This Is the Law and the Prophets – 3 Nephi 14:12

12 Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.
(3 Nephi 14:12, Matthew 7:12)

After teaching the principle which we commonly call the Golden Rule, the Savior said, “This is the law and the prophets.” What did He mean by that?

The Hebrew Bible, which contains the same text found in the Old Testament, is divided into three groups of books:

  1. The Law – The first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These are also called the Torah, the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses.
  2. The Prophets – This group of books represented the writings of prophets other than Moses, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi.
  3. The Writings – All of the other books, including Psalms, Proverbs, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

These categories were well understood in Jesus’s culture. For example, when a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36), he meant quite literally, “What is the most important commandment in the five books of Moses?” Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Then, He added a second commandment, also from the law: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).

So when He says in the passage above that the Golden Rule “is the law and the prophets,” He is telling us that this principle sums up everything we might learn from the five books of Moses or from any of the other prophetic writings in the Old Testament.

One of my favorite classes in college was Economics 110. The professor would teach us a principle using a number of examples. The homework consisted of a completely different set of examples which were relatively easy to solve if you understood the principle, but which were confusing if you were trying to tie them back to the examples from class. Without understanding the core principles, you had no hope of understanding how to complete the homework.

It’s the same with spiritual principles. The Apostle Paul wrote, “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And he went on to say, “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Galatians 5:14, 18). I think he meant that, once you get the principles, you don’t have to memorize lists of rules any more. You apply the principles to each unique circumstance you encounter without having to find a precedent for each decision.

President Russell M. Nelson described a liberating experience in which he understood the principle of sabbath observance:

In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.12 With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” General Conference, April 2015).

Elder Richard G. Scott taught that identifying true principles is an important part of acquiring spiritual knowledge:

As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle. I have tried to do that with gaining spiritual knowledge (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” General Conference, April 1993).

Today, I will strive to live according to true principles. I will be grateful for examples of true principles in the scriptures and in the words of living prophets. But I will strive to understand and internalize the principles underpinning those examples, so that I can apply those principles to the variety of circumstances I will face.

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I Never Knew You – 3 Nephi 14:21-23

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
(3 Nephi 14:21-23, Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus values authenticity. Yesterday, I wrote about the dangers of hypocrisy—of trying to look like a good person instead of making the greater effort required to actually be a good person. Today, as I’m pondering the passage above, I’m learning more about that topic.

One characteristic of a hypocrite is a disconnect between their words and their actions. They say all of the right things, but their works don’t match their words. Immediately before this passage, the Savior warns his listeners against false prophets who speak well but who make wrongful decisions. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” He says.

When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, the Savior’s answer to his question reinforced this same principle. Fourteen-year-old Joseph lived in western New York, in what has been called the “burned-over district” during the Second Great Awakening. Preachers from different Christian denominations flooded his community and members of the community aligned themselves with each of those denominations. Joseph’s question was simple: Which of these churches was right? Which one should he join?

He was already bothered by the hypocrisy he had observed among the leaders and members of these churches:

For notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions (Joseph Smith—History 1:6).

After considerable thought, Joseph concluded that he was unable to answer this question on his own, and that he would need to take his question directly to God. In a grove of trees near his home, he was visited by God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In response to Joseph’s question, the Savior instructed him to join none of these churches, then explained why with a combination of three biblical passages:

They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). (See Isaiah 29:13, Mark 7:7, and 2 Timothy 3:5.)

The main point, in my mind, is that words are insufficient for true discipleship. The Savior needs disciples whose actions match their words. When He says in the passage above, “I never knew you,” I think He is saying, “The person you are claiming to be isn’t the real you. I don’t recognize the person you are describing.”

Of course we all fall short; we fail to fully live up to the standards we set for ourselves, which is why repentance is the second principle of the gospel. (See Articles of Faith 1:4). But a disciple of Jesus Christ makes a genuine effort to practice what they preach and to reduce the gap between their words and their actions over time.

Today, I will strive to live in a way that is consistent with the principles I teach. I will remember that discipleship is about action, not just about words, and that a disconnect between my actions and my words is unsatisfactory. I will strive to be authentic.

