Monday, December 21, 2015

Helping the Poor and Needy--Getting Priorities Straight--George's Post

Getting Priorities Straight

A.     God’s Greatest Gift to Man

If asked why God created man, most Church members would give the same answer or very similar answers.   Likely many would cite Moses 1: 39, supplying this iconic statement of God’s great design for man’s destiny:   “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”    Christ is the instrument whereby both of these gifts become available to all men.   Christ ushered in the resurrection for all men, something that only Christ could do, being the only begotten son of the Father.    “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”[1]    It is also through the instrumentality of Christ that men may receive eternal life or salvation, which the scriptures call the “greatest” of all of the gifts of God.   “And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end, you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all of the gifts of God.”[2]  [3]

B.     “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”

Recognizing the temptations to which men would be subject during this life, God knew men would have difficulty focusing on what is most important for them.    Though to a lesser degree, and perhaps even in a different way, men would be subject to the third temptation, with which Satan tempted Jesus:   “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.   Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”[4]   Being human, men seek after the glory of the world, vulnerable to the lusts of the flesh, and susceptible to the temptations of the world.    The world is before them, the world is what they see, and they seek after the dominion, pleasures and glories of the world.  Accordingly, God entreats men to “seek” first the kingdom of God;[5]  to lay up for themselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;”[6] and, to hearken and hold fast to the word of God.[7]

C.     Being in the World, but Not Off the World

It comes as no surprise that men, when considered at large, rarely hearken to the Lord’s counsel, as the temptations of this world are too pervasive, too hard and too subtle to resist.   Most think there is nothing wrong in “being in the world,” and even those who think “men should be in the world, but not of it” find it difficult to live by that principle.   The world offers much that is appealing and seductive, and often what is offered, on its face, does not appear to be evil.   Many see the world as providing “morally” neutral choices and have difficulty seeing the lines between “morally” correct and incorrect conduct.    For many, “gray” is the pervasive color.    
Yet traditional Christianity envisions a world where the lines are not blurred and where it is possible to know what is right and what is wrong.   Jesus, during his ministry, said that “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”[8]   Men are admonished to be “single” minded, allowing only light to enter the eye, so that “thy whole body shall be full of light.”[9]
How can men strike the requisite balance between the spiritual side of their beings and the worldly side, at a minimum finding a way to satisfy the temporal “necessities” of being part of the world?    However men might wish to avoid it, living in this world requires that they somehow keep body and soul together.    From the beginning men were forced to labor, working by the sweat of their brows, to earn the bread of life.   Before them were thorns and thistles, tormenting them, causing sorrow.[10]    Historically, Christianity has witnessed countless examples of solitary men, and communities of like-minded men, who felt it was their calling to withdraw themselves from the broader community of mankind, in effort to keep themselves unspotted from the sins of their generations, and in a private quest to draw closer to God through prayer, mediation, self-sacrifice, and piety.    
Whatever the merits of such efforts and irrespective of the piety and dedication of those who have so committed themselves, the Church has never advocated the adoption of such initiatives, but instead felt that men needed to work out their salvation while being in the midst of the “world.”[11]   Indeed, the proposition that “men are to be in the world, but not of it” is a fair characterization of the moral challenge that men are expected to face in this life.   Men’s salvation is to be worked out by learning discipline, and actively overcoming the temptations of the world, rather than by seeking to avoid, escape or flee from them, in much the same way as men are to learn to control of their physical passions, keeping them within the boundaries the Lord has set, rather than to live a life of rigorous asceticism.     

D.    Not a Matter of Striking the “Right Balance”


So while the world is not to be avoided, men are to “seek first the kingdom of God,” putting the spiritual before the temporal, the sacred before the profane, and God’s will before their own.   It would be a mistake to think of this as finding the “right balance,” between the things of the world and God’s kingdom or between the spirit and the flesh.   It is not a matter of balance—a little of this, and little of that; acting providentially or sensibly; avoiding extremes; keeping to the middle of the road; subscribing to the mainstream.  
To the contrary, what is required is to put first what is right in the eyes of the Lord and to do the “right” thing, at all times, and regardless of the consequences—men are not expected to compromise what they think is right in the spirit of expediency or moderation.  Men are to serve God, and do all they can to establish his kingdom on the earth.   They are to keep the commandments; care for the poor and needy; show themselves to be true disciples by following Christ; and, when and if called upon, to give up they have to build up God’s kingdom on the earth.   They are always expected to act morally and to be strictly obedient.   Does this bespeak of an extreme form of zealotry, unfashionably out-of-date and immoderate?   Surely.   Yet, what does it mean to say that “men should first seek the kingdom of God,” if this is not what it means.    Moral conduct is not to be the subject to negotiation and moderation.   It is what it is—whatever the consequences.

