Tickling Ears

Sermon Date

Sermon Series

Bible Passage


Sermon Topics

May 26, 2019

Isaiah 56:9 – 57:13

Allen Burns

Tickling Ears

The final chapters of Isaiah speak about how God’s salvation by grace will change our lives. Christ’s atoning work is transformational. Jesus transforms animals, mountains, and deserts. Jesus transforms kingdoms. And, Jesus transforms the human heart.

Those who are saved by grace through faith are new creatures. They become more and more like their Savior. They repent of their old thoughts and ways, and they replace them with God’s thoughts and ways as expressed in His holy Word.

God’s purpose in our salvation is that we live as changed people. There is no glory to Jesus if people continue to live the same after they are saved as they lived before they are saved. Salvation impacts life.

We are God’s children. He loves us and cares that we succeed and prosper in good works and worship. But, for that to happen, we need discipleship. Our spiritual maturity relies upon us choosing carefully those who we follow.

During Isaiah’s day, the leaders of Israel are responsible for the spiritual development of the people. The leaders oversee how life is lived. We read in the historical books that when the king fails, the people follow in failure. God gives Israel rulers to shepherd His people and protect them from evil, not lead them into evil.

The earlier chapters of Isaiah tell us of how the leadership of Israel fails. They are self-centered and not God-centered. In this section of the book, the expression of failed leadership serves as a prophetic warning. The context of the passage speaks to the Christian walk in the New Covenant, after Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Why do people turn to errant leaders? Paul tells Timothy it is because people will not care about the truth.

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. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Our flesh desires to seek after false leaders. The reason is that we like to have our ears tickled. Bad leaders tickle ears. Our flesh doesn’t want to hear the truth about sin; our flesh wants us to feel good. False leaders please our flesh, but not our spirit.

Eight Signs of an Errant Leader

In today’s age, we need to recognize that because of publishing houses, book stores, Christian radio, movies, conferences, and churches, that there are a large number of people who we follow.

Some people watch Christian networks. Others, listen to podcasts. There are many people who write books. There are hundreds of Christian movies and television shows. All of these thousands of people have followers.

When thinking about the signs of an errant leader, don’t just think of the elders in your church. Think about every category of teacher, speaker, author, and pastor.

There are eight signs of an errant leader.

1)      Blind Watchman (56:9-10)

The first characteristic is that they are a blind watchman.

A blind watchman doesn’t care about the dangers of false teaching. They do not care about evil. They know nothing about the difference between good and evil. They embrace the wolf and the lamb because they do not discern between the two.

Because they are unable to discern, they do not bark. They are a watchdog that cannot tell the difference between mail delivery and the burglar. They do not identify sin because they dare not offend anyone. They will not correct or rebuke. They will not speak out against homosexual marriage or abortion. They will not say that Jesus is the only way. They will not speak against Hollywood trash. In their eyes, it’s all good. They invite all kinds of evil into the church because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

Beware the blind watchman.

2) Lazy Dreamer (56:10)

Beware the lazy dreamer.

A lazy dreamer will not dig deep into God’s word. Studying and taking time to research and understand God’s word is hard work. The lazy dreamer will speak one sentence of scripture for every hundred sentences of feel-good words. There is no meat in their message, and barely any milk. They like to write nice poems and stories. For the lazy dreamer, Christianity is motivational stories, but not about God’s word.

Preaching and teaching the word of God is painstaking labor. It requires work. It requires being willing to learn. God’s word needs to be rightly divided, not dreamt about and spoken in vague platitudes. Beware the lazy dreamer who speaks and writes books filled with gushy, flowery, feel-good, dreamy, fantasy, words.

3) Gluttonous (56:11)

Watch out for the gluttonous leader. They are like a dog who is never satisfied. They eat until they are sick. More food. “Let me stuff my face,” they say. There is no end to their greed. They want a new house, a shiny car, a new jet, and always more money. Their appetite is never satisfied.

Beware of the gluttons.

4) Stupid (56:11)

There are many leaders who are just plain stupid. When it comes to God’s ways and thoughts, they have no idea what they are talking about. Some just like the sound of their own voice. They may sound intelligent according to the world, but in God’s eyes, they are fools. They have no understanding.

They don’t know how to lead sheep to green pastures. They don’t know the difference between junk food and healthy food. Their sheep are sick and dying, and they have no idea how to bring them to health. The last place they look for wisdom is God’s word.

Beware of the leader who has worldly knowledge, but no understanding of God’s ways.

