Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Quest for the “One Thing”

Posted by nhilton on May 14, 2007

I’m aware of the search for the real thing, the wild thing and the rare thing…but ONE thing?   “Simplify, simplify, simply” we’re told.  Surely having just ONE thing is simplification taken to an extreme, but is it?   I often enter a room for just one thing, only to forget what it is.   And this blog post…uh…what was I intending to write?…  Ah, distraction attraction is a reality in our fast paced, overstimulated, “more is more” world.  I find the word “distraction” sandwiched between“distort” and “distraught” in my dictionary of etymology.  It seems well-placed since my priorities are distorted when I’m distracted and recognition of my condition makes me distraught!  I fear that one day I’ll look back and realize I’ve failed to take the necessary daily steps to bring me to my intended ultimate destination—being diverted by distraction.   

Apparently it was likewise a struggle for those in Jesus’ day to obtain and maintain a focus in daily life.  Jesus told Martha, “one thing is needful.” [Luke 10: 42]  He told the rich young man “One thing thou lackest.” [Mark 10:21]   

  • Was it the same “thing” they needed or something different?  
  • Is this “one thing” what we each need, or unique to the individual? 
  • Do the scriptures identify this “one thing” for us? 
  • Can we really seek after just ONE thing in this temporal world we live in? 
  • How do we know when we’ve obtained this “one thing?”  Is it even something we can acquire and hold on to?

14 Responses to “Quest for the “One Thing””

  1. Jim F. said

    It seems that there is often one thing that will bring our lack of integrity (wholeness) into focus, and Jesus puts his finger precisely on that thing for each of these people, though I doubt that it is the same for each of them or for each of us. My wife could probably point out the one thing I need to do that encompasses a lot of or all of the other things I need to do.

  2. CEF said

    As I see it, the one thing that would work for everyone, is a change of heart. Take the rich young man for example. Had he done all that he did for the right reasons by virtue of a changed heart, he would have had no problem selling all he had and following Jesus. At least, this is how I see things now.

  3. The more I study the D&C, the more I’m convinced that “the (one) law” of the celestial kingdom is the law of consecration. Couldn’t that be the “one thing”?

  4. mistaben said

    It seems to me that the first three comments all say the same thing, though #2 is the most general!

  5. Robert C. said

    There’s a very interesting entry in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament that tries to bring together the different NT uses of the Greek term eis. I’ll try to read it more carefully and report the highlights. For now, I think that this is a core issue in Mark 10 (as we discussed on Jim’s SS Lesson #17 thread, here and here; notice also the “only one is good” in verse 18…) as well as the entire Gospel of John (ch. 17 in particular…) as well as in Paul’s writing (one church, one body etc.). I think all of this can help us understand Joe’s pointing to the law of consecration better, as well as the at-ONE-ment: we are to become one with God and with each other (as well as ourselves with integrity, as per “be ye therefore perfect[/whole/complete/one]”).

  6. nhilton said

    Is it the one THING that is needful or the ONE that is needful (the ONE being Jesus)?

  7. BrianJ said

    Here are some other verses that use the phrase “one thing”:

    Ps. 27: 4
    One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.

    Alma 7: 7
    For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.

    Moses 1: 7-10
    7 And now, behold, this one thing I show unto thee, Moses, my son, for thou art in the world, and now I show it unto thee.
    8 And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.
    9 And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
    10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

    I’m not sure of their relevance, but thought I’d list them. Nevertheless, I think the verses from Moses are very interesting: God says he will show Moses “one thing,” then proceeds to show him everything! After all that, Moses seems to draw just one conclusion: “man is nothing.” I think, at least in this case, the “one thing” was that man is nothing without God—man must be completely dependent on God.

  8. BrianJ said

    (follow-up to #7) And I think the lesson Moses learned is essentially the same as the one Jesus was trying to teach the young rich man. I’m not really sure how/if that applies to Mary and Martha, though.

  9. nhilton said

    BrianJ, great comments! Could we extrapolate your definition of “one thing” to be = Faith in Jesus Christ? If this is possible, perhaps this is an all encompassing definition appropriate for the Mary & Martha event, too?

  10. brianj said

    nhilton, #9: “Could we extrapolate your definition of “one thing” to be = Faith in Jesus Christ?”

    No—at least not exactly. My definition comes by way of Moses (his experience that I referenced above). Then I try to apply that definition to the young rich man and to Mary and Martha. I realize that approach has limitations—is perhaps inherently flawed—because I am taking the definition in one context and applying it to two others. My justification is that Moses’ experience was so expansive, so I don’t feel like I am stretching it. If my approach bothers you despite my (feeble) justification, I promise a full refund.

