The Discussion on the Mount

Early in His ministry, Jesus arranged a teaching opportunity. “Seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain,” Matthew tells us, “and when he was set, his disciples came unto him” (Matthew 5:1). In this account, Jesus delivered a sermon, commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount, all at once to a single audience, presumably a large one. This sermon is recorded in Matthew 5-7.

Luke records a shorter version of this sermon, saying that Jesus delivered it “in the plain” to His disciples “and a great multitude of people.” (See Luke 6:17-49.)

When Jesus visited the American continent following His death and resurrection, He delivered a version of this sermon to a dual audience. The person who recorded this sermon indicated that portions were addressed to “the multitude, while other parts were directed to “the twelve whom he had chosen.” (See 3 Nephi 12:1, 3 Nephi 13:25, 3 Nephi 14:1.) The multitude likely heard the words which He spoke to the twelve and benefitted from those teachings, but at least on this occasion, certain parts of the sermon had special significance to His chosen representatives.

In Joseph Smith’s revision of Matthew 7, the text is segmented in a different way. Jesus instructs His disciples to share some of the content with “the people,” some with Jewish leaders, and some with “the world” at large He also instructs them to keep some information private. This version of the text suggests that He was talking with a relatively small group. At one point, the disciples ask Him an extended question, which He answers with several examples. This description gives the impression of an interactive discussion rather than a sermon.

It seems likely that the Sermon on the Mount consists of a number of principles which Jesus taught on multiple occasions to different audiences. The principles have broad applicability, but they can also have special significance to specific individuals in particular circumstances. The principles can be meaningfully taught to large groups, to smaller groups, and even to individuals. (See Luke 13:24.)

To a group of recently returned missionaries in 1832, the Lord gave the following instruction:

Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:85

This instruction may be terrifying, particularly if you value organization and structure, but notice that He’s not telling us to be unprepared. He’s telling us to be responsive to the needs of our audience. “Treasure up in your minds continually the words of life,” He says. In other words, do your homework, and have something meaningful to say, but don’t follow a script. Observe your audience, and adapt your words to their needs.

The manual “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” provides the following guidance:

As a teacher, you might sometimes find yourself in a rush to cover something you had prepared to teach. While that may be important, be sure that in your haste you don’t unintentionally hurry past an urgent need of someone you’re teaching. In addition to the spiritual guidance you sought as you prepared to teach, seek also the Spirit’s guidance while you are teaching. Try to be aware of the needs, the questions, and the interests of learners. The Holy Ghost can help you discern how a learner is receiving or understanding something you have taught. He may prompt you, at times, to alter your plans. For example, you might be impressed to spend more time than you had intended on a topic or to leave some discussions for later in favor of something that is more important to learners now.

Part 2: Principles of Christlike Teaching, Teach by the Spirit, italics in original

Today, I will look for opportunities to teach the principles I have learned. I will strive to tailor my communications to the needs of my audience instead of following a predetermined script. As I interact with others, I will slow down, listen, and share content which is meaningful to them.

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