E.     Will Christians suffer from putting the kingdom of God first?

Will Christians suffer from putting the kingdom of God first?   Could they escape ridicule, disapproval, and suffering if they were not as inflexible, dogmatic and uncompromising in their piety?   Would it be so bad if they sought to be more accommodating and moderate in their conduct and beliefs?   Is it so important to be so uncompromising in their moral behavior and so forthcoming about their beliefs?    What is wrong about being a little shrewd or dissembling—certainly God would be forgiving?   
There are literally thousands of accounts of uncompromising conduct on the part of the faithful—whether drawn from accounts in the Old Testament, the early Christian church, or the modern Church.    Unwilling to disavow their beliefs, or relax their moral standards, early Christians suffered unspeakable horrors about the hands of the Romans and other pagan groups.   It is easy to find similar stories of piety in the face of persecution and affliction in the Old Testament.   One such example is how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego responded to Nebuchadnezzar’s law commanding that all worship a golden idol.    Each of them might have found a way to compromise, ever so slightly, their principles to avoid being thrown into the fiery furnace.   Yet they chose not to do so:  “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.   But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”[12]

F.     “All these things shall be added unto you”


What did the Lord mean when he said that, if men seek first the kingdom of God, that “all these things shall be added unto you?” [13]   Does this amount to a promise that, if men will simply be faithful in the first instance, they can have it all?   They are not really being asked to sacrifice the things of the world--instead, men are asked to make temporary sacrifices and, once they have been tested or proven worthy, they will be blessed with temporal blessings.   The phrase “all these things shall be added unto you” appears twice in the New Testament, each time appearing in basically the same form,[14] and in each instance in the context of giving instructions to His disciples.[15]   “And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.   The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…. Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.   If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith.”[16]      
Perhaps the counsel is intended solely for those who receive special callings to give, either temporarily or for an extended season, dedicated and single-minded service, leaving all behind for a while to follow the Savior, and not as general counsel to the congregation of the faithful.    The following counsel is given to the disciples at the same time, “And seek ye not what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.   For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”[17]   One can see how such counsel would be appropriate for full-time missionaries or those called to serve as general authorities.   But the advice is certainly not practical, and is at odds with the counsel members receive to be self-reliant, labor with their own hands, and not to expect the Lord to do what they can do for themselves.  
While it might seem prudent to read the phrase narrowly, it is used more generally in the 78th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.   There the Lord is trying to encourage several leaders of the early Church, urging them to “prepare yourself by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you,” for the glory of the God.[18]    Knowing they will face tribulation, the Lord nonetheless reminds them that “you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms…”[19]   Yet they will be led along, prepared for the “riches of eternity,” and “[a]nd he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”[20]   Perhaps, the phrase is little more than recognition that the saints, if remaining faithful, even in the face of tribulation, will at some time be blessed, either spiritual or temporally, receiving blessings, far beyond whatever they are presently able to comprehend, for the Lord in the same section says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings that Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you.”[21]

G.    The Temporal Blessing of Riches

Is it ever appropriate for men to seek the “riches of the world?”   Can such conduct be considered “moral” or is it always at “odds” with God’s admonition to men that they should seek the kingdom of God?   May they, for example, seek riches for the purpose of blessings the lives of others?   This precise issue is raised by the Prophet Jacob, the brother of Nephi, in the 2nd Chapter of Jacob.   “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.   But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.   And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”[22]   Perhaps, one should not be startled by the answer—after all, “wealth” is just a tool, morally neutral, and as such, “wealth” may be used either “righteously” or “unrighteously,” depending upon the “intent” of the one controlling such wealth.    Is it not true that this is precisely what the Lord does—He is the creator of all, and all things belong to Him, and because He loves his children, He bestows liberally His riches upon them that they might be blessed?   If men are to become like their Father in Heaven, they need to develop the same desire to do good, and the same capacity to subject their own desires in favor of doing good for others.   But, as we will discuss at length later, few men are able to possess “riches,” and at the same time, develop the desire and capacity to share what they hold for the benefit of others.   More often than not, they succumb, one way or the other, to the temptations that come with having control over riches.  





[1] John 11: 25.

[2] D&C 14: 7.
[3] See also Rom. 6: 23 (“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ); 1 Ne. 15: 36 (“Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the gifts of all the gifts of God.”); and D&C 6: 13 (“If thou wilt do good, yet, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.”
[4] Matt. 4: 8-10.
[5] See Matt. 6: 33.
[6] Matt. 6: 20.
[7] See 1 Ne. 15: 24:    “And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”
[8] Matt. 6: 24.
[9] Matt. 6: 22.
[10] See, for example, Gen. 3: 17-19.
[11] Full-time missionary service might be viewed as an exception to this rule.   But, even with missionaries, it is understood that their service is for a definite season, after which they are required to resume their normal lives, forcing to find some balance between the spiritual and temporal aspects of life.
[12] Dan. 3: 16-18.
[13] See Matt. 6: 33.
[14] See, for example, Matt. 6: 33 and Luke 12: 31.   See also 3 Ne. 13: 33.
[15] See, for example, Matt. 6: _________ and Luke 12: 22-31.
[16] Luke 12: 22, 23, 27, 28.
[17] Luke 12: 29-30.
[18] D&C 78: 7-8.
[19] See D&C 78: 14-15.
[20] D&C 78: 19-20.
[21] D&C 78: 17.
[22] Jacob 2: 17-19.