How to Humbly Give and Receive Correction

How to Humbly Give and Receive Correction

Because we struggle so much with pride, correction can be difficult to give graciously and difficult to receive graciously.

That’s one reason to be very thankful for Exodus 18. God is so kind to have Jethro and Moses give us a clinic on what humble correction looks like on both sides.

The Context

At this point in the story, Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, had escorted Moses’s wife (his daughter) and two boys to rejoin the wild wilderness adventure and heard first hand all the amazing things that God had done for Israel through Moses. Jethro burst into praise and proclaimed God’s supremacy (verses 10–11).

Then Jethro observed his son-in-law at work. Moses was clearly an extraordinary prophet, leader and judge. But there was a problem. Moses spent his whole day judging one dispute after another. Pending cases were backing up. Jethro could feel the mounting frustration and draining fatigue.

Here’s where the clinic begins.

Corrector: Ask Clarifying Questions

When Moses finally took a break, Jethro asked him a clarifying question: “Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” (verse 14).

Asking this question was wise and kind. Jethro didn’t jump to a conclusion based on his own perspective. He asked first.

This gave Moses a chance to explain what he was doing and why (verses 15–16): The LORD instructed Moses regarding the law, and Moses’s job was to teach the people and help them apply it to their particular situations. That explanation was helpful.

Corrector: Be Graciously Frank

Understanding this, Jethro said to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. 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” (verses 17–18).

Jethro was frank: “what you are doing is not good.” No beating around the bush. But Jethro was also gracious. Defective systems can undermine the best mission. His goal was to lift a burden, not tear down intentions.

Corrector: Undergird, Don’t Undermine

Notice that Jethro’s critique wasn’t ad hominem. He didn’t say, “Moses, you’re a lousy leader. It shouldn’t take an administrative genius to see that your system doesn’t scale. Do you think you’re qualified to lead two million people?”

No. Jethro’s goal wasn’t to undermine Moses leadership but undergird him. He observed a problem, sought to understand it, identified the core weakness, and offered a helpful solution (verses 19–23). Jethro aimed to increase the effectiveness of Moses’s time use and the meeting of people’s needs.

Correctee: No Prideful Deflections

Now note Moses’s remarkably humble response: “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:24).

Moses didn’t bristle defensively at Jethro. He didn’t brush him off as an outsider who didn’t understand the organization. He didn’t try to save face by lying that he’d been thinking about doing that very thing himself. And he didn’t pull spiritual rank on Jethro by reminding him who of the two of them heard directly from God more.

No. Moses gratefully received and immediately implemented Jethro’s counsel.

Correctee: In Correction Listen for God’s Direction

Even though Moses frequently received immediate verbal direction from God, he was not narrow in his understanding of how God speaks and directs. Since God ruled everything he could just as easily direct him through a father-in-law as from a cloud.

If God used Jethro’s correction to direct Moses to greater effectiveness, how much more should we be humbly listening for God’s direction in the correction of those he sends to us?

Correctee: Correction Is a Gift, and Not Only For You

Jethro’s correction wasn’t just God’s provision for Moses, it was also God’s provision for the needs of thousands of people. When God brings correction to us through the loving observation of someone else, it’s a gift, but not only for us. It’s often for many others as well. If we pridefully resist correction, we are likely plugging up a channel of grace to others. There’s more at stake in our humility than we realize.

Summary

So to sum up the lessons from the Exodus 18 Correction Clinic:

When giving correction:

  1. Ask clarifying questions to gain a more accurate understanding. Don’t assume.
  2. Be graciously frank. Don’t hint or over-qualify. Just say what you see with the humility that you might not be seeing perfectly.
  3. Undergird, don’t undermine. Construct, don’t destruct. Be a strength by helping to find a solution that pursues the good of everyone involved.

When receiving correction:

  1. No prideful deflections. If the correction is needed, humbly receive it.
  2. Listen for God’s direction. God likes to lead us in ways that cultivate our humility.
  3. Correction is a gift, and not only for you. Your correction may also be someone else’s provision.

Correction is a form of the Lord’s discipline. And Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” May the Lord help us to love knowledge today.


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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.