that his disciples were not washing their hands when they eat, as was ‘the tradition of the elders.’ Jesus was unimpressed and called them out as hypocrites since they had modified the ‘honor your father and your mother’ commandment. If a person declared that an amount, which was to be given to their parents, had been assigned to the treasury of the temple, then, according to their new ruling, it was acceptable; the tradition of men had superseded the commandment of God (Mark 7:8).
- Here are some known church traditions which are not biblical.
Celebrating Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter – Not in the Bible.
- Having Santa Claus and Christmas trees in church – Not in the Bible. In fact, it can result in confusion as to the significance of Christ in Christmas.
- Washing of disciples’ feet over Easter – Not endorsed. Jesus did it but that was that.
- Bearing the crucifix over Easter – Not endorsed.
- Using solely one Bible translation – Translations are translations. There will always be differences and possible errors. Jesus never told us to use just one translation.
- Praying to Mary, mother of Jesus – Not endorsed. Mary is dead. She was a conduit for God to be on earth although she was a most righteous person.
- Removing musical instruments from worship – Not endorsed. The Old Testament’s musical group used instruments extensively.
- Dressing up for church service as a mark of respect – Not endorsed. John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair together with a leather belt around his waist. He was quite unconventional.
As custodians of the church, these church leaders have to be careful to mix their own traditions with that of the Bible.
- Here are some known church traditions which are not biblical.
S134 - Create rules and traditions beyond the Bible
Who creates additional rules in order to give the organisation a unique flavor? Are they not carried out by the leadership team? Hence, leaders have much to answer for.
They define rules that have nothing to do with the Bible. In Col 2:21, Paul said that these people started to define what not to handle, taste, and touch. Paul went on to say, ‘These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’
Creating such rules is a sin. In fact, these leaders end up becoming like the Pharisees, binding the people with the tradition of men.
S135 - Enforce compliance regarding these behaviors
Luke 11:46 says, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’
These religious people of Pharisees and scribes created fear among the commoners for ‘non-compliance’. There was no social media then but these people became like gods to the general population by placing in them ‘fear’ regarding non-compliance (John 7:13); non-compliance would result in them being excluded from the synagogue (John 12:42), a serious affair. A synagogue was a place of worship, a community center and a place to study.
And, of course, they were also watching Jesus. In Matt 12:2, they confronted Jesus as his disciples were plucking heads of grain and eating them. They were questioning him on why he was healing people even thought it was the Sabbath. And when they could not answer him from Scripture, they ‘conspired against him (on) how to destroy him.’ (Matt 12:14).
The Pharisees and scribes generated fear regarding non-compliance of their defined, non biblical behaviors. That is a sin.
S136 - Worship angels
‘Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels’ (Col 2:18).
Asceticism is defined as ‘pious self-denial’ in NLT, ‘self-abasement’ in the NASV, and ‘voluntary humility’ in KJV. These people worshiped angels.
Does it not sound familiar that even in our days, we have people doing that? If they don’t worship angels, they might worship Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary, despite her godly virtues, was still a human being made in the image of God and whom God used as a conduit so that his son, Jesus, could enter the world.
S137 - Stumble believers (especially little ones) through (constant) wrong teachings and lifestyle
Being a Bible teacher is a very serious calling. Jesus said,
‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea’ Mark 9:42.
There are many ways for a leader to stumble someone – improper lifestyle of a leader, wrongful teaching, and inaccurate prophecies. Whatever it is, it is a grave sin to stumble believers.
As believers, the gift of discernment is so vital.