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They Have Their Reward – 3 Nephi 13:2, 5, 16

2 Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward….
5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward….
16 Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
(3 Nephi 13:2, 5, 16, Matthew 6:2, 5, 16)

If we do something good, does it matter why we did it? In the passage above, the Savior indicates that our motives affect the blessings we receive from our good works. Why is that?

The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word ὑποκριτής (hupokrités), which refers to a stage actor. (See “The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’,” on merriam-webster.com, .) There’s obviously a difference between an actor playing the role of a banker and an actual banker or an actor playing a doctor and an actual doctor. You wouldn’t assume that, just because a person was able to “look the part,” that they actually have the skills to do the job.

Similarly, if our goal is to look good rather than to be good, we are likely to miss critical elements of our activities. For example:

  • If our purpose in serving the needy is to impress other people, we are likely to emphasize the visible aspects of that service. Consequently, we may entirely fail to meet the actual needs of the people we are serving.
  • If our goal in praying is to look like a spiritual person, we may fail to verbalize our true thoughts and feelings, and may therefore be unable to receive from God the answers we really need.
  • If our objective in fasting is to show other people how much willpower or self-discipline we have, we may miss the fact that fasting involves trading physical nourishment for spiritual nourishment. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthin taught, “If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father” (“Law of the Fast,” General Conference, April 2001).

As the Savior teaches us in the passage above, the pursuit of praise may prevent us from enjoying the intrinsic blessings of our good decisions. Perhaps this is because those good decisions weren’t really what they seemed to be. They were a facade, a mask with no substance behind them. Our only goal was recognition, so we only did enough work to earn the recognition. It’s not surprising, then, that recognition is our only reward.

Today, I will strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, not just to look like a disciple of Jesus Christ. I will remember that the work required to impress others falls far short of the work required for true discipleship. I will strive to perform my duties authentically, remembering that the objective and the ultimate reward for fulfilling those duties is far greater than any recognition I might receive from other people.

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Whosoever Is Angry with His Brother – 3 Nephi 12:21-22

21 Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God;
22 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
(3 Nephi 12:21-22, Matthew 5:21-22)

Is it wrong to be angry?

In the passage above, the Savior compares anger with murder. What does He mean?

To take a person’s life is the ultimate act of enmity. But we can be guilty of many other sins which are less severe but are also rooted in enmity: abuse, neglect, name-calling, and even unkind thoughts and feelings.

In some translations of the Bible, including the King James Version, the phrase “whosoever is angry with his brother” is followed by the modifier “without a cause.” But the Book of Mormon, like most translations of the Bible, excludes that phrase. (See biblehub.com: Matthew 5:22.)  The Savior is condemning unkind feelings toward others, regardless of whether those feelings are justified or not.

President Thomas S. Monson pointed out that, in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, the Apostle Paul asks, “Can ye be angry, and not sin?” (JST Ephesians 4:26). President Monson then asked, “Is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case” (“School Thy Feelings, O My Brother,” General Conference, October 2009).

Today, I will remember that anger is inconsistent with the Spirit of the Lord. I will strive to follow the Savior’s admonition to avoid hurtful feelings just as I would avoid hurtful words or actions.

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More Blessed Are They Who Shall Believe in Your Words – 3 Nephi 12:1-2

1 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
(3 Nephi 12:1-2)

People dislike uncertainty. We see this in financial markets, where prices become more volatile when the future seems less predictable. We see it in our individual lives as well: We may procrastinate important decisions when many of the factors influencing the outcome of those decisions are unknown.

The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A disciple of Christ is willing to act in the face of uncertainty, because they trust Him. This requires us to override our natural instincts, to take some risks, and to stretch ourselves in ways that may be uncomfortable.

Alma taught the Zoramites that uncertainty is an essential element of faith:

Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.
Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it (Alma 32:17-18)

After the death and resurrection of the Savior, He appeared to some of His disciples and showed them the wounds on His body. Thomas, who was not with them at the time, expressed skepticism at their story: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Shortly afterward, he saw the Savior, who invited him to touch His wounds. Jesus then delivered a gentle rebuke, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:19-29).

