Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 35

by | Sep. 11, 2003

Sunday School

Richard Lloyd Anderson on Paul's Teachings on Sacrifice:
No one leads others to a higher level without experiencing unawareness, insensitivity, or even rejection from them. Few realize what it takes to help others until they also reach that higher level. How many children or students appreciate their parents and teachers before they become parents and teachers themselves? Christ and Paul both reveal the struggle to lead others spiritually, but there is a corresponding joy that is highlighted in 2 Corinthians: "For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (2 Cor. 1:5, NIV). Paul "boasts" in this letter, but only to remind his enemies of his credentials on knowing Judaism, suffering, and the visions of the Lord. He does not boast of the inner peace of the Spirit, but his inner composure emerges in 2 Corinthians as vividly as the sacrifices and hardships that he consciously reviews. This book quietly shows that God's rich blessings are sure when one performs his errands.
Paul needs no earthly status, for he is satisfied to hold heavenly treasures with other Saints in "earthen vessels," referring to the common pottery around him (2 Cor. 4:7). He validates Jesus' beatitudes, for in literally hungering and thirsting he is filled with the joy of the Spirit. Can one be "blessed" when persecuted? Paul answers that he is "troubled on every side, yet not distressed . . . persecuted, but not forsaken" (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Part of Paul's burden of sacrifice was risking danger—some of these persecutions were mentioned in the biographical chapters of this book. He wanted his Corinthian detractors to know his integrity by the measure of his discomfort and his risking his life for the gospel: whether the blows of being beaten, whether prisons, whether mobs (2 Cor. 6:5), whether fatigue, hunger, or physical discomfort (2 Cor. 11:27). But how easily he moves from such outer afflictions to anxiety over the Saints' righteousness and the criticisms of self-righteous Saints. After exposure to thieves on lonely roads, he was certain to be mobbed in the cities when he preached the gospel (2 Cor. 11:26). And after making converts, he was certain to meet problems from many and rebelliousness from some. After all perils "without," he assumed "the care of all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28). Paul's longest letters express his deep concerns over serious problems: "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears" (2 Cor. 2:4).
What parent, leader, or concerned friend has not had the same feelings? Even Jesus wept over unrepentant Jerusalem. Paul was not sacrificing for an institution but for people. The principle of sacrifice means discomfort in finding his missionary contacts, means facing any scorn in sharing the gospel, means care in leading converts through immaturity to godliness. His list of sacrifices seems inexhaustible. With this record of what one apostle gave for the kingdom, can one smugly think of going to Paul's glory without being able to turn off the television and talk with family members and fill Church assignments? Missionaries look back at the "happiest years of their lives" because they sacrificed for the Saints and for converts. Parents similarly look back at their busiest involvement with their families. Bishops and Relief Society presidents experience the same illogical combination of giving beyond their capacity and receiving unimagined joy. Latter-day Saints are deeply committed to the principle of sacrifice, and the above examples show that selflessness is not a burden but the essence of life's opportunity. Jesus said, "Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25). Paul was in the midst of visible dangers and demanding travel when he wrote 2 Corinthians, but he could say that the "inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16, 2 Cor. 4:16). And he gives a convincing glimpse of the Lord's resources and rewards that were deep wells of refreshment as he labored "by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned" (2 Cor. 6:6).
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 130.)
Bruce R. McConkie on the Weaknesses of Men:
Weaknesses cause men to rely upon the Lord and to seek his grace and goodness. If all men excelled in all things, would any develop the humility and submissiveness essential to salvation? As shown by Paul's life, even the greatest prophets—for their own benefit and schooling—though strong in the Spirit, are weak in other things. Some have physical infirmities, others are denied financial ability, or are lacking in some desirable personality trait, lest any think of themselves more highly than they ought.
When Moroni complained to the Lord that the Gentiles would criticize the literary weaknesses of the Nephites, the Lord replied: "Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness." (Ether 12:26-28.)
2 Cor 12:7. A thorn in the flesh] Some unnamed physical infirmity, apparently a grievous one from which the Apostle suffered either continuously or recurringly.
