Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

RS/MP Chapter 23: Individual Responsibility (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on November 15, 2014

The lesson can be found online here.

From the Life

Here are some of the quotes from this first section that stood out to me:

[President Smith] emphasized that although Latter-day Saints should diligently help others receive the blessings of the gospel, salvation is an individual responsibility. He also encouraged the Saints to be self-reliant and to work industriously in temporal pursuits. “That is what life is all about,” he said, “to develop our potential, and especially to gain self-mastery.”

. . . In fact, he was such a diligent worker that he “unwittingly inherited one job earlier than he need have, when in boyish pride he secretly milked one of the family cows to prove he was capable of doing it, and thus was assigned the job permanently.”

. . . With this principle in mind, he and his wife made sure the children arose early every morning and did their part to keep the home clean and organized. “Somehow it seemed immoral to Dad for us to lie in bed after six o’clock,” recalled one of his sons.

. . . When he and Louie were newly married, he did as much work as he could on the construction of their first home. Over the years, he did most home repairs himself, helped in the kitchen, and helped pick fruit in season and preserve it in bottles.

Question: How can we teach our kids and develop for ourselves better work habits and a stronger sense of personal responsibility? What challenges do we face in our modern lives in doing this?

I think there’s a danger of feeling guilty and discouraged when reading about Pres. Smith’s diligence. Maybe I’m just feeling guilty for the times I sleep in past 6:00, and let my kids sleep in past then—and for not being better about home repairs and do-it-yourself projects more generally. (In fact, I confess to often wishing that my kids would sleep in longer than they do, to enjoy a bit more sleep or peace and quiet in the mornings!) Perhaps guilt can be a good motivator at times, but I think it’d be good to specifically address this concern and make sure that this lesson does not simply cause discouragement.
I’ve recently had a bit of success in making the effort to write out a list of morning jobs for my son to do in the mornings, with a carrot of getting some Minecraft time before school if he finishes the list. It’s not an ideal parenting method, but it’s a marginal improvement in our household, and parenting is difficult enough that I like to find little excuses to pat ourselves-as-parents on the back. (Sharing little tips and tricks like this might be a decent use of class time.)

I also think that developing good habits of personal responsibility can be very gratifying, and it can increase self esteem (for ourselves and for our kids). Remembering that can help motivate us to make the extra effort required to avoid falling into bad habits.

Electronics is perhaps the most obvious challenge in modern society to developing good work habits. Besides using time on electronics as a reward, we’ve also had some success in using electronics for educational purposes. (Just this morning I found this Minecraft calculator tutorial for my son that he’s excited to work on, so he gets Minecraft time but he also learns something about electronic circuits. My wife been good about finding reading tutorial apps for the tablet that our kids constantly fight over….)

1. Being industrious

Pres. Smith says:

We eat to live. We clothe ourselves to keep warm and covered. We have houses to live in for our comfort and convenience, but we ought to look upon all these blessings as temporary blessings needful while we journey through this life. And that is all the good they are to us. We cannot take any of them with us when we depart. Gold, silver and precious stones, which are called wealth, are of no use to man only as they enable him to take care of himself and to meet his necessities here.

The Lord . . . expects us to have knowledge of temporal things
so we can care for ourselves temporally; so we can be of service to
our fellowmen; and so we can take the gospel message to his other
children throughout the world.

Question: From an eternal perspective, what is the purpose of work?

We are conditioned to think that we work in order to obtain the fruits of our labor—money, in particular. But I think Pres. Smith is suggesting something different here: first, that we should work for the sake of developing a habit of working hard (and a disposition such that we enjoy hard work, rather than begrudge it); second, that we can care for our own “necessities” (notice he doesn’t say wants or desires here!), and then turn to more important concerns like spreading the Gospel and building the Kingdom.

2. We are accountable to the Lord

Pres. Smith says:

It is so easy for humankind to blame somebody else for their own mistakes, and so easy for us, because of our human nature, to take credit when the thing that is accomplished is something that pleases and benefits. But we never want to shoulder a responsibility for our mistakes that do not please, and so we endeavor to place that kind of responsibility somewhere else and on others. . . . Let us shoulder our own responsibilities, and not endeavor to place them somewhere else.

Question: In what areas in your life (or your kids’ lives) do you (or they) have a tendency to blame others? What challenges do you (or your kids) face in taking responsibility, and what can you do to help overcome these challenges?

I find that I tend to scapegoat more when I’m feeling stressed. So, one of the most important measures I’ve found is to trust more in God so that I don’t feel so stressed. Of course, the best way for doing this is to be more sincere and diligent in my prayers and scripture study. These simple (and cliche-sounding) steps, if I really do them sincerely, help me feel more at peace and less stressed—this, in turn, helps me remain closer to the Spirit in my interactions with others, and this makes it much easier for me to recognize what I can do better in all facets of my life.

3. God has given us agency

Pres. Smith says:

[Agency] is one of the greatest gifts of God. What would we be without it, if we were compelled as some people would like to have their fellows compelled to do their will? There could be no salvation; there could be no rewards of righteousness; no one could be punished for unfaithfulness because men would not be accountable before their Maker.

Joseph Smith was asked how he governed so great and diverse
a people as the Latter-day Saints. He replied: “I teach them correct
principles and they govern themselves.”

Question: Why is agency “one of the greatest gifts of God”? How can we exercise our agency better (and, for those who have kids, how can we help our kids get better at exercising their agency)?

Helicopter parenting is something I struggle with at times—it’s so much easier to just empty the dishwasher or clean up after the kids myself than it is to get them to do it. Easier in the short term, that is. And sometimes life is difficult enough that it’s hard to focus on the longer term (let alone to focus on an eternal perspective!). But, again, I think that’s why we have these lessons, to remind us that a little bit of extra effort to cultivate good habits in ourselves or in our kids can ultimately make life so much easier and more rewarding.

4. Seeking our own and others’ salvation

Pres. Smith says:

We have these two great responsibilities. . . . First, to seek our own salvation; and, second, our duty to our fellow men. Now I take it that my first duty is, so far as I am individually concerned, to seek my own salvation. That is your individual duty first, and so with
every member of this Church.

Our first concern should be our own salvation. We should seek every gospel blessing for ourselves. We should be baptized and enter into the order of celestial marriage so that we can become inheritors in the fulness of our Father’s kingdom. Then we should be concerned about our families, our children, and our ancestors.

Question: Oftentimes, I get stuck at the “seeking my own salvation” part of this commandment, and I never get around to “work[ing] diligently for the salvation of others.” What advice do you have for me?

Honestly, I worry that this section is easily misinterpreted in the way I’ve just indicated. My own life experience suggests that the best way to seek my own salvation is precisely in serving others. And I think this accords with the scriptural teaching that whosoever loses his life shall find it.

One Response to “RS/MP Chapter 23: Individual Responsibility (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)”

  1. Steve Warren said

    It might make for an interesting discussion to consider scriptures that suggest we are cursed or rewarded for the sins or good deeds of others. Exodus 20:5 and Numbers 14:18 are but two of many that say the iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children. D&C 98:30 talks about children being rewarded because of their parents’ actions. Of course, other scriptures contradict this. The conclusion may simply be that some scriptures are nonsense while others are inspired.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: