I Would That Ye Should Be Perfect – 12:48

48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
(3 Nephi 12:48)

During His visit to the American continent following His death and resurrection, Jesus delivered a sermon which included the Sermon on the Mount. Partway into that sermon, He tells us that He wants us to be perfect, just as He and His Father are perfect.

What did He mean by that? The word “therefore” at the beginning of the passage indicates that this statement summarizes the message of the foregoing content. What is that content? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland summarizes it this way:

We are told—among other things—not only not to kill but also not even to be angry. We are told not only not to commit adultery but also not even to have impure thoughts. To those who ask for it, we are to give our coat and then give our cloak also. We are to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and do good to them who hate us (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” General Conference, October 2017).

A daunting set of expectations, no question. How many of us can say that we live up to that standard of behavior? None of us. Not completely, not all the time.

But isn’t this what we aspire to? Even knowing that we can only achieve it with God’s help, isn’t this a description of the kind of people we want to become? Isn’t God the ideal we strive to emulate? Isn’t it our goal to follow the example of Jesus, as much as we possibly can, and ideally a little more every day?

In the Greek New Testament, where this admonition appears (Matthew 5:48), the word for “perfect” is teleios (τέλειός), which means “having reached its end,” or “complete.” It is related to the word telos (τέλος), which means purpose, goal, or end. Therefore, the commandment to be perfect (teleios) is essentially the same as the commandment to “endure to the end” (Matthew 10:22) (telos). (See the discussion of these Greek terms in Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending,” General Conference, October 1995.) When the Apostle Paul compared the gospel path to a race, he described a distance run, not a sprint. He urged us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). You have to keep running until you achieve the goal.

Or, as Elder Holland said:

Every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living. If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human. May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future, or the possibility of godliness. If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” General Conference, October 2017).

Today, I will remember that the ideals taught by the Savior represent a distant goal to work toward, not an expectation I must meet immediately. Instead of becoming discouraged when I fall short, I will be grateful for incremental progress. I am far from perfect, but with God’s help, I can endure to the end, staying on the path that will lead eventually to perfection.

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Having Great Hopes and Much Desire – Alma 7:1-3

1 Behold my beloved brethren, seeing that I have been permitted to come unto you, therefore I attempt to address you in my language; yea, by my own mouth, seeing that it is the first time that I have spoken unto you by the words of my mouth, I having been wholly confined to the judgment-seat, having had much business that I could not come unto you.
2 And even I could not have come now at this time were it not that the judgment-seat hath been given to another, to reign in my stead; and the Lord in much mercy hath granted that I should come unto you.
3 And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God, and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace, that I should find that ye were blameless before him, that I should find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla.
(Alma 7:1-3)

In Alma’s first words to the city of Gideon, he conveys his love and concern for them and his commitment to them. Shortly before this sermon, he had been serving as both high priest of the church and chief judge of their government. That sounds like a lot of work, and, in fact, Alma concluded that he needed to resign from his government job in order to dedicate himself to his church calling (Alma 4:15-20). Consider how some of the phrases in the passage above communicate his love for the people, his confidence in them, and his dedication to their welfare:

  • “The Lord in much mercy hath granted that I should come unto you.” He explains the circumstances which have prevented him from visiting them in person previously, and expresses gratitude that those circumstances can change and that he can be with them.
  • “I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God.” His expectations are optimistic and encouraging: he hopes that they have humbled themselves and prepared to hear the word of God. He also hopes that they have retained a remission of their sins over time by continuing to pray as King Benjamin taught.
  • Even his characterization of the people in Zarahemla, who needed a call to repentance, is compassionate. He refers to them as having been in an “awful dilemma.” What is that dilemma? That they needed to repent. A cynic would say that’s a choice, not a dilemma. But Alma recognized the difficult circumstances we can so often find ourselves in, circumstances that can harden us and make it difficult to turn our hearts to God. He was happy that they had responded to their message, and he wasn’t interested in dwelling on their prior state unnecessarily.

I think if I had been among the people of Gideon, I would have been highly receptive to Alma’s message after hearing those words. He made it clear that he was there because he wanted to be. He had overcome some obstacles to arrive. He expressed confidence in his listeners. And he was charitable to his prior listeners.

A fundamental principle of gospel teaching is the importance of establishing an environment of love and respect. The teacher handbook for the seminary program of the Church says:

When students know they are loved and respected by their teacher and other students, they are more likely to come to class ready to learn. The acceptance and love they feel from others can soften their hearts, reduce fear, and engender within them the desire and confidence necessary to share their experiences and feelings with their teacher and other class members (“Fundamentals of Gospel Learning and Teaching,” Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion).

