When I was a child, my family would visit my grandparents on Sundays at their home. As we departed in the evening, my grandfather would give me a bear hug and instruct me to “be a good listener” in school. I heard this admonition hundreds of times over the years. The importance of listening and obedience was greatly impressed upon me.
The same principles apply to discipleship. The purpose of a disciple is to learn and obey — to grow, a quality referred to as being teachable. Listening is the gateway to it. The Bible tells us that much is taught through the ears. We must be swift to hear, James says (1:19), and Paul writes that faith is built by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). God speaks words of life to us through His holy Book.
It is important to hear in order to increase learning (Proverbs 1:5), be wise (8:33), dwell safely (1:33), and be blessed (8:32). By contrast, the Bible warns about refusing to listen to the voice of instruction. Ruin and destruction await the foolish who despise such wisdom (5:12, 13). Therefore, being humble and teachable are valuable assets for a disciple.
The enemy of discipleship is a rebellious attitude, and it’s nothing new. Adam and Eve listened to the Enemy, questioned the commands of God, and then disobeyed. Looking back to Moses’ time, the writer of Hebrews describes the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness as “the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:8). Within forty days of receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites broke the first command and built a golden calf. They hardened their hearts through unbelief (Hebrews 3:12).
What is the source of this rebellion? Why do many people today shake a fist at authority and close their ears to instruction? Because of a rebellious heart. Proverbs says an evil man seeks only rebellion (17:11). Jesus Christ stated, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Behavior once considered rebellious in public schools, for example, is now tame compared to the bullying and violence seen today. The culture is growing colder.
Jethro and Moses
That is why a teachable spirit is so important — something we see in Moses. His father-in-law Jethro met him at their encampment in the wilderness (Exodus 18). Jethro had mentored Moses in Midian, teaching him shepherding, and, undoubtedly, leadership as well. Moses had great respect for Jethro, seen by his affectionate greeting and willingness to share God’s work of deliverance with his people (vv. 7, 8).
During his visit, Jethro observed Moses judging the people’s legal matters. Despite his servant attitude toward his followers, Moses performed this burdensome task alone. Jethro noticed the inefficiency of the arrangement, and so confronted Moses and offered his counsel.
Jethro first instructed Moses, “Listen now to my voice” (v. 19). Jethro warned him about overdoing his kindness, which would eventually lead to burnout and ineffectiveness. Jethro advised Moses to instruct capable men in the ways of the laws so that they could share responsibility of judging disputes.
Here was a teachable moment. Moses could have rejected Jethro’s counsel. He could have said, “Be quiet, old man! I know more than you.” Instead, Moses listened to the voice of Jethro and accepted his counsel (v. 24).
Paul and Timothy
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul describes the end times. These days will show people to be unthankful, proud, despising good, and disobedient to parents (3:2). All of these involve a spirit of rebellion. Paul writes that many will reject sound doctrine and turn to their own desires (4:3, 4). Such people have “itching ears” — only listening to what pleases them, not what edifies.
Paul’s warning to Timothy includes the note that such rebellious people “will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all . . .” (3:9). The apostle offers this young man a teachable moment, observing that Timothy has “followed my . . . manner of life” (v. 10). He wants Timothy to notice his conduct. Paul knows that because of rebellion in the heart, human beings need a change of heart. He experienced that in the abundant grace of the Lord. The self-described chief of sinners underwent a heart change by the patient mercy of Christ. Once an insolent man, Paul became an example to all who will believe in Christ.
My grandfather passed away in 2017. In a message he wrote to me for my birthday the previous year, he reminded me to “be a good listener” — his parting sentiment. I have tried to follow his manner of life in childhood and adulthood.
Grandpa’s desire was that I would grow into a wise man, and I take the opportunity to share this wisdom with the children in my life. I pray that Christ will soften their hearts and provide teachable moments so they can grow in their faith.