2 Cor 12:7 Messenger of Satan] Whence come diseases and infirmities? From Satan or some other source? Without any question sickness, distress, and physical incapacity arise because of the laws which God has ordained. Obedience to the laws of health brings health; disobedience to these laws opens the door to disease and deformity. This principle is implicit in the very fact that Deity has given us such revelations as the Word of Wisdom. (D. & C. 89.) If it were otherwise, Satan would smite apostles and prophets, and the good and great in general, with disease and affliction, so that universal anarchy, disability, and plague would reign over all the earth.
On the other hand, the devil uses and delights in diseases and afflictions, and in some cases he has power to impose them, as when "Satan . . . smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown" (Job 2:7), or when Jesus loosed from her infirmity "a daughter of Abraham, whom," he said, "Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years.' (Luke 13:11-17; Acts 10:38.)
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 448.)
Neal A. Maxwell on Overcoming Tribulations:
An equally hard but essential doctrine, if we are to understand life itself, is the reality that since this is a gospel of growth and life is a school of experience, God, as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched. (Eric Hoffer.) God will tutor us by trying us because He loves us, not because of indifference! As already noted, this sort of divine design in our lives clearly requires the omniscience of God. No wonder those who wrongly think of Him as still progressing with regard to the acquisition of knowledge will not be able to manage well the hard doctrines in this chapter.
Because our lives are foreseen by God, He is never surprised by developments within our lives. The sudden loss of health, wealth, self-esteem, status, or a loved one—developments that may stun us—are foreseen by God, though not necessarily caused by Him. It is clear, however, that this second estate is to be a learning and a testing experience. Once again, it is relevant to remind ourselves that when the Gods discussed us and our earth experience, their declaration was, "And we will prove them herewith." (D&C 98:12; Abraham 3:25.)
Clearly, we had to be moved on from the first estate—where the truth that "all these things shall give thee experience" no doubt seemed so very logical to us—moved on to this earth, where all these experiences are sometimes so inexplicable and even nearly intolerable.
C. S. Lewis put it well when he gave us the analogy of remodeling the human soul and a living house: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace." (Mere Christianity [New York: Macmillan, 1960], p. 174.)
It should be clear to us, however, that when we speak of meeting life's challenges and suffering, it is wise to distinguish between the causes of suffering. There are different kinds of "remodeling."
Type I
Some things happen to us because of our own mistakes and our own sins, as contrasted with suffering brought on because we are Christian. Peter makes this distinction very well: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Peter 4:15-16.)
Even indecision—about whether or not to be a believer—can produce its own unnecessary trial and sorrows, as President Brigham Young observed: "As to trials, why bless your hearts, the man or woman who enjoys the spirit of our religion has no trials; but the man or woman who tries to live according to the Gospel of the Son of God, and at the same time clings to the spirit of the world, has trials and sorrows acute and keen, and that, too, continually." (Journal of Discourses 16:123.)
Type II
Still other trials and tribulations come to us merely as a part of living, for, as indicated in the scriptures, the Lord "sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45.) We are not immunized against all inconvenience and difficulties nor against aging. This type of suffering carries its own real challenges, but we do not feel singled out.
Type III
There is another dimension of suffering, and other challenges that come to us even though we seem to be innocent. These come to us because an omniscient Lord deliberately chooses to school us: "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6); "Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith" (Mosiah 23:21).
Abraham, for instance, had his faith tried as he took Isaac up to Mount Moriah. The Lord later described this as a deliberate chastening experience for Abraham. (D&C 101:4.) Fittingly, Abraham, who was later to become a god, learned through obedience what it was to be asked to sacrifice his son. (D&C 132:37.)
A good friend, who knows whereof he speaks, has observed of trials, "If it's fair, it is not a true trial!" That is, without the added presence of some inexplicableness and some irony and injustice, the experience may not stretch us or lift us sufficiently. The crucifixion of Christ was clearly the greatest injustice in human history, but the Savior bore up under it with majesty and indescribable valor.
Paul indicated that "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh." (2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Italics added.) Use of the word given suggests that Paul knew wherefrom this affliction came. Further, as it must be with anyone who seeks sainthood, Paul had to be "willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him." (Mosiah 3:19.)
