The Value of Godly Training—and Advice

The Value of Godly Training—and Advice

If someone were to ask you, “How can I know God’s will?,” I hope our answer would be, “By turning to his Word, the Scriptures he’s left us in the Old and New Testaments.” Since God’s ways are not necessarily our ways,[1] it’s important to measure what we think and do by what he teaches. But what if you lived in a time prior not only to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid 15th century but also to the time when God’s Word had been recorded and written down? How would you know God’s will then? This was the dilemma faced by the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Yet since the people knew that God spoke to them through Moses, his chosen prophet, they therefore went to him with all of their disputes to the point of wearing him out. But, fortunately, Moses’ father-in-law then stepped in to give him advice that provided a better way of leading God’s people in a godly manner.

Turning to verse 1 of Exodus 18, we read, “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” It’s been a while since we’ve seen Jethro—or Zipporah and Gershom, for that matter. Jethro was first mentioned in Exodus 2.[2] When Moses killed an Egyptian he saw beating one of his countrymen, he fled Egypt to Midian upon realizing that someone had witnessed what he had done.[3] Subsequently, he met and married Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel, the priest of Midian.[4] Zipporah then bore Moses their first son, Gershom.[5] Concerning Reuel, Zipporah’s father, in Exodus 3 we learn that he also went by the name of Jethro.[6]

In the verses that weren’t read aloud this morning, we’re told some of the back story concerning Moses’ family. As stated in verses 2–4, “After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, ‘I have become a foreigner in a foreign land’; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, ‘My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.’” As to why Moses sent away his wife and two sons, it’s possible that he did so early on in anticipation of what lay ahead for him in Egypt and that now that the LORD had safely delivered him and the Israelites from the Egyptians, his family returned to join him. However, I think it’s more likely that Zipporah had remained with Moses throughout the time he was in Egypt and that, as one commentator suggests, “Moses sent Zipporah to her father with the news that the Lord had blessed his mission…and that he was in the vicinity of Mount Sinai with Israel.”[7] This would explain: first, and again, how Jethro had heard of everything God had done for Moses and Israel in bringing them safely out of Egypt; second, how a second son had been born to Moses and Zipporah;[8] and third, why Moses made much of seeing his father-in-law again but no mention is made of his reaction upon seeing his wife and sons who returned with Jethro to see Moses in the wilderness as stated in verses 5–6.[9] Had he not seen his wife and children throughout his time in Egypt, it seems unlikely that Moses’ focus would have been solely upon his father-in-law as we find here.

Now as is the case with most reunions, after greeting one another,[10] the two men caught up. As stated in verse 8, “Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” For his part, Jethro, beginning with verse 9, “was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’” Then, as an expression of his gratitude to the LORD, this priest of Midian “brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.”

Next we once again see Moses in his role of bringing God’s Word to his people. As stated in verse 13, “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.” Day and night. Night and day. Moses sat and answered the people’s questions. This didn’t sit well with Jethro who asked him, verse 14, “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?” Moses’ responded, beginning with verse 15, “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.” Apparently, this large nation had many things they disagreed about! Far more than any one person could—or should—handle.

Consequently, the LORD used Jethro to keep Moses from wearing himself out. As stated beginning with verse 17, Jethro told him, “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.” Now perhaps this should have been obvious to Moses, but either it wasn’t or it was and he didn’t know what to do about it. Therefore, Jethro helped him navigate between the rock of bringing the people God’s Word and the hard place of teaching them to apply it to their varying circumstances and disputes. As Jethro went on to exhort, verse 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.” Jethro wasn’t suggesting that Moses stop being the mediator between God and the people. He understood that this was part of what God had appointed him to do. However, in what follows, Jethro provided a way of navigating the morning-to-night dispute mediation Moses had been doing. Therefore, he told him:

First, verse 20: “Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.” Moses should by all means, in word and deed, continue to bring the LORD’s teaching to the Israelites in order that they might live according to his commands;

However, second, as indicated in verse 21, Moses was to “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.” Moses should find men who, like he, sought after God’s heart so that they could help him in this enormous task of judging the people’s disputes;

Third, as recorded in verse 22, Moses should “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.”[11] As Jethro goes on to note, this would prove to be an ideal solution for, verse 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.” It’s important to note that Jethro added “and God so commands.” He understood the importance of discerning God’s will in all decision-making—including this one. But if God did so command, Moses would be better able to carry this load as the people would still receive much-needed guidance in resolving disputes but he would limit himself to dealing with more complex issues whereas those he appointed would deal with more run-of-the-mill matters.

