Sacrament Talk Transcript From Nov. 2016
Good morning brothers and sisters. I was asked to give a talk on some stories from the Bible, with a focus on one from the New Testament. I will base my message on a story from the New Testament in which Jesus asked His disciples to count the cost of discipleship and to answer whether they were willing to pay the price or not.
Jesus gave a parable in the New Testament about counting the cost of discipleship. Luke 14: 25-33 reads:
25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14: 25-33)
Jesus compared each of us to a builder who has to sit down and decide if he is willing pay the price necessary to complete the construction project. Have you considered the cost of eternal life and have you paid it? Have you begun constructing your mansion in heaven without considering or being able to pay the price to finish it?
What is that price? That price, as Jesus taught, is all that we have and are. God requires nothing less of us than absolutely everything, if we are to inherit eternal life.
Section 1: The Foundational Commandment
Other scriptures testify of the importance of submitting to the will of God in all things, which I consider to be the most important lesson that Jesus ever taught.
When the earth was being created, God said that the purpose of its creation was to be a place where He could determine who would submit to His will in all things, and who would not. Abraham 3: 24-25 records:
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr 3: 24-25)
When God gave the Israelites the 10 commandments, He chose to put worshipping Him and avoiding idolatry as the first and second foundational commandments for Israel to observe. Exodus 20:2-6 records: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” (Exodus 20: 2-6)
During His ministry, when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He reaffirmed the first commandment by saying: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22: 37-38)
On another occasion, Jesus clarified what it meant to love God by defining it in behavioral terms: ““He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father” (John 14:21).
Again, Jesus taught His disciples that professing a love of God is not enough as the price of inheriting eternal life is to do the will of God: “Not everyone 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.” (Matt 7:21)
John added His witness as well when he taught: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)
During His ministry, Jesus taught this doctrine on numerous occasions. He said: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 5: 30)
After His Resurrection, when He appeared to the Nephites, Jeffrey R. Holland observed that Jesus chose to define Himself in terms of His submission to His father. 3 Nephi 11: 10-11 records the Words of Jesus:
“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”
The First thing that Jesus wanted the Nephites to know about Himself was that He drank the bitter cup that was given Him and submitted to the will of the Father in all things. Jesus, who we are to emulate in all things, chose to emphasize deference and obedience to the Father as His primary character trait.
The author of Ecclesiastes, after much reflection, came to the same conclusion about the purpose of life: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl 12:13)
Section 2: Barriers to Submitting to God’s Will (Idols)
I’d like to turn now to focusing on barriers to submitting to the will of God. The second commandment calls these barriers “Idols.” Idolatry is worshipping or trusting in anything other than God. It occurs when we make anything other than following the Will of God our ultimate concern in life. That which we prioritize above God becomes our “idol.” Thus, anything can become an idol if we give it more importance than obeying the will of God.
Unfortunately, idolatry is not a sin of the past, but is just as widespread today as it has ever been. The Lord warned the people of this dispensation in D&C Section 1: 16: “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1: 16)
Idol #1: Fame and Fortune (Reputation and Wealth)
I’d like to go over some of the more common idols that we are worshipping today. One of the most common idols that we prioritize above God is the pursuit of fame and fortune. This need not be on a grand scale for this to occur. If earning 1000$ more per year becomes more important to you than obeying the will of God then riches are your idol just as much as that person seeking after millions. Likewise if obtaining prestige with fellow church members in your ward becomes more important than following the will of God, fame has become your idol.
The story of the rich young ruler in the New Testament is a good example of a man whose idol was wealth. The Rich young ruler had told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments and asked what more he needed to do to obtain eternal life. Luke 18 22:24 records Jesus response:
“Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:22-24)
Trusting in and seeking after wealth and status are hallmarks of the culture that we live in. Jesus taught his disciples:
“Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6: 31-33)
Jesus suggested that the Gentile cultures have it backwards. Instead of seeking wealth and status first and then devoting the leftovers to God, we should seek God first and then God will give us wealth if it is His will. In contrast, the scriptures warn of what will happen if we seek wealth first and make it our God.
The author of Ecclesiastes, after reflecting on a long life concluded: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”
This is confirmed through modern psychological research and is expressed in the hedonic treadmill theory. This theory explains that when people get gain in some way it always only leads to a temporary burst of joy but has no real lasting impact on long-term happiness. You quickly adapt to what you now have and are no longer happy until you get more in a never-ending cycle.
Perhaps this is what Jesus was partially referring to when He taught the Samaritan woman at the well: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4: 13-14)
In other words, the things of this world can never permanently satisfy us as they lack the ability to fill us. Jesus, on the other hand, is compared to a well of everlasting life that if we drink we will be permanently satisfied and fulfilled.
