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.
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.