Moses must have heaved a huge sigh of relief for, as stated beginning in verse 24, he “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.” Jethro’s work being done, the chapter closes by stating, “Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.”

Jethro’s godly advice provided Moses a means for him to continue doing the work God had placed before him without working himself down to the bone. Whereas prior to Jethro’s coming Moses had sought to honor God by both bringing the people his instruction and settling disputes in a manner that honored him, he had been doing so at the expense of his own health. Jethro’s guidance allowed Moses to continue honoring God without wearing himself out. His counsel proved to be important advice for training in godliness both for Moses and for those whom the LORD had placed in his charge.

As we turn to our New Testament passage, we see the Apostle Paul similarly offering Timothy, his son in Jesus Christ,[12] godly advice. As chapter 4 of this first letter to Timothy begins, Paul is warning him concerning false instructions taught by those who have abandoned the faith and chosen instead to follow “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”[13] rather than holding to the truths God has disclosed in his Word.[14] He then encourages Timothy to “point these things out to the brothers and sisters” and thereby prove to be “a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.”[15] Paul then adds, verse 7, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” What we continue to see throughout Scripture is that there are two paths we can travel: the path of ungodliness that rejects the faith and instead follows the teaching of deceiving spirits and demons luring people away from faith in Christ; versus the path of godliness that embraces the faith and admonishes people to learn, study, and follow the teachings that God in Christ has left us in the Old and New Testament Scriptures inspired by his Holy Spirit.[16]

In urging the latter, the path of godliness, Paul compares godly training to physical training in verse 8. He observes that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” We who live in the western part of the world can become obsessed by physical training, can’t we, as we’re regularly encouraged to:

count the number of steps we walk each day;

count the number of calories we consume;

count the number of pounds we gain—or lose;

make resolutions to eat better and exercise more;

Consequently, we’re apt to judge politicians, entertainers, influencers, and others by noting the external: how good or bad they look—or how much weight they’ve gained or lost—or how they’ve aged or still look so young. In short, we are preoccupied with the external package of our souls and its physical training. Yet, Paul—as is true in all of Scripture—is concerned with our internal package, with our actual soul or spirit. Again, although he notes that “physical training is of some value, godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”[17]

So it’s worth asking ourselves: What if we devoted as much energy and effort to godly training as we do to physical? What if we regularly thought about:

what the Scriptures say and teach;

and how best to pray—to talk with—our loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit both on our behalf and that of others;

and ways we could help our brothers and sisters in Christ;

and finding opportunities to share the love of Jesus, in word and deed, with those who don’t yet know him?

These are but a few examples of godly activities that have value for all things; that hold promise for both the present life and the life to come. Or, to put it another way, these are but a few examples of ways that we can train ourselves to seek to be like Jesus Christ as an expression of our gratitude for his sacrifice and love for us. Since by his Holy Spirit God in Christ is conforming us into the image of his Son,[18] as we submit to his working in our lives, we’re enabled to be and become the people he intended and to live more according to his purposes.

For as Paul underscores in verse 9, the value of godliness for all things in both the present life and that to come “is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.” It’s the reason why Paul worked so passionately to proclaim and live out the Gospel. As he states in verse 10, “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” Godly training and living demonstrate:

that we have placed our hope in the living God who, by his Holy Spirit, resides within all who likewise believe, uniting them in Christ Jesus;[19]

that we therefore believe and seek to live according to the teachings he’s left by his prophets, Son, and apostles;

that we embrace the truth Christ Jesus proclaimed—that he came into the world not to condemn it but that through him it might be saved.[20] For Christ is Savior of all in that he offers salvation to all who would receive it, no matter what their background or station in life. And the good news of the Gospel is especially meaningful as all who have received it can attest. Indeed, this is why Paul exhorts Timothy, verse 11, “Command and teach these things” for these things are the heart of the Gospel; they’re the reason God in Christ came to earth: to live, suffer, die, and rise on behalf of those who believe in him and who thereby receive eternal life by the Holy Spirit he sends who makes all who so believe one with him and one the Father.

Paul then turns to offer Timothy some specific godly advice. As stated in verse 12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Though Timothy may have been young—likely in his 30s and therefore young to be in such a position of authority—Paul wanted him to stand firm and not let anyone dismiss him for that reason. The best way for Timothy to do so would be by displaying his godliness: in how he spoke; how he acted; how he loved others; how he shared and lived out his faith in Christ; and by resisting rather than succumbing to temptation. Paul desired Timothy, in essence, to listen to his godly advice by participating in godly training. Therefore he emphasized, verse 15, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” If Timothy behaved in a godly manner, people would notice. As Paul again exhorted, verse 16, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As those who have been made by God to be in relationship with him and each other, we need to know that none of us is an island. What we say and do affects not only us but those around us. Therefore, those who belong to God in Christ Jesus are to persevere in godly living and godly training. As one scholar notes, “Sanctification”—our being made godly, holy like God is—“is a work of God which demands the cooperative activity of the Christian.”[21] If we so cooperate, then our words and deeds will evidence that we are children of our heavenly Father, saved by him to enjoy him both now and forever; saved by him to point others to his Son, Jesus Christ, that they, too, might know him as their Savior and Lord.

