In one episode of this century’s best sitcom, The Office, Regional Manager Michael Scott asks Dwight Shrute, assistant to the regional manager, a question: “What is the most inspiring thing I ever said to you?”
[Play clip] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVVsDIv98TA
Good advice for life in general, that.
Some of my favorite advice, however, is from the incomparable Jack Handey. Here are a few examples:
"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes."
“If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let'em go, because, man, they're gone.”
“To me, it’s always a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, “Hey, can you give me a hand?,” you can say, “Sorry, got these sacks.”
“If you’re a horse, and someone gets on you, and falls off, and then gets right back on you, I think you should buck him off right away.”
Jack Handey always gives the best advice. It’s entirely ridiculous, but it’s so good.
I’ve recieved quite a lot of advice in my relatively short life. People like to share advice, often unsolicited. My Uncle Lee is the king of unsolicited advice—some good, some not so good, and some plain stupid. “Now Barrett, what you need to do is this...” “Okay, thanks, Uncle.”
Some advice is such common sense, it doesn’t really need to be said, but people share it nonetheless.
Other advice serves as shove in the right direction. I think about my good friends, Frances McDaniel and Kessie Steuck ordering me (and I quote), “You marry that girl! You hear me?!?!” They were referring to Meghann, of course. And, of course, I listened...out of respect, a little bit of fear, and because it was really good advice.
Nothing is more freely and liberally given than advice. Everyone has an opinion, a tip, a suggestion. Run into a devotee of Dave Ramsey’s, a vegan, or a cross-fit athlete, and I promise you, you’ll know exactly what they are, because they’ll tell you immediately. And then, they will all give the same advice: “You should try it!”
Advice must be taken with a grain of salt. And it must be measured and considered properly. If I took every bit of advice I received, it’s hard to say where I’d be. You can’t follow all the advice you are given, and you shouldn’t follow some of the advice you’re given.
But when someone who loves you and loves the Lord gives you advice that is in step with the Lord’s will and Word—listen to that advice.
In our text for today, Jethro gives his son-in-law Moses some much needed advice:
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Exodus 18. Our text for this morning can be found on page #115 of the Red Pew Bible in front of you. If you’re able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word out of reverence for Him. Exodus 18, beginning with verse 13:
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” 24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
Jethro had come to visit Moses, to accompany his daughter (Moses’ wife) and grandsons (Moses’ sons) back to Moses.
I always loved when my grandparents would travel back to Greensburg with us. Phillipsburg was about 3 hours away; we’d go to visit them fairly often, and a few times, they’d load in the family minivan with us and come back home with us.
That’s kind of what’s happening here in Exodus 18, save the minivan. Grandpa’s traveling with his grandsons and daughter back to where their camp is located, back to Moses.
Jethro is coming to visit with Moses, to hear about all that the Lord had done for Moses and the Israelites.
Moses gladly shares everything they’ve been through—good and bad—and about how the Lord had saved the people for their good yet ultimately for His glory.
At the hearing of these things, Jethro delights. He praises the Lord, Yahweh, the God of Israel; Jethro now knows that the Lord is the one and only God—greater and higher and worthy of praise. He worships the Lord, bringing a burnt offering and other sacrifices to Him. And then, Aaron and all the elders of Israel sit down with Jethro and they eat a meal together.
The first half of Exodus 18 records Jethro’s conversion. It’s a wonderful story.
And here’s the thing: it’s the type of story that’s repeated over and over again as the people of the Lord share the Lord with others and proclaim what He’s done for us.
Pagans (like Jethro) are converted. “Good people” are converted. Nice people are converted. People who think they have no need of conversion are converted, saved, redeemed, rescued by the mighty and merciful hand of God.
>Recently converted Jethro—the day after conversion, delight, praise, worship, fellowship—sees Moses working solo. It was “Moses: The One-Man Show.”
There were, you remember, more than 600,000 Israelite men who left Egypt, not counting women and children or the many other people who left Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:37-38).
So, the prophet, Moses, was governing a nation of roughly one million people (or more), and this, all by himself.
The workload was staggering. Someone said, “This might be the first case of judicial backlog.”
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.
Jethro cares for Moses, and as he’s watching Moses, it’s clear to Jethro that Moses might just work himself to death.
My preaching professor at Manhattan Christian College, Mr. Loren Deckard, told us about a moment in his ministry at Joppatowne Christian Church in Joppa, MD where he served for decades before coming to MCC.
