all things in common

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

This article is based on the Come, Follow Me lesson for week 22 – Mosiah 29-Alma 4. Chapters 1 and 4 of Alma talk about how the church shared their resources one with another and became rich because of it. This is counter intuitive, for we usually think of giving away what we have leading to poverty. How does that work?

How the world thinks

To the world, resources are like a pie that has only so many slices. If you take more slices than I do then there is less for me. In fact, if you take all the slices then no one else has any pie at all. It is a worldview based on limited availability. This is the view that runs the entire global population. People base their forecasts on us running out of resources because of overpopulation, and they set governmental policies based on running out of resources, etc.

It is no wonder that we are well versed in the thinking that if you get more money than I do, I will suffer and you will live comfortably. That is the reality of our world. How could life work any differently? To think that if we all start sharing what we have we will all grow rich is a fool’s folly. Everything we know about economics and life experience tells us that this doesn’t happen. Yet this is what happened in the Book of Mormon among the Nephites. How do the scriptures explain this discrepancy from what we have experienced in the “real” world?

The promise

In Doctrine and Covenants 104 the Lord reveals details of the united order to Joseph Smith. Here is a small portion of that section that talks about the basic rules of how this order or process of sharing our substance with others works. I have broken up the verses into smaller parts so I can make comments as you read them. Here are verses 11-18.

11 It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship;

12 That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him.

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.

The Lord makes an important distinction here. We are stewards, or caretakers over the resources given to us in this life. We are not the owners. God is the owner of all that we have available to us. His resources, those things He has made and provided for us to use are to be used and treated as a sacred trust from God. They are not ours, because we did not create them. God is responsible for a good harvest, for no matter what a human does to make a good harvest, we cannot control things like the weather or blight, disease, insects, etc. The Lord provides the good harvest, but only after we have worked hard to achieve it. And for those who do that work for the glory of God, that harvest is doubly blessed.

This difference of viewpoint from the world makes all the difference in how we view the work we do. The world goes to work to earn what is believed to be what is owed to us. We have a sense of entitlement, since we are, in many ways, under contract with our employers, that in exchange for our labor they will pay us. What they are missing is that the Lord is at the top of every corporate ladder, and at the top of the food chain. All of it is ultimately answerable to Him.

The saints in Alma 1 recognize that God is the source of their prosperity. They act as good stewards and use whatever resources come their way to bless the lives of those around them in any way they can, for that is what God would have us do in a Zion society.

Now let’s look at the Lord’s view of what we have available to us in the form of resources on earth.

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.

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.

It seems to be stated in pretty clear and unmistakable terms here that the Lord owns everything. In other articles I have made the analogy that earth life is like being invited to come and play in God’s sandbox. Everything in the sandbox belongs to him, but while we are here we can do what we want with all of His resources. But we need to remember that when it is time to go home, everything we played with and used has to remain in His sandbox, for we can take nothing home with us that we didn’t come with. We came with nothing but ourselves, so we must leave everything behind. When we return home from our time in mortality, all we have to show for our time here is the person we have become.

The Lord gives us permission to use all of the resources He has so generously made available to us, but there is a catch. Since they belong to Him, the must be used in the way He has designated. His way is based on equitable sharing. Those who have more than they need are to share with those who don’t have enough. In this way, and only in this way, will everyone be cared for and prospered. When He uses the term “in that the rich are made low” He is not saying they will be made poor. He is saying that they will be humbled. They are still rich, but they are willing to share all that is in excess of what they need with those who don’t have what they need. In this way the poor are exalted, or lifted up out of poverty. This is a win/win for everyone.

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.

I love verse 17. We are told in no uncertain terms that there are plenty of resources available to us. We don’t need to fear that we will all starve or that we will all be driven into the dark ages because we will run out of resources. This mentality that there is a scarcity of resources is not from God, but from His enemy and our enemy. Our Father in Heaven made sure there was more than what could possibly be needed, IF we are willing to be kind to each other in the way He has determined we need to be in order to become like Him.

Verse 18 acts as a warning to those who begin to think again like the world and covet what God has made available for all. These people begin to think along the lines of yours and mine, not ours. They want it all for themselves, and think themselves better than others because they have been able to amass more of this earth’s bounties.

What happened in Alma 4?

In Alma 1 the people were humble, sharing their resources one with another and recognizing that God was the source of all they had. But after the Amlici battles were over, there was a widespread change that took place in the church. People began to see their prosperity and began to covet their wealth, instead of looking for ways to share that wealth. They began to think themselves better in various ways than those with whom they had previously shared their goods, thinking they were less deserving than themselves, and were lower than themselves.

This change in attitude wrought havoc on the system of sharing with each other, and their church society began to break up. No longer were they humble, for pride had taken humility’s place. Those who had more than their neighbor no longer recognized God as the provider of their own wealth and success, but they thought of themselves as the creator of their own power and prestige. This split the church into social classes, which always leads to bitterness and ridicule, intolerance and persecution.

Did you notice in reading verse 6 what caused this change?

And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.

All it took for them to forget their own humility was that little thought that they “deserved” to wear better clothes because of all their hard work. This sense of entitlement has destroyed more than one civilization. Once they began to set themselves apart from their neighbors by wearing nicer clothes, it snowballed into thinking they were better than those dressed in clean, but not elaborate clothing. Pride, which is based on a foundation of contention, began to take over. They thought themselves more deserving of other things as well. They became vain, and set their hearts on vain things – all those things that the world says are most important, wealth, status, comfort, etc.

The reason it works

The reason having all thing in common works is because in order to work all who practice it must be humble followers of Christ. They must recognize the source of their blessings, and in turn, for all their sacrifices for the welfare of others, God blesses them with more. This is why, in every case where people live having all things in common, they prosper more than those who do not live this way.

The prophet gave a good example of why those who don’t live having all things in common were more poor. Here is Alma 1:32.

32 For those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry or idleness, and in babblings, and in envyings and strife; wearing costly apparel; being lifted up in the pride of their own eyes; persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, committing whoredoms, and murdering, and all manner of wickedness; nevertheless, the law was put in force upon all those who did transgress it, inasmuch as it was possible.

In our day what would be the things Mormon would have listed as those things that cause us to be less prosperous? Might he have included in his description: pornography, addictive substances, time wasters such as gambling, too much television and movie watching, gaming, various forms of entertainment, and striving more for physical comforts than for salvation in the kingdom of God? I am sure you could probably come up with a long list that would work just as well.

All of this boils down to our attitude. What do we see as our source of prosperity? Is it us and our own hard work, or do we see God as our source of prosperity? Do we set ourselves up as a power unto ourselves, or do we acknowledge God as the provider of all our blessings?

We are not overtly living the united order right now, that law that has us share all things in common. But we can still live that law. We have been instructed to live the law of tithing, to give a generous fast offering, and to serve others through ministering daily. Yes, I said daily. When we go to the temple we covenant to make available everything that we have or ever will have to the Lord’s use if He calls for it. So we have already made the covenants needed to live this law. What are we currently doing to live it, or are we still trying to live with one foot in the world and hoping to become successful on the world’s terms first before the Lord asks us to give it all up for our neighbor’s benefit?

Like I said before, having all things in common works only because of the attitude of those who enter into the practice.

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Why Does “Having All Things in Common” Work?