The Book of Job also reflects upon the futility and vanity of a life centered on material gain. “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?” (Job 27: 8-9)
Jesus similarly taught that even if you obtained all of the wealth and status in the world in the end it would not profit you anything if you made that your ultimate concern instead of submitting to the will of God. Jesus said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:29)
Similarly, the prophet Amos condemned this idolatrous focus on wealth in ancient Israel. He says: “Hear this, O ye that….say When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?” (Amos 8:4-5) The Sabbath and observing God’s will had become an irritant to the ancient Israelites, whose heart was set upon getting material gain. Ask yourself, is complying with God’s will an irritant to what I really want to do?
Like the author of proverbs, we ought to conclude: “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) or in other words “It’s better to have a little food with peace than abundance with strife.”
Idol #2: Wisdom and Philosophies of Men
The next idol that I would like to look at is trusting in the wisdom and philosophies of men. Those who worship this idol base their life upon worldviews propagated by philosophers, professors and other men and women of prominence. They make the pursuit of worldly knowledge their main concern in life as they put their trust in those teachings rather than in the Lord’s teachings. Whenever gospel doctrines are found to conflict with the philosophy they put their trust in, they demand that the Lord change His doctrine to comply with the idolized philosophy. If submitting to the will of God is our primary concern, we will cast off any philosophy that contradicts or opposes the revealed word of God.
Trusting in the philosophies of men is not something new to our dispensation. Paul warned Timothy about trusting in science above God when he said: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” (1 Tim 6:20)
Likewise, God condemned the Israelites through Jeremiah who attributed their creation and existence to idols instead of God as the Creator. Jeremiah laments that the Israelites were: “Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me.” (Jeremiah 2:27) The same theories that were prevalent in ancient Israel are prevalent today that deny God as the creator.
Worshiping this idol also takes the form of counseling others to act in ways contrary to what church leadership has taught. We worship modern golden calves when we counsel others to act contrary to the Lord’s teachings.
The scriptures also warn us against the consequences of worshiping this idol. One consequence, is that God removes His influence and counsel if we reject it. Psalm 81: 12 records: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.”
Isaiah warned that those who trust in their wickedness and in their own knowledge and say that God does not exist will be visited with sudden desolation. He says: “For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, none seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47: 10-11)
And finally, this idol is given one of the strongest condemnations in all of scripture in 2 Nephi 9: 42-43:
“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.”
The antidote to this idol is given in Proverbs 3: 5-8. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” (Proverbs 3: 5-8)
Idol #3: Pleasure of “Happiness”
While wealth and the philosophies of men are common idols, another common idol is that of pleasure or happiness. We worship this idol when we prioritize comfort, pleasure or what we perceive as our own happiness above obeying the will of the Lord. In some ways, this may be the ultimate idol that so many of us are subject to. We calculate what we think will make us happy and we make that our ultimate concern in life rather than obeying the will of God. The irony of such a quest is that by pursuing your own happiness, you are ensuring your misery. While denying your own short-term happiness guarantees your eternal joy.
This is what Christ mean when he taught: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) Or in other words, those who seek their own will in life lose their life while those who lose their lives in the service of the Lord gain it.
Jesus also taught us to be wary of this idol when He said “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:4) Or in other words, life is about more than worrying about survival or appeasing our physical appetites but is about living by every word of God.
Peter adds his witness when he wrote: “That we no longer should live the rest of our time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2)
Jesus also warned us against loving the things of this world that satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the flesh. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2: 15-17)
The Story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob illustrates the dangers of this idol. Dallin H. Oaks explains: “The contrast between the spiritual and the temporal is also illustrated by the twins Esau and Jacob and their different attitudes toward their birthright. The firstborn, Esau, “despised his birthright.” (Gen. 25:34.) Jacob, the second twin, desired it. Jacob valued the spiritual, while Esau sought the things of this world. When he was hungry, Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. “Behold,” he explained, “I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Gen. 25:32.) Many Esaus have given up something of eternal value in order to satisfy a momentary hunger for the things of the world.” (“Spirituality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 61) (jacob and esau)
Janet G. Lee expounds further: “Esau’s logic seems superficially sound, but in giving up his birthright for a single meal he becomes the poster child for sacrificing his future to the immediate needs of the body…..A million times over in a million subsequent tragedies, men have done the same thing—whether for a mess of pottage, a drink, a cigarette, one night of indulgence, one peek at pornography, or one more hit of heroine—the eternal inheritance is relinquished for a momentary pleasure. “If only we could realize that the momentary pleasure we might feel by an act of disobedience can never be equal to the feelings of peace and happiness that result from obedience.” (Janet G. Lee, New Era, Feb. 1994, 49) (Jacob and Esau)
We need to be careful because this idol is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture that it can be difficult to recognize. An example from ancient Israelite culture during the time of Malachi illustrates the point. The men of that time had worshipped the idol of personal happiness when they had put away their wives in order to take pleasure in marrying younger women. It was so ingrained in Israelite culture at the time that even the priests allowed this behavior.