Today, as I have opportunities to teach, I will strive to set an appropriate tone which will be conducive to learning. I will communicate my desire to be present in word and action. I will express love and respect for those I teach. I will remember that the environment I establish as a teacher can have a significant impact on the learning experience of the students.

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Sufficiently Humble – Alma 5:27

27 Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?
(Alma 5:27)

Among the many questions Alma asks to members of the church during his sermon to Zarahemla is a question about humility. He asks if they have been “sufficiently humble.” I don’t think he’s asking them to measure their level of humility against a minimum standard. I think the purpose of the question was to prompt them to think about what they could do to be more humble.

I love President Ezra Taft Benson’s talk on pride. At the end of the talk, he provided a list of things we can do to humble ourselves:

  • “Conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters,… and lifting them as high or higher than ourselves”
  • “Receiving counsel and chastisement [graciously]”
  • “Forgiving those who have offended us”
  • “Rendering selfless service”
  • “Going on missions and preaching the word that can humble others”
  • “Getting to the temple more frequently”
  • “Confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God”
  • “Loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives”

(“Beware of Pride,” General Conference, April 1989)

Today, I will ponder what I can do to be more humble. I will take specific actions to humble myself.

 

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Have Ye Spiritually Been Born of God? – Alma 5:14

14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
(Alma 5:14)

In Alma’s sermon to the city of Zarahemla, he asks a large number of questions. I’ve been thinking today about the purpose of these questions, and I’ve been focused on the three questions in the passage above:

  1. “Have ye spiritually been born of God?”
  2. “Have ye received his image in your countenances?”
  3. “Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”

After King Benjamin’s speech, delivered about 40 years earlier, the people testified that their hearts had been changed, that they had been spiritually born of God:

Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty changein us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2)

Likewise, the people who followed Alma’s father in the land of the Lamanites experienced a similar conversion:

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word (Alma 5:7).

Alma’s questions represent a challenge to the people of the city: Have you been changed by God as your parents were? If not, why not? What do you need to do to be changed?

Why did Alma present this challenge in the form of a question? Why not say, “You need to be spiritually born of God,” or, “I know that you haven’t been spiritually born of God.” Because the question preserves the agency of the listener. Instead of making assertions or assumptions about their spiritual state, he asks them to self-assess, giving them the opportunity to identify the remedial actions they need to take.

Elder David A. Bednar taught about the value of good questions in helping gospel learners act for themselves:

Consider the question posed by Heavenly Father to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). The Father knew where Adam was hiding, but He nonetheless asked the question. Why? A wise and loving Father enabled His child to act in the learning process and not merely be acted upon. There was no one-way lecture to a disobedient child, as perhaps many of us might be inclined to deliver. Rather, the Father helped Adam as a learner to act as an agent and appropriately exercise his agency (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Ensign, September 2007).

Today, as I have the opportunity to teach, I will remember the value of questions. I will ask questions which invite the listeners to think deeply, to self-evaluate, and to make customized commitments which are appropriate to their needs and which they will be motivated to fulfill.

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The Children of Christ – Mosiah 5:7

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
(Mosiah 5:7)

I’ve been thinking today about what it means to share someone’s name.

In the movie Quiz Show, the main character, Charles Van Doran, attempts to minimize the damage caused by a large-scale fraud he has been part of. Speaking to his father, an English professor, Charles quotes Shakespeare: “‘An ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own.'” he says. “It was mine.” His father immediately replies, “Your name is mine.” In other words, you can’t keep me out of this. I’m your father, and your last name connects you to me. I share in your triumphs. I share in your disasters. We are connected, and the name we share symbolizes that relationship.

One of King Benjamin’s purposes in gathering his people was to give them a name which would deepen their relationship with God (Mosiah 1:11-12). As he explained to them, he wanted them to take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:8-9, 17). As Benjamin points out in the passage above, his people did this in two ways:

  1. They were spiritually reborn by humbling themselves and pleading for mercy. Their hearts were changed, and they experienced joy and peace of conscience (Mosiah 4:1-3). Because the Savior, through His Atonement, made this conversion possible, they have become His spiritual sons and daughters. “This day he hath spiritually begotten you,” King Benjamin tells them.
  2. As a result of this change, and in order to make it last, the people were willing to enter a covenant to obey God for the rest of their lives (Mosiah 5:2-5). This public statement of belief made them the children of Christ in another way: they now represented Him to the world. Just as Charles Van Doran’s behavior reflected on his father, the behavior of King Benjamin’s people would now reflect on their Savior, because they had been willing to declare to the world that they were His disciples.