In the passage above, the Savior provides similar guidance to a group of people on the American continent. They saw Him descend from the sky, and He invited them to touch His hands, feet, and side. Then, He made the following promises:

  1. They would be blessed if they would follow the guidance of the twelve disciples He had chosen to lead them, and if they would be baptized.
  2. Other people would be more blessed by doing the same things, based only on the words of His listeners.

Why are we more blessed when we obey with less certainty? Maybe it’s because we have to work harder under those circumstances, and that spiritual work makes us stronger. Perhaps it is also because we demonstrate our love for God when that love is tested. Trusting God under adverse circumstances is a powerful way to show our abiding love for Him.

Today, I will remember that faith requires uncertainty. I will choose to follow God’s guidance even when I am unsure how things will work out. I will remember that we are “more blessed” when we make good decisions with imperfect information.

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The Spirit of Contention – 3 Nephi 11:29-30

29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
(3 Nephi 11:29-30)

About 125 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, King Benjamin warned his people to beware of contention. He taught them that, if they were contentious, they were obeying the “evil spirit” (Mosiah 2:32).

When the Savior visited a group of people on the American continent following His death and resurrection, one of His first priorities was to teach the same principle. He clearly explained how they should be baptized, so that there would be “no disputations” among them (3 Nephi 11:21, 28). He emphasized the unity among the members of the Godhead: “The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one” (3 Nephi 11:27, 36). And in the passage above, He states the principle clearly: “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.”

It is a fundamental principle of the gospel that our relationship with God is closely connected with the way we treat His children. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught: “To a great degree, our relationship to Christ will be determined–or at least affected–by our relationship to each other” (“The Ministry of Reconciliation,” General Conference, August 2018).

When we want to draw close to God, we would be wise to consider our closest relationships and repair any damage that we have done:

If ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee–
Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you (3 Nephi 12:23-24, Matthew 5:23-24).

Joseph Smith experienced this firsthand during the translation of the Book of Mormon. While he and his wife Emma were staying at the home of the Whitmer family in Fayette, New York, his associates noticed that the quality of his relationships dramatically affected his ability to receive revelation. As David Whitmer recalled:

One morning when [Joseph Smith] was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 9: Gifts of the Spirit“).

Today, I will remember that my relationship with God is connected with my relationships with other people. I will pay attention to those relationships and will strive to repair damage quickly. I will remember that the spirit of contention is not of God and that, when I am angry or contentious, I am not in harmony with His will.

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I Am the Light and the Life of the World – 3 Nephi 9:18, 3 Nephi 11:11

18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
(3 Nephi 9:18)

11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.
(3 Nephi 11:11)

Before His visit to a group of people on the American continent, the Savior spoke to them as He sat in darkness. He identified Himself as Jesus Christ, whom the scriptures had prophesied would come. He told them that He had glorified the Father. And He identified Himself as “the light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 9:15-18). Some time later, after the darkness subsided, He descended from heaven wearing a white robe and announced Himself in much the same way (3 Nephi 11:10-11). These are the concepts He most wanted them to understand: that He was the prophesied Messiah, that He had fulfilled His Father’s will, and that He was able to give them light and life.

Jesus gives us light through His example and through His teachings. During this same visit, He said to the people, “I am the light; I have set an example for you” (3 Nephi 18:16). He also said, “I am the light which ye shall hold up–that which ye have seen me do” (3 Nephi 18:24). His words and His actions bring clarity into our lives. By following His example, we reflect that light and share it with the people around us.

Jesus has given us life through His Atonement, which enables us to obtain both immortality and eternal life. And He blesses us with life in another way: by helping us to live meaningfully and happily today. “I am come that they might have life,” He said, “and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “In the world,” He said, “ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As we learn to exercise faith in Him and overcome our doubts and fears, we learn to live in peace and happiness, and our lives become more abundant.

Today, I will be grateful for the light and the life I receive from Jesus Christ. I will remember that His perfect example and teachings give me clarity and perspective so that I can see clearly and make wise decisions. I will remember that I can share His light with others by following His example. And I will remember that, as I exercise faith in Him, I can live with more confidence, more energy, and more peace. Because of Him, I can live more abundantly.

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