    My definition: the “one thing” the Lord shows to Moses is that “man is nothing.” Considering what he saw, his conclusion is all the more profound: he saw everything in the world—all that mankind had created and accomplished—and calls all of it “nothing.” Now, I’m not really clear why he says that. He initially marvels, but was that about the earth (God’s work) or the people he saw (mankind’s works)? Then God withdraws and Moses collapses. When he comes to, he states, “Now, for this cause….” What cause? Is he reflecting back on what he saw, making some comparison between God’s works and man’s works, or is he commenting on the fact that once God left, Moses couldn’t even stand? The later seems to be the clearest reading. So, Moses realizes that while many wonderful and marvelous things will happen on this earth, all of them are dependent on God.

    There are probably many reasons to have faith, but let me use two to illustrate the difference between my definition and how you extrapolated my definition. One reason for faith is that one believes there is “something more” to be had with God. Another reason is that one realizes that there is nothing without God. The difference between the two is like this: If I am on a small boat, I might opt to climb aboard another vessel because 1) it appears to be more luxurious, or 2) I realize my small vessel is not seaworthy, is leaking water, and can’t get me where I want to go. In the first case I am exercising faith as an opportunity; in the second, faith is exercised out of necessity and desperation.

    I think Moses learned that faith in God is not an option, it is a necessity. “I can be nothing, or I can be something. I think I’ll choose the later.”

    Apply this to the rich young man, and I think we have the same message. He had done everything he was supposed to—kept every commandment, etc. His entire life was about good works, making himself holy and good. But Jesus reminds him, “There is only one that is good, and that is God.” In other words, any goodness the man had accomplished he had done so at God’s command, so God gets the credit. All those works won’t get the man into heaven anyway; heaven isn’t something we climb up to on a stairway of our own making, rather, we are brought up into heaven by God. The man has not learned this one thing: that he is nothing. All his work, his obedience, his faithfulness—it’s all nothing without God’s grace. So Jesus gives him an opportunity to trust completely in God: give away all his wealth, and with it all power and control over his life, and just follow Jesus. What a terribly frightening demand Jesus places on the man! What a leap of faith it would take! But it’s not a leap of faith that says, “I’ve done well, but I can do better.” It’s a leap that says, “I have done nothing; now let me join myself to something.”

    Mary and Martha also (I think) illustrate this point. Martha is doing all she can to take care of the house—she is going to make everything just right. But Mary is focused on Jesus. Jesus commends her, essentially saying, “Martha, it’s not about the work that you do; it’s about the work that I do. Mary sees that, so she is focused on me.” I don’t think that Martha is showing a lack of faith—I picture her frantically trying to make the house look perfect for someone she truly believes is the Messiah—but she is showing faith in the wrong thing (her own works instead of Christ’s works).

    (sorry: a bit of rambling there)

  11. nhilton said

    Brianj, APPLAUSE! (Can you hear it?!) Your explanation is excellent. You’ve taught me & I intend to use your analogy in my class on Sunday, if it’s o.k. with you. I really think you’ve struck gold with your study/thinking and I certainly have been blessed by it!

    (Alas, we are now 2 weeks behind the rest of the world in lessons since we are a test area for the church’s media blitz & saw what our “friends” will see during SS today. Oh, it’s gonna be great! Check out Mormon.org.)

  12. brianj said

    Nanette: Hearing this is helpful makes me glad, and I hope you feel the Spirit as I did when I taught this last week.

    I also thought of a related scripture as I reread my comment (#10): When Elijah calls down fire from heaven. He makes a strong point with all of his mocking of the other priests—a point that is often lost. Here are the key verses (from 1 Kings 18):

    “And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

    And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered.

    And it came to pass, when midday was past…that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.”

    Note that Elijah goes a bit beyond what Joshua had done generations earlier (in Joshua’s famous “choose ye this day speech”). Joshua offers the people a choice: Jehovah or the Gods of the land. Elijah, however, shows that there is no such choice. The key phrase in 1 Kings is “nor any to answer.” In other words, it’s not that Baal was asleep or too busy, but in fact Baal does not even exist. Jehovah, on the other hand, responded with fire and so clearly exists. Therefore, the people cannot choose to have faith in Baal or Jehovah, but rather between nothing and something (or, more correctly someone).

    Let me know how it goes (and thanks for the note about mormon.org. Are those going to air as commercials?)

  13. Robert C. said

    Brian, I echo Nanette’s praise and gratitude: very helpful and insightful comments, thank you!

  14. nhilton said

    Brian, the ads are on TV, internet, radio & billboards! The whole enchilada! The 1st 3 mo. is the “man on the street” approach & the 2nd 3 mo. is the “new convert” approach. We’ve been given pass along cards, too, that continue the graphic, modern style of the campaign. It’s really interesting to see the church step in the “unknown” this way, but exciting! All ads direct the interested people to local members of the church, thus our SS class on how to handle the questions we’re hoping to generate.

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