Dear sisters and brothers, our passages this morning are beautiful illustrations of Jesus’ summary of the teaching of the law and the prophets. Jesus said that the most important commandment is that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.[22] Because our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has made us for himself, we are to seek his will by learning—and applying—his Word. The Word of God is the most important tool we could ever have for knowing his will. And the Word of God is the most important tool we could ever have for training in godliness, for learning to be like God. For godly living is God’s will for us. We can know this because this is what he has disclosed in both his living Word, Jesus Christ, the Son he sent into the world; and his written Word given by his prophets in the Old Testament and his apostles in the New Testament.

But Jesus said that the second most important commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.[23] This tells us that God not only made us for himself; he also made us for each other. He made us to be social. He made us to live not in isolation but in community with one another. This is true whether we are young or old; healthy or sick; single or married; male or female. All people of all races, ages, backgrounds, and socio-economic classes are created for each other. And aren’t we glad God did for, let’s admit it, life is hard. Yet God never intended us to face it alone. In all things, he desires us to know that we are not alone. Therefore, he desires us—he calls us—to turn to him[24] by loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and he desires us—he calls us—to turn to one another by loving each other as we love ourselves.

In the story of Jethro and Moses, we see how God used Moses’ extended family, his father-in-law, to offer godly advice and so help Moses in his God-ordained task; in the godly advice that Paul gave his spiritual son, Timothy, we similarly see God using an older believer to provide godly advice and training to a younger one. And so should we help one another by providing godly advice and encouraging one another in godly training, by together:

Praying to our gracious and great Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

Encouraging each other to place our hope in the living God who offers his salvation, his Son and Holy Spirit, to all who would believe and receive him;

Setting an example for one another in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity;

Devoting ourselves to the public reading of Scripture and preaching his Word as we do each week when we gather to worship him as his family;[25]

Teaching his Word, as we do each week when we gather for both adult ed and worship as his family;

Watching our life and doctrine closely and persevering in them in order that others may be saved;

For we need ever to remind one another that though physical training is of some value, godly training has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. If we do these things, then we will be well-prepared to love our precious and gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength;  If we do these things, then we will be well-prepared to love each other as ourselves as we offer and receive godly help and advice as we journey together this side of heaven in anticipation of one day journeying together in our eternal home once this life is past.

Let us pray.

[1] Isaiah 55:8–9: 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

[2] See sermon preached on July 18, 2021, The Living God Is God of the Living! On Exodus 2:16–3:10.

[3] Exodus 2:11–17: 11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.

[4] Exodus 2:16–21: 16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” 19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.

[5] Exodus 2:22: Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”

[6] Exodus 3:1: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Concerning these two names, the Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 2:16 notes that “Reuel” means “friend of God” whereas Jethro “may be a title meaning ‘his excellency.’”

[7] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 18:2. Sinai, as we know, is where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20.

[8] Concerning his sons’ names, the Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 18:3–4 states that they serve to remind both Moses and Israel “of his time as a sojourner…in another land”—Gershom sounds like the Hebrew for a foreigner there—“and that Yahweh, the God of his father, was his help.”—Eliezer means “God is helper. ”

[9] Exodus 18:5–6:Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”

[10] Exodus 18:7: So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent.

[11] Emphasis added.

[12] 1 Timothy 1:2: To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.; 2 Timothy 1:2: To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.; 1 Corinthians 4:17: For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.; Philippians 2:22: But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

[13] 1 Timothy 4:1–3: 1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

[14] 1 Timothy 4:4–5: For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

[15] 1 Timothy 4:6: If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

[16] 2 Timothy 3:16–17: 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

[17] Emphases added.

[18] 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.; Romans 8:28–30: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

[19] Romans 8:1–2, 38–39: 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death….38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[20] John 3:17–18: 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

[21] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on 1 Timothy 4:16. It cross-references Philippians 2:12: 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

[22] Matthew 22:34–38: 34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

[23] Matthew 22:39–40:39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[24] See also Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 11:28–30: 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

[25] See Hebrews 10:24–25: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.