Much has been made in recent years of the need for churches to tailor their worship and their message in order to appeal to the “unchurched.” (The term “unchurched” refers to people who do not have a heritage of attending worship on a regular basis.) The thesis is that these people are not interested in the forms and rituals that are commonly associated with traditional Christian worship. Likewise, we are told that they are put off by doctrines and preaching that appears to be judgmental. As a result, many churches now conduct worship assemblies that are more like rock concerts than divine worship. The messages proclaimed in these churches have been watered down to such a point that virtually nothing is viewed as wrong, so long as the individual “loves Jesus.”
When we consult the scriptures, however, we find no justification for this approach. In fact, we find a decidedly narrow perspective from the inspired writers of the New Testament. One of them, Paul, spoke very plainly about this issue. In 2 Tim. 4:1-4 he said, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
Two things are evident in this statement from the inspired apostle. First, preachers have a responsibility to proclaim God’s word, without reservation, and without alteration. This has been true since the time of Moses, who commanded Israel not to add to or to take away from God’s commands (Deut. 4:2), and it is one of the last warnings in scripture (Rev. 22:18, 19). To be ready “in season and out of season” means to proclaim God’s word whether the audience likes the message or not. This was God’s command to Ezekiel in Ezk. 2:7, where He said, “But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.” When preachers obey this charge, they will reprove, rebuke, and exhort, albeit with great patience and instruction. In other words, preachers are to proclaim the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). They must do it in a spirit of gentleness and patience, so that those who hear their preaching will have the best opportunity to obey the Lord’s commands and thereby escape the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Second, people are always going to want the message to be tailored to their own likes and desires. It was already so in Paul’s time. This is why he warned Timothy of this danger. No one likes a message that convicts him of sin, or that corrects what is wanting in his service to the Lord. However, the clear implication of scripture is that we cannot hope to please God in life, or to live with Him in eternity, if we do not listen to and obey the preaching of sound doctrine.
The term “sound doctrine” in 2 Tim. 4:3 actually refers to that which is healthy. The point is that when preachers proclaim the whole purpose of God, as it is revealed in the scriptures, it is good for us. It warns us of the danger of disobedience, and encourages us to strive for the goal of heaven. Just as cotton candy is not physically healthy for us as a steady diet, the messages that tickle our ears and water down God’s commands are not spiritually healthy for us. The sooner we learn this truth, the better off we will be.
Thousands go away from worship assemblies each Lord’s Day having had their ears tickled. They feel good about themselves, but they have substituted spiritual cotton candy for the live-giving meat of God’s word. They go away feeling good about themselves, but drifting ever farther away from God. We will never get to heaven with tickled ears. There is no alternative to preaching the whole purpose of God, for it alone is the power of God to save us (Rom. 1:16).