Malachi 2: 13-17 explains the situation: “And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant…Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…therefore take heed to your spirit that ye deal not treacherously. Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2: 13-17)
The Institute manual expounds on this episode by saying: “One of the gross sins among the ancient people of the Lord was unfaithfulness in marriage vows. Some of the Hebrew men, tiring of their wives and the mothers of their children, were seeking the companionship of younger women. The wives would come to the temple and make an appeal to God at the altar. In this unfaithfulness to marriage vows, the Lord declared, the men had dealt treacherously (see vv. 13–14). The Lord was angry with these men because they did not remain true to their wives, but He also expressed anger toward the priests for knowing the problem and not executing justice. He told the men to scrutinize their innermost feelings toward the women whom they had loved in their youth, who had borne their children, and who had loved and served them, and not to put away their wives (v. 15). For “the Lord . . . hateth putting away” (v. 16).” (Pg. 352 Institute study guide, 1 Kings-Malachi)
In order to determine whether you are worshipping the idol of pleasure or personal happiness as the ancient Israelites did, ask this question. Am I willing to give up what I think will make me happy and drink the bitter cups of life or carry the crosses that may be ordained for me in submitting to God’s will. If the answer is no, then you are not willing to pay the price of eternal life.
Idol #4: Body Image or Beauty
The next idol to consider is that of body image or beauty. Worshipping this idol means that body image and beauty becomes our ultimate concern in life. Paul wrote to timothy about this idol and counselled him to put physical health in its proper place: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim 4:8) Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we should neglect our health. It simply means health and looks are not our ultimate concern in life.
Idol #5: Family
Family can also become an idol when we put those relationships above God. Jesus taught his followers that any who could not give up their family relationships to follow God are not worthy of eternal life. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”(Matt 10: 37-38)
Again, for the majority of people submitting to the will of God will mean more harmonious family relations. For some, however, submitting to the will of God may mean losing family relationships. There are some for whom joining the church meant being disowned by their family members. However, like Christ, these faithful souls drank the bitter cup that was given them and declared “thy will be done Lord.”
We can turn to the old Testament for another example of this idol. Eli was the high priest during the time of Samuel, and he was ultimately condemned by the Lord for honoring his sons above God. 1 Sam 2: 29 records: “Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”
Eli put his sons above God, and as a result he fell.
Idol #6: Political Views/Government
Another common idol that people put above God is government. Many devote all of their time, talents and resources to building up certain political parties at the expense of God. Many trust in government to be their providers and make devotion to the platform of their political party their ultimate concern.
Ancient Israel also struggled with putting their trust in earthly organizations and governments above God. The prophet Isaiah declared to those ancient Israelites: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1)
Worshipping this idol means that your primary allegiance is to your political party, philosophy or platform above the Kingdom of God.
Do we submit our political beliefs to those revealed in scripture or do we idolize the theories of men that contradict the word of God?
Idol #7: The Self
And the final idol that I would like to look at today is the idol of the self. We worship ourselves when we trust in our own knowledge and abilities above God. When we say, my will be done and not yours we become our own Gods. Many make pursuing their wants and desires the ultimate goal of their life but the gospel teaches us to submit those desires to God’s will and we will one day obtain all the desires of our heart.
The Lord warned the ancient Israelites, through Isaiah, about trusting in the self: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (Isaiah 50:11)
Alma, in the Book of Mormon, observed the Zoramites who engaged essentially in worship of the self. The Zoramites worshipped in a very perverted way. They had people go up to a raised altar and recite the same prayer one at a time. The prayer denied Christ and boasted of their own election and how they were better than others. After they did this weekly, they returned home and never spoke of God again until they were back at the Rameumptum. They cried unto God with their mouths while their hearts were set upon pride and the vain things of the world. (Alma 31)
We worship at the rameumptum when our ultimate concern becomes glorifying ourselves instead of God.
Pride is essentially worship of the self. Pride is the elevation of the self above God and others. Thus, pride is truly the foundation of all sin because pride involves making our ultimate concern in life the glorification of ourselves and not God.
I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who truly restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness along with the Priesthood keys and authority to direct the work of God on this earth.
I would like to close with a challenge that we all might be like the Psalmist who declared: “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139: 23) and that we all might have the courage to examine ourselves and the idols that are holding us back from submitting to the will of God in all things.
And I leave with this message and testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.