Last week our group discussed speaking the truth in love, as described in Ephesians 4. We explored what that would look like, both as a way of life and if there is a need to bring correction to a fellow believer who is not walking in truth. This week we wanted to emphasize the other side of that relationship — what would be a Biblical process for receiving correction?
One of our members brought up a story in Exodus for us to study regarding the entire concept of speaking the truth in love.
1 Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), 4 and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). 5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. 6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” 7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. 9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.
13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. (Exodus 18:1-27 ESV)
Jethro, who is Moses’ father-in-law, has joined the Israelite camp. These are men of the same family, in relationship with one another. They clearly cared about one another and Moses showed him respect, going out to meet Jethro and bowing before him. The next statement is small, but shouldn’t be missed: “they asked each other of their welfare.” Amidst all other pressing concerns and the responsibilities that Moses held of leading an entire nation, these two men slowed down to check in on each other. How often could we avoid confrontation and conflict if we just asked each other genuinely, “How are you? What’s going on right now?” Is it possible that the thing that we think needs correcting would diminish in importance once we genuinely check in with one another from the heart? Isn’t this what love is? James had some words to say about listening before speaking:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)
Notice also that Jethro and Moses are rejoicing with one another (verses 8–11), they worshipped together, and they ate together, along with the elders (verse 12). The top priorities for these men was to connect with each other in relationship and praise and worship God. This reminds one of the words of Jesus:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV)
The next day, all day, Moses is busy with his duties judging disputes among the people of God. Jethro observes this and notes that it is a burden too heavy for Moses. As an outside observer, Jethro can see that continuing in this will wear Moses out. But when Jethro approaches Moses, he starts with questions (verse 14). He wants to understand the situation better before advising. How often do we ask questions first before assuming we know a situation? Now Jethro is in a position to give Moses advice and correction. Jethro has already championed Moses and what God is doing in him before challenging Moses in how to lead better. Even while giving the advice, Jethro suggests that Moses carry it out under the direction of God. And the goal was to benefit all the people (verse 23). Out of a relationship of love and respect that both men had for one another, the truth was spoken in love. Moses listened and did all that his father-in-law suggested (verse 24). Moses must have been acting out of humility, realizing that he could benefit from another’s wise advice. It is interesting that although Moses had a direct line of communication with God, God used another man to speak wisdom into Moses’ life.
A valuable lesson from Moses’ example is echoed in the same Ephesians passage that we have studied parts of for two weeks:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)
Jethro, as he spoke the truth in love, and Moses, as he received the advice and correction, both lived out the humility, gentleness, and love that Paul urges.
Following our discussion of this great example of building one another up in relationship, we addressed the second part of our question: if we are receiving correction, and it is not brought in love, are we still responsible for the truth brought?
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3 ESV)
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV)
Here are examples in Scripture where we are to admonish or rebuke one another and there is no mention of how perfectly the admonishment or rebuke must be presented. As we discussed in our last meeting (and blog post on speaking the truth in love), the Matthew 18 process of correction can and should have a maturing effect on both parties. It seems that the one being rebuked can receive the truth of the rebuke and also admonish the one bringing the rebuke that it was not brought in a loving way. Everyone wins if all parties are growing into love, gentleness, patience, and humility.
This is not to negate the truth we explored last week that our goal is to head into relationship in love. This is to underscore that none of us loves perfectly, but we are called into relationship anyway. And those relationships can be the very things that refine us, teach us how to better love, and bring us toward maturity.
As followers of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), our desire is to know the truths of God as He reveals them to us. Can we ignore truth if it is not brought in love? What is the value of the truth?
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 ESV)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV)
Love… rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV)
God’s truth sanctifies us and sets us free. Obedience to the truth purifies our souls. Love rejoices with the truth. It seems that truth is something for a Christian to value and hold in high regard, no matter its source. Yet we do need to keep in mind that the Word of God is our ultimate source of truth, not the ideas of men.
Proverbs has a lot to say about receiving correction:
Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. (Proverbs 8:33 ESV)
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. (Proverbs 10:17 ESV)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV)
Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored. (Proverbs 13:18 ESV)
A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5 ESV)
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. (Proverbs 15:32 ESV)
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. (Proverbs 19:20 ESV)
Who wouldn’t want the wisdom that is brought by the insights of others who are also growing into Jesus? Why would we waste energy trying to determine others’ motives and the degree of love, when there is so much to be gained by pursuing the truth of what others can see in us? Our group concluded that we should not miss the opportunity to engage with and learn from each other. We cannot control the hearts and attitudes of another and there are times that we need to leave them to God and His discipline. But we always want to be in a place of humility to receive the truths of God as they are brought to us in any form.