5) Lost (56:11)

They turn to their own way. Not God’s way. Their way. They don’t even know they are lost. They insist on their own way. “Let me tell you about my way,” they say. They are quick to dispense directions because they know their way. “I think you should turn left and then right. That is my way.” Beware of a shepherd who says the words, “I think,” more than, “God says.”

The lost leader prescribes worldly solutions to guide people. They substitute common sense for godly wisdom. They think they know everything, but they know nothing. They love to tell people their opinion. Their success in the world makes them think they are successful in the church. They are lost doing their own thing.  

6) Cheat (56:11)

Some leaders are cheaters. They will do whatever they can to become famous. They cheat on their taxes. They cheat on their wives. They cheat in games. They cheat their employer. Gain is more important than pleasing God.

They are in a hurry to succeed so they take shortcuts by being unjust. What is most important to them is that they gain. They are gluttonous and are willing to cheat to get ahead.

7) Drunkard (56:12)

Beware of the drunkard.

They brag about how drunk they get. They are more likely to show up at the party then they are a prayer meeting. There is a lack of sobriety. Everything is a joke. They look forward to the next day of more drink.

Drinking is habitual. They can’t imagine a social occasion without a drink.

Beware of the drunkard.

8) Oblivious (57:1-2)

The last sign of an errant leader is that they are oblivious. Righteous people are being abused right under their nose. There is evil in the church, and they are completely unaware. There may be persecution under their leadership. Orphans and widows are neglected.

Righteous people perish, and none of the leaders even know what is going on around them. They don’t take it to heart when the righteous cries out. They could care less that God’s people are led to the slaughter.

Thankfully, despite the oblivious leadership turning a blind eye to evil, God cares for the righteous. God will make sure they are removed from evil, and the righteous will enter into eternal peace.

Application: Look for the signs

The Bible says that leaders are to have a stricter judgment. If they allow themselves to be placed in a position of leadership, we are to judge them more strictly.

The New Testament is full of warnings against bad leadership. Jesus tells His disciples to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16a). Paul tells Timothy that evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving, and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:13).

The errant leader need not have all of these signs. All it takes is one of these character flaws to lead people away from God. Just having one of these characteristics is dangerous. This is a convicting list.

As we look at this list, we see some common themes. These leaders are very self-centered. They do a lot of self-promotion. Their greatest interest is caring for themselves. They brag about their accomplishments. They defend their lavish lifestyle. They are not interested in proclaiming the truth of sin and rebellion. They are interested in gaining followers more than they are interested in proclaiming, “thus says the Lord.”

They don’t care if the church becomes like the world. They allow wolves in the pasture as long as the wolves follow.

Application: Examine Thy Shepherd (Pastor, Elder, author, Speaker)

Are we willing to recognize the influences in our lives, and get rid of them if they lead us astray? Here are a few questions to ask yourself about that guy or gal whose book you read or that great speaker on the Christian radio.

  • Does your shepherd speak against evil?
  • Does your shepherd labor over God’s word?
  • Is your shepherd humble?
  • Does your shepherd show self-control?
  • Does your shepherd know and follow God’s Word?
  • Is your shepherd honest?
  • Is your shepherd sober-minded?
  • Does your shepherd attract the righteous?

There are many more questions that can be asked. The point is, God calls His children to be discerning. Just because a book is at the Christian book store doesn’t mean it is filled with truth. Just because someone is on the Christian radio station or television station, doesn’t mean they have God’s approval.

I am not going to list off names of dangerous leaders. There are way too many. There are dangerous leaders in churches within 50 miles. There are many on Christian radio and in book stores.

How well do you know these people? Have you put them to the test? Do you know what they are like every day? Do you trust them with your soul? Show discernment. Stop letting false teachers tickle your ears.

Be responsible followers. Open your eyes. Be a student of God’s word. Examine those you allow to influence your Christian walk.

Four Signs of an Errant Follower

The people who follow such leaders will consciously, or unconsciously adopt the attitude of the leaders. Here are the warning signs that help us see if we are an errant (wayward) follower.

Mock the righteous

A sign of a wayward follower is that they will mock the righteous. They will call them “goody-two-shoes,” a “boy scout,” “straight-laced,” or “religious.” They make fun of them because they won’t watch R-rated movies. They think they are prudes because they don’t drink. They don’t think of them as someone who likes to have fun.

People who seek holiness will not fit in this world. Our flesh prefers a little bending of the rules here and there. Girls like guys with a little bit of bad boy in them. Movies with holiness will not sell as many tickets as movies with unrighteousness and rebellion.

