31 And it shall come to pass that ye shall be smitten for your iniquities, for ye have said that ye teach the law of Moses. And what know ye concerning the law of Moses? Doth salvation come by the law of Moses? What say ye?
32 And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.
33 But now Abinadi said unto them: I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved…
As the priests of King Noah interrogated Abinadi, he turned the tables and asked them a difficult question: “Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?” He must have suspected that they did not understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ, based on the questions they were asking him. They confirmed this suspicion by answering immediately “that salvation did come by the law of Moses.”
This is not the right answer. No matter how hard we try to obey God’s law, we can’t be saved on our own. In the following chapter, after reciting the Ten Commandments and urging them to keep them, Abinadi clarifies “that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses” (Mosiah 13:28).
But immediately after hearing the priests’ answer, Abinadi didn’t contradict them. Why? He must have recognized that their answer was, in fact, based on a true principle: we should obey the commandments of God. Their understanding of the law was incomplete, and as he points out later in the chapter, they were not living in harmony with this belief, but at least they knew that the law was important. That was something he could build on.
Joseph Smith said, “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, “Chapter 29: Living with Others in Peace and Harmony“).
President Dallin H. Oaks has taught:
Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence (“Loving Others and Living with Differences,” General Conference, October 2014).
Today, I will strive to follow the example of Abinadi and to build on common ground with the people I speak with. When I believe that another person has an inaccurate or incomplete understanding, I will look for areas where we agree and will seek to reinforce and support those common beliefs before expressing my convictions on topics where we may disagree.