Now, he wasn’t ministering to anywhere near 1,000,000 people, but he kept very busy with the myriad tasks a solo preacher has.
As a cautionary tale to the pastoral students in his class, because he loved us and was looking out for us, he told us that while at Joppatowne he worked himself into a heart attack in his early 30s. The doctor told him it was caused by the strain and the stress of his self-imposed 80-90 hour work weeks.
Mr. Deckard warned us: “If you’re not careful, you might just work yourself to death, or, at minimum, give yourself a heart attack before you hit 40.”
No doubt, that could happen in any line of work, but the warning is a good one to heed.
Moses was working hard; he’s faithfully serving in his role. When Jethro asks: “What are you doing, and why are you doing it alone?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
Put a couple hundred people in a room and there’ll be all sorts of disputes and arguments. Heck, 10 people together for long enough will eventually start to bicker one with another.
Put me in a room alone for an hour and I’ll start to argue with myself.
Imagine trying to settle the disputes of one million people plus. There is no way!
Moses isn’t just settling disputes. Moses is doing more than giving advice.
Moses is seeking the Lord’s will. As the people come to him, he’s listening and then asking the Lord what His will is.
Moses is listening to the Lord and then informing the concerned parties about God’s decrees and instructions.
The people aren’t coming to Moses for his opinion; they’re coming to Moses because Moses is the intermediary, the go-between, the representative of the people before God.
Moses is working hard, really hard, and this—as Jethro sees it—is not good, nor is it sustainable. Moses is in an untenable situation; more than likely, he himself is not going to be able to keep this up.
There’s no way one man—even a called-out, Holy Spirit empowered Old Testament prophet—could ever meet the needs of a group this size.
Moses could not continue the way he was going.
So Jethro gives him some really good advice. His advice is very wise. It makes a lot of sense. It’s practical.
But what makes it good advice is not the practicality of it. What makes it good advice is that Jethro gives the advice with one very important stipulation; so important, he mentions it twice:
Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
Jethro’s advice, good as it is, practical as it is, helpful as it might be, would be worthless and totally useless apart from God’s blessing of it.
Advice contrary to God’s revealed will is not good advice.
Advice contrary to God’s revealed will is not good advice.
If God’s not in this, it’s terrible advice.
Jethro—even as a new convert to the faith—is aware of this.
May God be with you is Jethro’s way of saying, “Here’s my advice; I know God will be with you and will lead you in this direction if He agrees.”
Jethro couches his advice to Moses upon the sovereignty of God. “If God so commands, put this advice into practice and it will help you and the people.”
If Jethro’s advice is contrary to God’s will for Moses and the people, it’s terrible advice. Moses certainly knows this.
No matter if it sounds good or seems right, if God says it’s wrong, it’s wrong. [Boy, that there could be applied to a number of situations].
Let this be a teachable moment for us: advice, even seemingly good advice that is contrary to God’s will as revealed in the Bible—His Word—is bad advice.
We can’t do things merely out of pragmatism or practicality. We don’t operate as the world might just because it seems to work for them. We—God’s people—must pass everything through the filter of God’s Word.
Everything—Ev-er-y-thing—must bow to God’s will and God’s Word.
We are not perfect, not nearly. No church is. If you’re looking for the perfect church, give up; you’ll never find it. And if, in your searching you think you find the perfect church, stay away from it because you’ll just screw it up.
We’re not perfect, not nearly, but we do our best to “do Bible things in Bible ways”. Our understanding is imperfect, but we seek the Lord’s lead as we make decisions.
We strive to do God’s will. We are concerned with God’s decrees and instructions.
We are not perfect, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: I am not a prophet.
“Yes, Barrett. We know.”
I’m no prophet; the Bible says that I’m a herald (kerux), a preacher, a pastor, an elder. And as such I will labor my level-best, along with the other capable, God-fearing, trustworthy men who serve this local congregation as elders to teach you God’s decrees and instructions, to show you the way you are to live, and how you are to behave.
I will labor in these things, we will labor in these things, not because any of that saves (it doesn’t). But knowing what God has decreed and instructed will make you more and more like Jesus; knowing the way you are to live will make you more and more like Jesus; knowing how you are to behave will make you more and more like Jesus.
Becoming more and more like Jesus is the goal. That’s what we’re after: conformity to Christ.
Moses here has a job. It’s a big job. It’s an impossible job to do alone.
Jethro sees this. And Jethro speaks up.
The work Moses was doing needed to be done. The prophet was helping the Israelites solve their problems. Like most people, these Israelites who came to Moses wanted to know God’s will (I’m sure you’ve been there).
So Moses teaches them and counsels them. His task is an important ministry—the explanation and application of God’s Word is crucial.
Moses’ job is so important, but it’s also a huge burden. To carry it all by himself is eventually going to crush him.
So God sends Jethro to give Moses some good advice.
Like Samwise Gamgee to Frodo, Jethro’s advice to Moses is to “Share the load.”
He’s not asking Moses to give up all his responsibilities; his solution will merely divvi-up the tasks.
20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
Some would refer to this strategy as ‘Divide and conquer’ or ‘Division of labor’.
We who look to the Bible might call this presbyterianism. That is, “the spiritual rule of God’s people by a representative group of godly men, whom the Israelites called elders. In the NT, the word for elder is presbuteros (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1).”
P.G. Ryken says this: “Jethro was not trying to take his son-in-law away from his calling. Moses would still be the prophet. He would continue to serve as the covenant mediator, standing between God and his people as Israel’s representative. He would still teach God’s law for daily life. He would show the people how “to live” (literally, “the way to walk”). By the exposition of God’s word and by the example of his own life, Moses would continue to lead the Israelites on their pilgrimage. None of that would change.”
But with Jethro’s advice and God’s help, Moses would have some men to assist him.
Notice the qualifications that are mentioned here; Moses was to be choosy. The men who would help Moses were to be:
Men who fear God
Neither Jethro, nor God, nor any part of Scripture gives two figs about the work experience, the educational background, or the amount of money these men have.
It’s like the children’s church song: “Be careful, little church, who you appoint as elder. Worldly ideals and perceptions are unimportant.”
The qualifications here are not financial or intellectual, but rather moral and spiritual.
Moses was to select capable men, men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.
One’s relationship with God is the first qualification.
A good elder is a man who fears God, who reveres Him, and seeks to honor Him in all he does. This man’s chief desire is to promote the glory of God.
A good elder is reliable. He is trustworthy. He keeps his commitments. He is honest and characterized by integrity. He is not greedy for personal gain.
Israel would be led by these capable, God-fearing, trustworthy men. The NT says the Church is to be led by the same.
Church, thank the Lord for your elders—for Boots and Don and Joe. Pray for your elders. They are listed in your bulletin. We are blessed to have a plurality of elders who love Jesus and His church here in Rich Hill. Pray for us, please.
And pray for those men the Lord is raising up to be elders. I wrote down a dozen names of men in our church family. 12 men I believe could be future elders of this local congregation. That’s an incredible blessing in a church our size.
Thank the Lord for providing men to lead us, and men who will lead us spiritually: in worship, proclamation, and service.
>Thank the Lord for your elders (past, present, and future) and thank the Lord that we no longer have need of a prophet like Moses.
I’m sure Moses was a gem of a guy. I can’t wait to hang out with Moses in God’s Kingdom.
But Moses is just a type, just a glimpse, just a shadow of One much greater—One who is Prophet, Priest, and King.
God has sent His Son to be our Savior. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead.
Jesus is the One who reveals God’s will to us. God has told us to “Listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7)—that’s really, really good advice.
We have a great advantage, because unlike Moses, Jesus never gets tired out. He is superior by far. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He doesn’t get weighed-down or stressed-out. He is all-sufficient, full of grace for even me.
What’s more, Jesus teaches us God’s will, not by new revelation, but by speaking to us through His Spirit as we read the Bible, as we listen to the Bible, as we sit under the teaching of the Bible.
The Church exists because of Jesus, by Jesus, and for Jesus. For all its human weakness, it is the only institution that God has promised will last until the end of time. And this is because the Church is the only organization in the world that is governed by God’s very own Son—the One whose faithfulness is never-failing, the One who washed us in His blood, the One we need.
Let us, with humility and thanksgiving, praise the Lord for His church and confess our deep, deep, daily need of Him.
And here’s some really good advice: don’t try to go it alone. This life is too tough.
Turn to Jesus. Give your life to Him. Trust Him for everything you need. Lean on Him. Rest in Him. Put your faith in Him and be saved!
And then, as He would have you, find a community to belong to, with elders who love you, who will teach you God’s Word and how to live and behave for His glory.
That’s the best advice I have.