A 1 and a 2: Sequence Matters

Note: Every now and again I have an idea for a post, or actually write the thing, then decide not to publish it. The reason? I can’t find enough material from the Brethren to support the point that I want to make. Rather than spout any unsupported nonsense, I drop it or wait. This week’s post is an example of that. I first considered writing it over a year ago, but was not fully comfortable until President Oaks spoke during the Women’s Session of General Conference earlier this month. Now I’m ready to go…

I have had my issues with assembling things before: Bikes, furniture, toys, etc. I try to use the instructions, but often I kind of ignore them (Some say it is a “Y” chromosome thing.). Sometimes that works out, other times I find myself in a pickle that requires me to take everything apart and start over, paying closer attention to the instructions.

The principle? Sequence matters.

Last year I was listening to a podcast that was discussing a survey that delved into how Millennials in the Church felt about things. It was disconcerting. Rather than focus on the statistics, there is one idea that jumped out and grabbed me – I have been thinking about it ever since.

(Quick disclaimer: This is not going to be aimed at Millennials because this concept can apply to any of us in any generation. Besides, one of the ultimate conclusions of the survey was this, “most millennials, as well as all members in general, are faithful, active and generally very happy with their participation in the LDS Church.”) (link)

The survey they were discussing came up with some intriguing data:

“For Knoll, the study’s most surprising findings were how many Latter-day Saints, including active members of the church, admitted to occasionally drinking alcohol or coffee.

Of current millennial and Gen X members (those in the generation preceding millennials) who responded to the survey, 40 percent said they had consumed coffee in the past six months, and in a separate question, fewer than one-third of them said avoiding coffee and tea was an “essential” part of a Mormon identity.”

As the host of the podcast was interviewing a young lady who identified as a “new breed of millennial Mormon.” She was asked about how Millennials were, as the survey showed, less likely to be hard-line about the Word of Wisdom, and less likely to have a temple recommend, and to wear their garments.

Her response, (paraphrased but close) was this, “Honestly, we are more worried loving our neighbors than fixating on things like coffee and temple recommends. We are more concerned about things like refugees, LGBT rights, women’s rights and taking care of the homeless and the needy than what we are wearing or drinking.”

Noble work, indeed. We should be concerned about all of those things. But that reply immediately struck me as incorrect, and I will do my best to explain why I believe it to show a specific lack of understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Pharisee approached Christ and tried to trap him with a question. The story is told in both Luke and Matthew. (I prefer Matthew 22:35-40.)

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all the heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

What Jesus called the “first and great commandment” had been around a long time before He mentioned it to the Pharisee. In fact, Moses wrote about it.

Deuteronomy 6:6  “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

Not a new thing, to love God. Well, then how do we go about loving God and fulfilling this “first and great commandment?” Jesus told us in no uncertain terms:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

and again, “He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

Simply put, in order to keep the first and great commandment, we must be obedient.

Oh, we also need to keep the second commandment as well. President Dallin Oaks recently explained it this way:

“This means we are commanded to love everyone, since Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan teaches that everyone is our neighbor. But our zeal to keep this second commandment must not cause us to forget the first, to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We show that love by “keeping his commandments.” (link)

I think that is essentially what the young lady was describing as she justified ignoring some commandments by focusing on other commandments.

There is a basic, theological misunderstanding if we think that by doing lots of really good things, it will override disobedience of other commandments. There is a passage in Matthew, that can seem a little harsh, that I find to be applicable:

Jesus taught that “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:32) (Note: In the Joseph Smith retranslation of the KJV, “I never knew you,” is changed to “Ye never knew me.” Subtle, but important.)

Sometimes it seems that we operate under a hierarchy of obedience. I understand how this mindset can set in, because I do it too. I have been known to try and justify a little bit of disobedience when I have been actively engaged in a good work. For example: I always felt I deserved to take Sunday off after a week at Scout Camp. (Never did, but the thought did cross my mind!)

Yes, it is important to love our neighbors in any and every way we can. But it does not carry enough weight with God to offset intentional disobedience to other laws.

