As I have been discussing the April, 2018 General Conference with others, a comparison has begun to crystallize in my mind between ancient Israel and the latter-day saints. Israel experienced a change of laws and we are experiencing a change of laws of sorts. They went from the Law of Moses to the Law of the Gospel; we are going from the practice of home/visiting teaching to ministering. The gospel hasn’t changed, just what is expected of us.
Law of Moses
The children of Israel were given the law of Moses because they couldn’t handle the higher law that involved the widespread use of the Melchizedek priesthood. The original law Moses brought down from the mount would have given all the worthy males the priesthood. But what he found upon arriving at camp was a golden calf and idol worshiping, along with promiscuity on a rampant scale. He was not a happy camper. He smashed the tablets with the law he had received, ground up the golden calf, strewed it in their drinking water then make them drink it. Many died from their disobedience that day.
The next time Moses came down from the mount he carried ten basic commandments and a law of daily ordinances and practices designed by God to teach the people how to live better, more righteous lives. By requiring that they do certain things each day, they were reminded on a continual basis that these things were there to guide them to remember their Messiah who would come in the meridian of time to pay for their sins and open the doors of salvation for them.
For centuries the Israelites only focus was on the performance of their duties under the law of Moses. In the Book of Mormon the prophets worked hard to move the people beyond that law so their lives could receive greater blessings from God. In 2 Nephi 25:20-27 Nephi has just quoted multiple chapters of Isaiah then explained part of them. He glories in plainness, and gives the following explanation for his behavior with his people in teaching them the words of Isaiah.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.
21 Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.
22 Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.
23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
Nephi teaches of Christ because he understands that this is the end and purpose of the Law of Moses. He wants his people to also see that the law, though mandatory to live, is not capable of bringing them salvation. Only Christ and his gospel can do that. So they labor diligently to persuade their children to believe in Christ and his teachings and to rely on the grace of God for their salvation after they have striven to do all in their power to be obedient to Christ’s gospel.
24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
The Law of Moses required duty above all. Each day was filled with proscribed behaviors and expectations to keep them in constant remembrance of their responsibilities to their God. It didn’t work because the people were usually so stiffnecked and disobedient that they refused to be led by the Lord and couldn’t be given the happiness he wanted for them.
Nephi speaks plainly that a law of duty is not good enough to save us. We must look beyond performances and duty to the spirit behind the law in order to receive the remission of sins we should be seeking. He says in verse 27 that his people “may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given.” Note that he wanted them to look “forward unto that life which is in Christ.” What life is that?
The Law of the Gospel
Christ introduced the nature of that life God wants for us in the gospel he brought during his ministry among the Jews. William R. Bradford put it this way in a Conference talk in 1977.
The great overriding theme contained in the Book of Mormon, which holds the law of the gospel, is summarized by the ancient prophet Moroni, who delivered it to us in this dispensation. It is: “come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing. …
“That thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee … may be fulfilled.
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”
The change from the Law of Moses to the Law of the Gospel was great. It was a leap from performances to attitudes, from public displays to private worship. Today we are also moving from public displays to private worship. How?
When we were asked to go to people’s homes and visit with them, we were armed with a prepared message to deliver to them. The First Presidency had it printed in the Ensign and Liahona magazines each month. We were told to keep our visits to X number of minutes and to teach something to the family and then leave them with a word of prayer. This was very much like the Law of Moses, but used within the Law of the Gospel. It was a performance we were asked to do on a monthly basis. This was the minimum required of us.
If we wanted to do as Nephi did with his people, to look forward to that life which is in Christ, we would have to minister to the needs of our assigned families. Christ reduced the ten basic commandments down to two great commandments when he told us all to love God and serve our neighbor. This is the spirit of all the commandments given by God distilled into just two parts.
Living by the spirit of the law
Just as Nephi told his duty-bound people to look beyond the law of performances they were required to live until Christ came and fulfilled that law, so too do we need to look to the spirit and purpose of our commandment to watch over the Church and the members. This is a priesthood commandment required of those who bear the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. Look at most any list of priesthood duties in the Doctrine and Covenants and you will see that those who bear the priesthood of God are commanded to watch over the church. But what does it mean to watch over the church?
Watching over the church means to not only watch that there be no idleness or wickedness among the members, but that every member is doing their duty. We are to look out for each other and be there to succor or help those who have needs. This is what ministering is. This is what we are being asked to do, instead of just showing up and delivering a predefined message, have a prayer then leave them to their own devices for another month.
The spirit of the law we have been given is that we all become, like the prophets, watchmen on the wall to those whom we have been called to serve and protect. The families under our care become our spiritual responsibility. Jacob and Joseph, Nephi’s brothers did this in Jacob 1:19:
19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.
This is also our responsibility, whether we directly hold the priesthood or not. God has commanded us to seek after the welfare of our neighbor in the second great commandment. If we do not labor for their welfare with all our might, and “teach them the word of God with all diligence” we will be held accountable by the Lord in the day of judgment.
Making the move
This is a grand step up for all the members of the Lord’s Church. We are being asked to forsake the model of duty and performance of the past and adopt the virtues of ministering to our fellowmen as Christ would do. The Prophet and Brethren are telling us that the day of the easy road to heaven is behind us. We are now expected to be better than we have been before. To do this we will have to seek the Lord and make sure we are maintaining a remission of our own sins. This is a day of stretching, where we learn to watch over the cares and concerns of others and put those needs ahead of our own in many cases. It is a day of sacrifice for God’s people.
This move by the Church is not a relief from the duties and requirements of home and visiting teaching, it is a call to something much more, much greater. Each of us will have to learn what it means to minister. The second half of the year will be dedicated to helping us all gain a better understanding of this concept in our 4th Sunday lessons.