If there is only one principle that you take away from this week’s lesson, I hope it is that you understand with a greater sense of reality that the earth is like a giant sandbox. It is God’s sandbox, and all the toys in it (treasure of the earth) belong to Him. We come and play in His sandbox and enjoy the use of His toys, but when we leave we must leave everything where we found them, in the sandbox. What we also need to remember is that the Lord has rules we need to learn about for the use of His goods, and we will all be held accountable for what we do with what He has given us to use while we are here.
Playing in the Lord’s sandbox is not a free-for-all, though some treat it that way. We are given resources specifically to bless us. And the Lord expects us to take care of what we are given, and to take care of the needs of those who have less than we do. This is such an important principle that the Lord has even tailored the covenants we make with Him to include specifics about how we treat others and how we care for others. Doctrine and Covenants 104:13-15 says this:
13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
So when the Savior of the world tells us to care for the poor, he takes it so personally that He says that caring for the poor is equal to caring for Him. To neglect the poor is to neglect Him. He is our judge and jury in the end, so if we want to show respect, love, devotion, or anything else to the Lord, we can only show it by how we treat the poor. To neglect, ignore, or mistreat the poor counts as doing the same to the Lord. These aren’t my rules, they are His. He continues his instruction in Doctrine and Covenants 104:16-18.
16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
Caring for the poor
Caring for the poor is a multi-step process. We can’t care for the poor if we are the poor. We have to learn how to work and care for ourselves first. Only then can we turn around and care for those who have less.
Sometimes there is a temptation to mentally stop when we read verse 16, without finishing the full thought that extends down through the rest of the verses. When He says that the poor need to be exalted by making the rich low, it is easy to think that we have to take everything away from the rich and give it to the poor. Not true.
Verse 17 reminds us that there is enough of everything in the earth for all to be made well off, and still have plenty to spare. No one need be poor when everyone can be well off. In verse 16 He points out that the poor are generally humbled because of their circumstances, while the rich need to humble themselves (are made low).
By giving of their substance to assist the poor the rich show respect to God and learn to trust that He will continue to bless them with the good things of this earth while they care for His other children who need help.
Agents unto themselves
The Lord says in verse 17 that He has made us all agents unto ourselves. That means that as stewards over His property he holds us accountable for what we do with what we have. And like any good father He wants us to learn to care for ourselves so we learn how to care for others. We can’t care for others if we can’t take care of ourselves. We learn wisdom by learning how to care for ourselves. It is this wisdom that teaches us how to help others in need.
The Lord places great value in the ability to work and be responsible with what we have been entrusted. In Doctrine and Covenants 42:42 the Lord says this:
42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.
Wearing the garment of the laborer is a privilege, an honor. Those who are idle should not be recognized as in the same category as those who work for their daily bread. To be idle is shameful in the Lord’s eyes.
How to be a good steward
We all need to learn to enjoy our work. That doesn’t mean we have to love our job. We just have to learn to appreciate the value in being able to do something to care for ourselves and our families. Teaching our children to be hard workers is one of our most important jobs as parents. This is what teaches them how to prosper and get along in the world. It also can be used as a conduit to teach them how to care for and serve others. Service can’t be done without work of some sort.
In Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28 the Lord tells us that not only is work important, but it is vitally important that we learn to work and serve on our own, without having to be commanded to do so. In other words, working and serving must become second nature to us. Work and service are godly attributes that are necessary to our salvation.
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
When the Lord talks about receiving glory, gaining glory, or giving glory, how do you think that is done? We can praise God all day long and that is good, but to really glorify God is to duplicate what God does and emulate His personal traits.
When we give as selflessly, as He does, when we serve without reserve, as He does, and when we seek to do good, as He does, then we are glorifying all that it means to be God. This is how we give Him glory – we behave like Him.
Reread the last three verses quoted above. Those who do good and serve others are those whom God rewards with blessings eternal.
So far we have looked at the need for being physically prepared in all things, and the importance of blessing the lives of others through our work and service. But that is not the end of it. Spiritual preparation and service is also required.
If you have ever suddenly found yourself without a job, you know the feeling of imbalance that shakes your world. For a while you are disoriented and may feel doubts about your own abilities and you may question the direction you are headed in life.
Those same kinds of feelings can happen to someone who becomes either out of touch with the Spirit or who has not studied sufficiently to be able to discern truth from error, especially when the error is dressed in glittery robes of logic or emotion.
Just as the Lord expects us to care for the physical needs of our needy neighbors, He also expects us to feed them spiritually. To do this we must be well fed first. We cannot spiritually feed someone else if we are in a state of spiritual starvation.
This means that we must be reading our scriptures, praying, and serving others daily. Keeping the commandments also teaches us the wisdom behind the Lord’s laws of happiness. This allows us to bear testimony of those laws to others, on which the Spirit can put His seal of approval in the hearts of those who hear our words.
To recap – this world and all that it holds, belongs to God. We are freely given the goods of this world to use as we see fit, but the Lord has expectations of us. He expects us to learn to use His treasures to bless not just us, but also His other children who don’t have what we do.
We are answerable to God for what we do with what we have received in this life. We must learn to work, and especially to appreciate the ability to work hard in this life. We have a responsibility to work hard and to teach our children to work hard. We have a responsibility to make good use of what God has given us, and to be willing to share in wise ways to help any of God’s other children, whether in or out of our church.
The Lord also requires us to be responsible in our spiritual progress. We need to study, pray, serve, and keep His commandments. Then we need to go out and teach these life-saving principles to others. Only as we become spiritually prepared can we weather the storms of life that might otherwise shake us to our core.
We will all have periods of unlooked for disasters in our lives. How we are able to handle them when they come is largely a matter of how well prepared we are before those disasters hit. Are you prepared to give a priesthood administration to someone who is sick if called upon in the middle of the night? Are you prepared to comfort those who have unexpectedly lost their job, or a child, or a companion in death? Are you ready to bear testimony of the joys the gospel brings into your life because you have lived it and experienced it already? Do you have a plan for giving relief to those who need financial help or need resources to care for themselves? Are you ready and willing to volunteer your time, energy and talents wherever they are needed to care for those in need? These are the things a good steward thinks about and prepares for.