I heard an interesting phrase the other day, “Placebo Doctrine.” Let’s define what is meant by the phrase. A placebo is a pill that contains no medication, but is given by a doctor to humor a patient. The word comes from a Latin term meaning “to please” which is what a doctor sometimes does. There are hypochondriacs, people with a neurotic conviction that they are or are going to be ill or sick. So doctors sometimes have to prescribe a placebo “to please” them, so as to “treat” their “sickness.” Now let’s make the point about “Placebo Doctrines” in the religious world.
In 2 Tim.4:2-4 we read, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Notice we have people who have itching ears. They don’t want sound doctrine, the truth, they want someone to tickle their ears. They want teachers to teach things that will “please” them, thus the idea of “Placebo Doctrines.” Preachers are to preach the word, being instant in season, out of season. Which someone has said, preach when they like, and preach it when they don’t like it! You are not going to help a man having a heart attack by giving him a bottle of placebos, and tell him to go home, you will feel good as new tomorrow. Yet, false teachers are telling folks who are morally and spiritually sick, all kinds of erroneous doctrines to please itching ears. Folks don’t what to hear repentance, change your ways, clean up your life, when they are wanting to continue in their sins. No, give us a “Placebo Doctrine” to please our itching ears. We want to hear smooth things, that will please us. Beloved, we should be striving to please the Almighty, not ourselves! The word of truth is what we really need, to bring about spiritual health, sound doctrine. The word sound means, whole, healthy. I want the truth that will make me whole and healthy. I know sometimes medicine tastes bad and applying medicine to a wound, makes it stings, but it’s the only kind that will help.
— Dan McKibben