When we take upon ourselves the name of Christ, we become accountable for the effect our actions have upon Him. Elder Mervyn B. Arnold said, “Someday each one of us will have to account to our Savior, Jesus Christ, for what we have done with His name” (“What Have You Done with My Name?” General Conference, October 2010).

Today, I will remember that I carry the Savior’s name because I have declared myself to be His disciple. I will remember that, because of the relationship I have with Him, my actions affect Him personally. I will strive to behave in a way that is worthy of His name.

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Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins – Mosiah 4:11-12

11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
(Mosiah 4:11-12)

At work, my team is currently rolling out a system which stores a large amount of information. As we import all of the information for each of the organizations at our company, our first concern is comprehensiveness: getting everything in the system and organized properly. Once we achieve the first goal, our attention turns to sustainability: establishing processes and controls which will ensure that the organization will keep their information up-to-date over time. Without a plan to maintain the information over time and keep it current, its value will degrade over time.

It is the same with a testimony of the gospel. As President Thomas S. Monson emphasized in his last general conference talk, “Once obtained, a testimony needs to be kept vital and alive through continued obedience to the commandments of God and through daily prayer and scripture study” (“The Power of the Book of Mormon,” General Conference, April 2017).

Partway through King Benjamin’s sermon, his people make it clear to him that they have received the message. They recognize their dependance on God and pray for mercy and forgiveness. In response, to their pleadings, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience” (Mosiah 4:3). This is what he had wanted for them. But his sermon is only halfway through. Now that his people have obtained a remission of their sins and been filled with joy, he wants them to be able to retain a remission of their sins so that they can maintain that joy forever. Now that they have come to a knowledge of God, he wants them to grow in that knowledge. And now that they have tasted of his love, he wants them to be filled with that love consistently over time.

To accomplish that goal, he teaches them to establish good spiritual practices in their lives. Specifically, they should remember God’s greatness, continue to humble themselves, continue to pray every day, and stand steadfastly in their faith.

King Benjamin was successful in helping his people become converted to the gospel, but even more importantly, he was successful in helping them achieve a durable conversion. By teaching them how to maintain what they had gained over time, he helped them far more than if he had merely given a memorable speech. The actions he encouraged them to take and the habits he encouraged them to adopt helped his people to achieve something far greater than a one-time conversion experience.

Today, I will remember the importance of personal religious activities in maintaining my own conversion to the gospel. I will follow King Benjamin’s counsel and continue to participate in personal religious activities which help me to maintain my conversion to the gospel over time.

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Those…Who Have Ignorantly Sinned – Mosiah 3:11-12

11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Mosiah 3:11-12)

In the second chapter of King Benjamin’s sermon, he teaches an important principle which he learned from an angel: We are only accountable of the things we can control. Therefore, people who sin in ignorance are not culpable for those actions. The atonement of Jesus Christ pays the price for those misdeeds, and they are washed clean of them.

Who are those people? Some of them are small children (Mosiah 3:16). Others may be disabled in some way and unable to fully comprehend the implications of their decisions. Some people may have grown up in a home or in a community where good was called evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20), and may not have been exposed to information which would prompt them to question the values they were taught. King Benjamin makes it clear in the passage above that people in these circumstances are blameless. Their misdeeds are not held against them, because they were committed without malevolence.

But what about the rest of us? I think these verses can both apply to us as well. As we mature, we are all learning to distinguish right from wrong more fully. We all make mistakes along the way, and we all make some decisions, with the best of intentions, which turn out to be wrong. When this happens, we have a choice. We can beat ourselves up and become discouraged. Or we can pick ourselves up, learn from our mistakes, and move forward with confidence that we will do better in the future. If we turn away from God and stop trying to do better, then, as King Benjamin teaches in the passage above, we cut ourselves off from the power we need to overcome those sins. But as long as we are sincerely trying to do what’s right, I believe that He is there to help us.

As Lynn G. Robbins taught in our most recent general conference:

Repentance is God’s ever-accessible gift that allows and enables us to go from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm. Repentance isn’t His backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will. This is the gospel of repentance, and as President Russell M. Nelson has observed, it will be “a lifetime curriculum” (“Until Seventy Times Seven,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will remember that the Savior has paid the price for my mistakes. When I fall short, I will remember that He is willing to continue to work with me and help me grow “from failure to failure.” Today, I will be grateful that God is willing to help me overcome my faults.

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