Privilege

I’ve been thinking today about a passage from Alma’s sermon to the people of Ammonihah. Speaking of people who receive “holy callings” from God, he said:

And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

Alma 13:4

The word “privilege” often has a negative connotation, partly because it suggests inequality and unfairness. It is defined as a special right or advantage given to some people but not to others. The word comes from the Latin roots privus, which means “private” or “individual,” and legis, which means “law.” (See “privilege,” Online Etymology Dictionary.) So the word refers to a “private law,” an opportunity granted to some people but withheld from others.

But God’s privileges are not like that. Nephi said, “All men [and women] are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden” (2 Nephi 26:28). God “inviteth…all to come unto him and partake of his goodness, and he deniers none that come unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33). Why, then, does the word “privilege” even apply, if the gift is available to all? Because not everyone is willing to receive it. As Alma pointed out, many people harden their hearts and reject the gift. So it is available to all, but it is only received by some.

On April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith told a group of women in Nauvoo, Illinois: “If you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates (Discourse, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, 28 Apr. 1842; in Relief Society Minute Book, pp. [35]–[41]; as reported by Eliza R. Snow).

Brigham Young said, “If a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him His will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 12, p. 104).

And Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf once illustrated this principle with a parable about a man who boarded a cruise ship but failed to take advantage of the experience available to him because he was unaware that meals, activities, and entertainment were all included in the price he had already paid (“Your Potential, Your Privilege” General Conference, April 2011).

Today, I will choose to live up to my privilege, to receive the gifts God offers to me. I will recognize that God’s privileges are available to all, and I will strive to help others live up to the privileges God has made available to all of His children.

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