There may be those who choose to debate the significance of whether or not an omnipotent God gives us a particular trial or simply declines to remove it. The outcome is obviously the same either way; God is willing for us to undergo that challenge. Yet He promises us that His grace is sufficient for us. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Ether 12:26-27.) He even indicates that some of the weaknesses and infirmities given to us can actually become a strength to us. It is in our weakness and extremity that God's power is fully felt. Only when, of ourselves, we are helpless is His help truly appreciated.
Parenthetically, those who worry if they currently seem to be untested should not feel guilty or anxious, nor should they pray for trials. First of all, the absence of major tribulation can, ironically, produce the trial of tranquillity with its very grave risks of careless ease. Second, the Lord does require a few intact individuals and families to help others manage their trials and tribulations, even though these roles often rotate. (Moses, who was very "anxiously engaged" and who was in the midst of having his leadership of ancient Israel tested, was blessed by the solid counsel of an observing—but somewhat less involved—Jethro about delegation.) Third, life is not over yet, and there can be, as we have all seen, a tremendous compression of trials. Finally, the absence of Type I trials, those arising out of our own sins and mistakes, is obviously never to be regretted.
... The justice, mercy, and love of God blend appropriately in providing us with adequate growth opportunities in this life. We will not be able to say shruggingly at judgment time, "I was overcome by the world because I was overprogrammed or overtempted." For the promises are that temptation can either be escaped or endured. (1 Corinthians 10:13.) The promise is also that throughout tribulation God's grace is sufficient for us—He will see us through. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Ether 12:26-27.)
The thermostat on the furnace of affliction will not have been set too high for us—though clearly we may think so at the time. Our God is a refining God who has been tempering soul-steel for a very long time. He knows when the right edge has been put upon our excellence and also when there is more in us than we have yet given. One day we will praise God for taking us near to our limits—as He did His Only Begotten in Gethsemane and Calvary.
But would one so submit to a God who was not both omniscient and all-loving and enter the "furnace of affliction"? Might we not resent it all otherwise?
How much glorious inner comfort came to Christ in Gethsemane and Calvary from His knowing that, literally, He did "nothing" save that which "he seeth the Father do." (John 5:19-20.)
(Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 28.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson on Forgiveness and Repentance:
The gospel seeks to alleviate guilt, not produce it. Confusion, misunderstanding, and sin all produce guilt. Christ's atonement illuminates dim human paths with the glow of assurance. Everyone is included in "God so loved the world" (John 3:16). Yet many things are implied in God's giving of his Son—not only the Atonement, but the missionary commission to spread the message and include all willing in Christ's Church. This does not mean handing people tracts and ignoring them thereafter. Paul's church was a system of caring, above all for spiritual welfare. Paul says that God set the example by "the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering"—and that these qualities develop steadfast love, which "leads you to repentance" (Rom. 2:4, NKJB). Paul's Corinthian letters show him exercising just such concerned leadership to motivate the Corinthian Saints to repent.
Paul wrote his first letter not to wound, but "that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you" (2 Cor. 2:4). He encouraged the Saints to "forgive . . . and comfort" an offender (2 Cor. 2:7); to "confirm your love toward him" (2 Cor. 2:8). Paul's "increase of love" was especially appropriate because the Corinthians had taken seriously Paul's letter and the leader sent to follow it up. The apostle's heart went out to them because of "the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him" (2 Cor. 7:15). Thus, Paul's duty of confrontation had produced only temporary pain because lives were changed (2 Cor. 7:8). A slight modernization clarifies Paul's powerful explanation of this "first principle": "Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Cor. 7:9-10, NKJB).
There is indeed the bitter pain of the results of sin in a person angry because he immaturely refuses to learn. "It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14, NKJB), the Lord had told Paul at his conversion. But when one sincerely reaches to God for growth, he takes the pain of sin as a lesson. This "godly sorrow" brings repentance "not to be repented of" because it rests on true principles and never needs to be changed. But the "sorrow of the world" tends to death—in one sense the actions themselves must die because they are counterfeit. The eternal way is the only permanent way to happiness. Second Corinthians shows that those accepting Christ must still struggle for righteousness in their lives, that repentance is a constant, ongoing process necessary for exaltation. Christ's atonement provided hope and forgiveness for the Corinthians but did not relieve them of the personal struggles to develop in their ability to live Christ's principles. As in modern revelation, the measure of their repentance was both regret and change of behavior. One truly repenting of sins "will confess them and forsake them" (D&C 58:43). Repentance is no more restricted to the time of conversion than is faith, for both are lifelong principles of growth in the gospel. Confession of Christ merely opens the way to learn to serve him, another name for repentance.
