18 And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.
(2 Nephi 5:18)
Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, a group of people attempt to establish a monarchy. Many of the people who came with Lehi from Jerusalem to the American continent followed Nephi as he left his older brothers: his own wife and children and the families of Sam, Jacob, Joseph, Zoram, and his sisters, as well as “all those who would go with [him]” (2 Nephi 5:6). He was their leader. They believed him when he said that the Lord had warned him to “flee into the wilderness” (2 Nephi 5:5). They called their new land “Nephi,” and they called themselves “the people of Nephi” (2 Nephi 5:8-9). He taught them the gospel, and he directed their work as they built a city, raised animals and planted crops, and prepared to defend themselves (2 Nephi 5:10-15). But when his people requested that he take the title of king, he refused. “I…was desirous that they should have no king,” he says in the passage above.
Why did it matter? As we’ll read later in the Book of Mormon, there are many reasons why having a king is a bad idea. In this chapter, I get the impression that Nephi thought it would be a distraction from the things that really mattered. He was working hard, and he was willing to provide leadership as needed, but he didn’t like the formal title of king. As he says later in the chapter, they were already living “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). He was finding joy in his service, and he didn’t need or want any additional recognition.
In the words of Kerry M. Muhlestein, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University:
In our church we value hard work. We value doing well. We value taking care of our families and contributing to the community. The characteristics we try to develop often help us to be very good at these things. Typically we start out wanting to do well at our jobs, to do well at school, to do good things in the community, to learn to play the piano or sing, and so on—all because we see these accomplishments as things that will help us build the kingdom of God. But the world sees these accomplishments as markers of success in and of themselves, not as ends to the means of furthering the cause of Zion. Sadly we fall into that trap so easily. As the world lauds these accomplishments, it usually does not take long until we start to use worldly standards and measure success by how well we do at work or by what kinds of degrees we have or by how much recognition we get from others for the things we do or the talents we have developed….
And when we start to let the world define prestige or success for us, then…we have pulled our legs out from under ourselves (“Why We Must Be Wholeheartedly Holy,” BYU Devotional Address, 12 May 2015).
Today, I will strive to follow Nephi’s example of leadership. I will work hard and will do whatever I can to help my teammates be successful. I will find joy in my work, and I will not allow myself to be distracted by recognition.