I could spend huge amounts of time in humanitarian labor, to help my fellow man. But if I use that service as an excuse to not serve in callings, or not do the things required to hold a recommend, I am fooling myself.

But it is tempting to think that way.

President Oaks makes it clear that we can’t ignore #1 for the sake of #2, nor can we ignore #2 for the sake of #1.

“Meanwhile, we must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love—keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way.” (link)

There were multiple talks in Conference that spoke directly to the need of our being “all in.” This has been a theme over the past few years that is becoming a rallying cry of sorts.

If there is any thought that focusing on #1 and ignoring #2 is going to fly, remember that keeping #2 IS PART of keeping #1.

If there is still any doubt, remember that President Nelson chose “The Second Great Commandment” as one of his major addresses this recent Conference.

We need to be “all-in,” as defined by the Lord. Cherry-picking which commandments we think are weighty and ignoring others is not how the Lord defines it.

To wrap up this already too long post, here is a quote from President Nelson:

He said that we “will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith.” (link)

All roads lead to the “First and Great Commandment.” Even the Second.


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  1. We mortals tend to think we know the way, without looking for the road signs, or reading the maps, or listening to others who, with authority, have been able to conquer the hill that we currently see as a mountain,
    Well said, and thank you!

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently and simply at the same time. They sure make sense.

  3. Very truthful and spot on. The inspiration and wisdom you received while you were Bishop is benefiting those that were not in your ward. Thank you. I’m saving this one ….

  4. The statistics really surprised me. Though recently I’ve seen three different younger women, fairly newly married in the temple, get tattoos. It really surprised me. Did the GAs come out and say tattoos were no big deal when I wasn’t listening? More likely it’s the cafeteria method of living the gospel. I’m sure they’d tell me I’m just old (and old-fashioned).

    1. I don’t think the GAs said it was ok now. And it’s sad to me to see this, and sisters still wearing large, dangling, or multiple earrings as well. Even in the temple. Either you believe in prophets and follow them, or you don’t, I guess. I’m old too, and glad of it for having a life-time of experiences that have taught me what’s important.

  5. Awesome! Your message is well-written, clearly forthright, and essential! Thank you! I like the way you linked loving God, obedience and faith, and how Pres. Nelson and Pres. Oaks gave messages that address those actions.

  6. LOVE your thoughts. Thank you.

    There is a reason obedience is the first law of Heaven – we learn in the Temple it is the foundational covenant on the path. Surely I cannot keep the “higher” covenants if I am not keeping the first? In other words, am I really living a fully consecrated life if I am not trying to be fully obedient?

    I love the story President Packer told of being on assignment with President Kimball. President Kimball asked then-Elder Packer to please take the remainder of the meeting. As he was speaking Elder Packer said to himself (paraphrasing) “these people aren’t here to listen to me, they want to hear President Kimball.” So he ended his talk early. As he sat down President Kimball handed him a note… “It is better to be obedient than to sacrifice.”

    So important a king lost his moral, and literal, authority over this principle.

    1. I should have noted President Packer shared that story in the April 1975 General Conference. I made the note too long… it was only 5 words, “obedience is better than sacrifice”


    2. We had a similar experience in stake conference a few years ago. A newly-called Seventy was with Elder Ballard. Elder Ballard asked him to talk for 10 minutes, and then Elder Ballard would take the rest of the time. The Seventy said, “I know you all want to hear from an apostle, so I’ll just bear my testimony quickly.” He did, then sat down. Elder Ballard got up and said, “Thank you for your testimony, but you didn’t fulfill the assignment. Elder will now speak to us for 10 minutes, and then I’ll take the rest of the time.” The poor Seventy was a bit embarrassed, but got back up and talked for 10 minutes as assigned.

    1. As usual, you get right to the heart of the matter. Thank you for your voice of righteousness in this world of deception. Well Done.

  7. So much yes to this!! When I was still teaching my first and most important direction to my students was to “follow the directions”. I can’t tell you how many times kids would turn in a very nice project, but they had not followed the instructions and failed the assignment (with the option to do it the right way). Some times the student got it, sometimes they didn’t and were angry at me.

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