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 130.)
Ezra Taft Benson on Godly Sorrow:
As we seek to qualify to be members of Christ's Church-members in the sense in which He uses the term, members who have repented and come unto Him-let us remember these principles. The gospel is the Lord's plan of happiness and repentance is designed to bring us joy. True repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. True repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior (see Alma 5:13). Part of this mighty change of heart is to feel godly sorrow for our sins. This is what is meant by a broken heart and a contrite spirit. God's gifts are sufficient to help us overcome every sin and weakness if we will but turn to Him for help. Most repentance does not involve sensational or dramatic changes, but rather is a step by step, steady and consistent movement toward godliness. ("A Mighty Change of Heart," address prepared [but not delivered] 1986.)
It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute "godly sorrow" (2 cor. 7:102 Corinthians 7:10).
Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (D&C 20:37). Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.
We must take our sins to the Lord in humble and sorrowful repentance. We must plead with Him for power to overcome them. The promises are sure. He will come to our aid. We will find the power to change our lives. ("A Mighty Change of Heart," address prepared [but not delivered] 1986.)
We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more god-like, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant as it were. Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair. ("A Mighty Change of Heart," address prepared [but not delivered] 1986.)
As we cleanse the inner vessel, there will have to be changes made in our own personal lives, in our families, and in the Church (see Alma 60:23). The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. But we can do it. (CR April 1986, Ensign 16 [May 1986]: 7.)
(Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 71.)
Bruce R. McConkie on Man Reconciling Himself to God:
 Through his fall Adam brought spiritual death into the world; that is, man was cast out of the presence of God and died as pertaining to the things of righteousness or of the Spirit. As a consequence man became carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature and were thereby an enemy of God. (Mosiah 3:19; Alma 42:7-11.) Through his atoning sacrifice Christ brought spiritual life into the world; that is, man was given power to return to the presence of God by receiving the companionship of the Holy Spirit; he was able to become alive as to the things of righteousness or of the Spirit.
Reconciliation is the process of ransoming man from his state of sin and spiritual darkness and of restoring him to a state of harmony and unity with Deity. Through it God and man are no longer enemies. Man, who was once carnal and evil, who lived after the manner of the flesh, becomes a new creature of the Holy Ghost; he is born again; and, even as a little child, he is alive in Christ. "Reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh," Jacob taught, "and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved." (2 Ne. 10:24.)
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 422.)
Neal A. Maxwell on Reconciliation:
The Atonement was itself an act of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus "hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us . . . that he might reconcile [us] unto God" (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The theme of reconciliation is often found in the Book of Mormon as well: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved" (2 Nephi 10:24).
There is no such thing as one party reconciliation. "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18). God stands ready to reconcile us to Him, waiting with open arms to receive us (Mormon 6:17). There is no such thing as a solo embrace.
(Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 99.)
 Robert L. Millet on Reconciliation:
Paul explains the reconciliation of fallen man to God made possible through the gospel. (5:11-7:16.) It is God who has initiated this process, "who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ." (5:18.) An individual who enters into the new covenant in Christ becomes a "new creature" (5:17), and the Atonement makes it possible for that person to repent of "trespasses" and achieve reconciliation with God the Father (5:19). Paul links this concept to his defense of the divine authority of his apostleship that follows, noting to the Corinthians: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us." (5:20.) His role as their priesthood leader has been a painful one, and he has had the unpleasant task of calling them to repentance. (7:4-9.) He is relieved that finally they have humbled themselves and that they "sorrowed to repentance." (7:9.) While God has initiated the possibility of reconciliation, it is the duty of the individual saints to finally make it effective in each of their lives by repentance and righteous living.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 73.)
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