Embrace Idolatry

Those who are off the path of righteousness are those who embrace idolatry. We often confuse idolatry with bowing down before false gods. Being idolatrous does not require having statues and altars with incense.

Anyone who says there is no such thing as idolatry among Christians does not understand the Scripture. They probably say that because they don’t want to admit that they are idolaters.

The New Testament says there is such a thing as idolatry among Christians. It identifies idolatry as covetousness. We don’t need to worship a statue of a false god to be an idolater. We qualify as an idolater if we covet something that we do not have. Coveting is craving and longing. It is greed. Paul refers to coveting as “idolatry” in two verses:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Greed and coveting is idolatry.

The way we walk around looking at our phones qualifies as some sort of idolatry. And for those who don’t have a smartphone, chances are if we follow you around for a week, we can help you identify an idol or two in your life.

Here is how it works. Let’s imagine that we all desire to have a beautiful mansion. We work extra hard to get the money for the mansion. We go to night school. We go online and look at different floor plans, and we get pictures of landscaping.

The extra hours of work and the time going to night school, we call a “sacrifice.” In God’s eyes, we are making sacrifices for the things that we covet. There are all sorts of things people covet. Christians covet material things such as houses and property. We covet money and retirement accounts. We covet entertainment and vacation. We covet many things. None of these things are bad. They are neither bad nor good. They are things.

What is wrong is our heart attitude and lack of being content. God desires for us to find satisfaction with righteousness and holiness.

Pursue immorality

Another sign of an errant follower is their attitude and disposition towards immorality. Our culture is chock-full of immorality. It is impossible to walk through a shopping mall or to see a television commercial without being visually assaulted.

What we see at the mall or on television is in public. Imagine what happens behind closed doors. To avoid the pitfalls of immorality, we need to be accountable to one another.

Satan is the prince of darkness and longs to keep God’s children in the dark. Under the cover of darkness, sin is rampant. Being in a healthy relationship with someone in the church will help us keep our lives in the light.

We need to guard our heart. If we flirt with sin, we will fall into sin. Never underestimate the power of the flesh. Proverbs warn us to walk on the other side of the street from those who seek to lead us astray in immorality. Guard your computer with a computer program (Covenant Eyes). Don’t allow yourself to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. Beware of texting and email. Your spouse ought to have your logins and passwords.

If you think you are immune to immorality, you are in great danger. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he falls” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

No fear of God

The last warning sign given to us about being an errant follower is that we do not fear God as we ought.

To fear God is to have a reverence for Him. We fear Him as Judge of the living and the dead. We respect His power and might. We admire His goodness. We recognize that we receive everything from His hand. We look at the stars in the Milky Way galaxy and at the growing of plants in the garden, and we are amazed by His sovereign control over all things.

When we forget God, we forget how He speaks to us in His Word. The Bible sits on the shelf or in the car, and we only pick it up to go to church on Sundays. When there is no fear of God, He is silent. Those who don’t fear God don’t hear Him speak. They don’t hear His warnings. They don’t study to see how His word fits into their lives.

Those who don’t fear God wake every day, set about to accomplish their agenda, and seldom think about God’s purpose and plan. Instead, they think of their idols. They invest in family, school, job, friends, or a hobby. They hope these things will bring them their joy.

But, when trouble comes, the idols will not deliver. The idols in life cannot give us the peace and comfort we seek. Idols never satisfy the soul. Only God satisfies our soul.

Those who trust in their idols will be carried away like chaff from the wheat by a gust of wind.

Application: Do you see these signs in your life?

Are we willing to examine your life to see if we may be off the path? Are we errant followers? Do these characteristics exist in our life?

It’s possible that these signs are creeping in and slowly growing. God gives us His word to warn us and to help us see when we are in danger.

Application: Examine Thy Faith

Here are some questions to ask ourselves.

  • Are you willing to examine your shepherds?
  • What is your view of righteous “do-gooders”?
  • How much do you value your entertainment?
  • How much do you value material possessions?
  • Are you comfortable around immorality?
  • Is your fear of people greater than your fear of God?

Take refuge in God

The main idea of the message is that we need to examine our shepherds and our faith so we may be sure to stand on God’s holy mountain.

We may not separate our salvation from our life. Salvation is a call to be set apart from the world. We are to put our trust in God and His ways. God gives us His word so we may grow. We need leaders to help us. We need teaching and correction. We need to be equipped.

When God saves us, a work of transformation takes place. We follow people who proclaim Christ. We live holy lives, set apart for the gospel. Trust God and take refuge in Him.