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RS/MP Chapter 18: Living by Every Word That Proceeds from the Mouth of God

Posted by jennywebb on September 9, 2014

The lesson is available here on lds.org.

The following is not a lesson plan, but rather a series of questions and thoughts intended to aid in the study of the lesson material.

From the Life

This section opens with a quote from President Smith that really summarizes the main themes that will be explored throughout this chapter:

I am seeking after my salvation, and I know that I can find it only in obedience to the laws of the Lord in keeping the commandments, in performing works of righteousness, following in the footsteps of our file leader, Jesus, the exemplar and the head of all.

While the themes of law, obedience, journeying or following, and salvation will be repeated throughout this chapter, what strikes me most about this opening quotation is its underlying reliance on humility, hope, and equality. “I am seeking after my salvation” he says. Note the date—1969—less than 4 months before he will become the prophet and following 59 years of service as an apostle. After a literal lifetime of service in the Church, President Smith is going about his existence like all the rest of us: seeking after our salvation.

God Governs the Universe by Law, and We are Subject to that Law

Just a note about the first paragraph: depending on your class, it might be worth defining “immutable” (unchanging over time or unable to be changed) to help clarify the point being made.

The Lord has given man a code of laws that we call the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We often think of the term “gospel” as “the good news.” (The Greek term, εὐαγγέλιον, was translated as gōdspel [gōd “good” + spel “news”] in Old English; the term became gospel in Middle English.) Here, however, we have an interesting alignment between “a code of laws” and “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The good news = a code of laws? This is not how we normally think of the gospel, but imagine the assurance that comes through knowing God is a being of order rather than capricious, vindictive, and irrational (as, for example, the Greek gods of old).

Are there other ways in which looking at the gospel as “a code of laws” can be helpful in our understanding of what the gospel is? Of who God is?

Keeping the Commandments is an Expression of our Love for the Lord

We believe that worship is far more than prayer and preaching and gospel performance. The supreme act of worship is to keep the commandments, to follow in the footsteps of the Son of God, to do ever those things that please him.

How is keeping the commandments the supreme act of worship?

At root, worship is an acknowledgment of worth—through worship, we signify, either through informal acknowledgment or formalized ceremony, that we recognize God as worthy of our devotion and reverence. And if we truly recognize the salvation God has made possible for us (if we truly see Him as supremely worthy of worship) then our attempts to obey tHis commandments become a sign of that recognition.

Are keeping the commandments, following in the footsteps of Christ, and doing things that please the Lord three separate acts, or all they different facets of the same act?

Phrased another way, are all three (keeping the commandments, following the footsteps, doing that which pleases) the supreme act of worship played out in different ways, or is the supreme act of worship to keep the commandments, with following the footsteps and doing that which pleases being ways in which the commandments are kept?

He came and offered himself as a sacrifice to pay the debt for each of us who is willing to repent of hi sins and return to him and keep his commandments. Think of it, if you can. The Savior carried that burden in some way beyond our comprehension. I know that, because I accept his word.

There is an interesting concept of the knowledge witnessed as testimony here: the witness of Christ’s atonement comes through an acceptance of Christ’s word rather than through understanding the mechanics of how the atonement worked or through seeing with phyiscal eyes. The humble trust in another’s word = the conditions to which we must bring ourselves if we are ever to receive the witness of testimony.

If We Turn from the Lord’s Commandments, We cannot Expect to Receive His Blessings

 It is necessary for us to walk in the full light of the truth, not in part of the truth only.

What is the full light of the truth? How is that different from the truth itself?

The implication is that the truth in its totality casts a different light on things; brings things into focus in a new way.

How do we know which things are truths, and which things are beliefs or culture?

Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares. It is commonly read as a warning that there will be “sinners among the saints” (which, wince we are all sinners, doesn’t have a lot of grip). Another reading is that it may be difficult to disentangle the truths of the gospel (the wheat) from the various cultural traces that must, as a necessity, accompany its restoration and spread since the gospel is occurring in specific historical-cultural contexts.

I should point out that Pres. Smith would likely not appreciate my reading him this way as, from his perspective, “social and cultural circumstances” were often used to justify disobedience or a lackadaisical attitude toward laws and order (i.e., towards God’s ordering). However, in the context of a global Church, I think it’s important to think through the relationship between cultural context and the gospel.

When We are Keeping the Commandments of the Lord, We are on the Road to Perfection

The Lord’s laws are eternal, and we have the fullness of his everlasting gospel and are obligated to believe all of his laws and truths and then to walk in conformity with them. There is nothing more important to any individual than keeping the Lord’s commandments. He expects us to cleave unto every true principle, to put first in our lives the things of his kingdom, to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, and to serve him with all our might, mind, and strength. In the language of the scriptures, let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccles. 12:13) (My emphasis)

The language Pres. Smith relies on here clearly witnesses the underlying necessity of personal revelation and the importance of the gift of the Holy Ghost. How else is one to reconcile these directives of obedience with other prophetic commands that individuals must, of necessity, receive their own individual witness of truth through the Holy Ghost rather than engage in blind acceptance?

Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. —George Albert Smith

The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people; and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray. —Brigham Young, November 29, 1857. Journal of Discourses 6:100

There are literally dozens of quotations such as these readily available underscoring the necessity of personal revelation and an individual witness from the Holy Ghost. The only way in which person can “cleave unto every true principle” is to first find out through personal revelation what those true principles are.

If we have a failing, if we have a weakness, there is where we should concentrate, with a desire to overcome, until we master and conquer. If a man feels that it is hard for him to pay his tithing, then that is the thing he should do, until he learns to pay his tithing. If it is the Word of Wisdom, that is what he should do, until he learns to love that commandment.

What does it mean to love a commandment?

How do we love a commandment?

Is loving a commandment different than keeping a commandment?

As We Keep the Commandments, the Lord Comforts and Blesses Us and Strengthens Us to Become Men and Women Worthy of Exaltation

If we go into the temple we raise our hands and covenant that we will serve the Lord and observe his commandments and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. If we realize what we are doing then the endowment will be a protection to us all our lives.

How is the endowment a protection?

Why is that protection based on our own realization as to what we are doing?

What does the word “realize” mean here? Is it a mere recognition of the act? Or is it something more?

This protection is what these ceremonies are for, in part. They save us now and they exalt us hereafter, if we will honor them. I know that this protection is given for I, too, have realized it, as have thousands of others who have remembered their obligations. (My emphasis)

If being “saved now” is somehow distinct from being “exalted later,” then what does it mean to be saved now?

Why is the present an important part of being saved?

Saved from what? Saved for what?

The Lord will give us gifts. He will quicken our minds. … if we will just seek for the light and the truth and the understanding that are promised to us and that we can receive if we will only be true and faithful to every covenant and obligation pertaining to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (My emphasis)

Why is such seeking on our part required?

How is this seeking related to the present saving discussed above?

6 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 18: Living by Every Word That Proceeds from the Mouth of God”

  1. Steve Warren said

    Re: “How is keeping the commandments the supreme act of worship?”

    Not to be overly nitpicky, but wouldn’t following the Spirit be the supreme act of worship?

    I could cite lots of examples where the Spirit directs us to violate a commandment or not to follow Church leaders, but let me just offer a recent case in my life. My adult daughter, who is not active, and I drove from Utah to Oregon recently to attend a family reunion. We drove up Friday and returned Sunday. On the drive home, I could have insisted that I needed to obey the commandment to attend church somewhere and to partake of the sacrament. However, I believe the right decision was not to attend church.

    Frankly, the scriptures show that the wise exercise of agency is a higher virtue than obedience.

    • Carolyn Bentley said

      Amen to that, Steve. Our wise use of agency, informed by the Spirit, is precious. More precious than regimental obedience. The highest law is love, and sometimes we respond to the Spirit to only love, have a meaningful conversation, and not harass. Our children respond much more to warmth than to dogma, especially those who are on the cusp or have left for reasons that may include dogmatic, hard-hitting doctrine over the comfort that Christ’s love for all can provide. I have had the same experiences with my children, where choosing the not-so-obvious kind of obedience has helped our relationship. The supreme act of worship is to follow Him, as he showed us – serving, nourishing, ministering, as the situation unfolds. Congregational worship is important, yes, but our personal worship through the highest law is supremely essential. Responding within the context of the situation with love and understanding, is powerful. There is another kind of sacrament that, even without the bread and water, gives us that communion with the Savior, through our loving intentions. Ir’s a consecration of its own. I love the sacrament, but I have occasionally felt I needed to respond to a pressing need in someone, be a shoulder, a listener at the right time, instead of attending sacrament meeting. This is the bread of life and the living water I can share.

      • Steve Warren said

        Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more.

        It really is about each person following Him in the way the Spirit directs. As I’ve gotten older (I’m 66 now), I’m less enamored of gospel to-do lists cluttered with “stuff” but try to focus more on Christ and love one another. When I need a spiritual boost, I might turn to the words of a song like “Glory to God on High” (that’s the “worthy the Lamb!” song) and a message like Howard W. Hunter’s “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee,” delivered on Palm Sunday 1994.

        My lack of enthusiasm with gospel “stuff” is reflected in the fact that I recently encouraged my state senator here in Utah to introduce legislation that would make it legal to waterboard speakers who say Latter-day Saints are falling way short unless they have family home evenings, family prayer, family scripture study and children without tattoos. (I oppose waterboarding in all other circumstances.)

  2. jennywebb said

    Steve, I appreciate your comments here. I think part of what’s interesting about Pres. Smith’s formulation here (“The supreme act of worship is to keep the commandments, to follow in the footsteps of the Son of God, to do ever those things that please him”) is precisely the question you raise: aren’t there other things that could be considered “the supreme act of worship”? For me, this line of questioning opens up the concept of “worship” in interesting ways, showing me that I don’t understand the concept as well as I thought I did when I began working through this material.
    While the material in this lesson didn’t focus overtly on the concept of agency, I do think that carefully working through the underlying assumptions at work in Pres. Smith’s thought show that the wise exercise of agency (as you so aptly put it) is essential: in order to know and understand the laws and commandments of God that we are to obey, we must first exercise agency and choose to inquire after them, seeking knowledge and understanding through personal revelation.

  3. B said

    Thanks for your insights! I especially liked thinking about worship as recognizing worth and how testimony comes through accepting His word. Good questions throughout.

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