Discussing Spiritual Differences- Revelation 3:19-20, Ezekiel 18:32

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

COMMENTARY

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten
The first and most important thing to understand when giving moral reproof is that it should only ever be an act of love. And the first and most important thing to understand when receiving moral reproof is that love can exist in a painful experience.
Everyone who has sought out God will know what it is to be chastened. Everyone who has become a true follower will have felt the reproof of their maker. When someone I know to be a genuine disciple of Christ has called me to repentance I have been greatly helped by the knowledge that they have sat in my seat, too, being called to repentance themselves.
For as the verse above says, there are none whom God loves that He has not chastened. And there are none that God does not love.

I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, wherefore turn yourselves, and live
I believe it is easy to take offense when called to repentance because we confuse the intentions behind it with the world’s use of reproof. The world criticizes those that are wrong in order to condemn them, to justify cutting them off, to argue that they should die socially, perhaps even literally!
But unlike the world, God takes no pleasure in death, or condemnation, or the loss of any child. He does not call us out on our sins to say “so you see, this is why I have no reason to love you.” If God is chastising us it only means that we are still within reach and He is trying to save us. True condemnation from God would not be words of fury, it would be silence.
If you feel moved to call out another on their follies, then you should pause to consider whether your own motivations are similarly pure. Are you driven by the worldly form of reproof or the divine call to repentance? Is your desire to make them feel your displeasure or to awaken them to God’s love? Are you doing this to rid yourself of their sins or to sow a brighter future? Are you trying to damn them or to save them? If it is the latter, then carry on as that same spirit guides you. If it is the former, then they are absolutely right to reject you and take offense.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Mark 6:12, Doctrine and Covenants 6:9

And they went out, and preached that men should repent.

Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.


COMMENTARY

And they went out, and preached that men should repent
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation

I have spoken a bit about how we can conduct ourselves when trying to enlighten the minds of others. If we establish a genuine and loving relationship first, and are motivated by that love for them, and are providing the instruction that will help them at their unique moment of life, then we have the ideal situation for teaching truth.
But sometimes our teaching isn’t directed towards someone who is already trying to become their best self. Sometimes we aren’t just nudging an already mostly-correct direction. Sometimes someone is doing things that are definitively wrong and they fully intend to carry on with that behavior. And in this situation, whether we can succeed in dissuading them from that course or not we have a moral obligation to try. They need to be reproved for their own sake (to caution them from harming themselves), and they need to be reproved for the sake of those around them (to caution them from harming others).
This is obviously a more touchy subject and I’ll dedicate the next several posts to considering it. For now, though, let us at least let acknowledge that while the gospel message does encourage the seeker it also reproves the sinner.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- 2 Timothy 2:14, Matthew 22:38-39, Doctrine and Covenants 121:41

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.

This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

COMMENTARY

Strive not about words to no profit
When you find yourself needing to express a moral conviction to someone else, what is your motivation behind doing that? To get them to change their behavior for your benefit? To get what you want from them? Because if so, then you are not testifying of truth, you are having an argument or a debate. And in some circles argument and debate might be fitting, such as in academia, but as this verse makes clear they are of no use when testifying of the truth. Ultimately, when we are trying to influence the religious perspective of another person it should never be motivated by a desire to receive something from them.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself
The motivation for expressing our moral convictions and exercising an influence over another person should only ever be one of love. Rather than asking them to change for our own benefit, we should be inviting them to change for their own benefit. We should be making our case because we care for them and truly believe that their lives will be happier with this piece of enlightenment.
Recall the example of Daniel that we just examined. He was petitioning the prince of the eunuchs to let him eat a diet that conformed to his religious convictions, but he only made any headway when he illustrated how this approach was also going to help the prince of the eunuchs get what he wanted as well. When those we teach can feel that we sincerely seek their own good, and are not just trying to mold the world to our own preferences, they are far more likely to care about what we say.

Influence ought to be maintained only by love unfeigned
But remember that our display of care and concern for the person we speak with must be “unfeigned.” We must not pretend to care for someone just to coerce them into doing what we want. The account of Daniel also made clear that the compassion between him and the guards was sincere.
So do change those around you, but only do it because you sincerely love them and just want to help them.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:11-16

Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

COMMENTARY

I have previously discussed the impasse between Daniel and the prince of the eunuchs in this story, but also the devoted relationship that existed between them. Today I will consider the test that Daniel proposed to resolve their disagreement.

And as thou seest, deal with thy servants
I want to begin with the very tail end of Daniel’s proposal. This statement, ‘as thou seest, deal with thy servants’ is extremely submissive. If the prince allows for this test to run its course, then Daniel will abide by whatever decision that man makes, even if it is to not honor Daniel’s diet. No more argument from Daniel on the matter, no rebellion, the prince will have whatever he thinks is best.
And this shows that Daniel truly cares for the prince’s priorities, too. His reason for recommending a clean diet is not only because it is Daniel’s own preference, but also because it will fit the prince’s own interests better than the meat and wine. Daniel genuinely believes that the Lord’s law of health is the better solution for both of them.
So yes, Daniel is being submissive, but also extremely confident. The two are not mutually exclusive. Daniel can afford to be submissive because of his enormous confidence that God’s wisdom will be better than any prescription of man.

Prove thy servants, and give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat
Because at the end of the day, Daniel knows that he is in the right. Not just the right for being a good Hebrew, but the right for being the best and healthiest person that he can be, even in the qualities that the prince of the eunuchs is valuing.
It is important for us to recognize that when we are in the moral right it will be self-evident. Truth is self-proving. When we are established on true principles, then we do not have to argue to convince anyone of it. The only argument necessary is to have the other look at us, and it will be written into our faces, written into our demeanor, written into every part of who we are and what we do.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:8-10

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

COMMENTARY

Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs
Yesterday I spoke of how Daniel’s moral beliefs were at odds with the prince of the eunuchs’ fears. The two men were at an impasse, but notice from this verse that the relationship between them was not hostile. Daniel had already established a positive relationship with those whom he wished to have respect his culture. Read again the prince’s rejection and you will see that it is not motivated by malice, only by a fear of self-destruction.
In fact all of the exchanges in this story seem to be laced with a certain tenderness, both from Daniel and from his caretakers. All that follows in the tale is only able to occur because it is founded on the love between Daniel and these men.
Surely this is a lesson to all of us when discussing differences in our beliefs. These matters will go far more smoothly if we are able to first establish a mutual respect between us. And if we want respect for our different beliefs, first we need to establish a respect for one another’s person. Love for one another is the foundation of equality.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:5, 8-10

And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

COMMENTARY

I love this story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were seeking to maintain their covenants and not consume any unclean meat or drink. It is a small story, one that might seem inconsequential compared to the more epic tales of the Bible, but I believe it provides some wonderful lessons for us all.
There are multiple things I want to point out from this short narrative, so I will be reviewing them one-at-a-time over the next few days.

And the king appointed them a provision of the king’s meat: so nourishing them that they might stand before the king
But Daniel purposed that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine
To begin with, let us consider the setting of it all. At the outset Daniel and his companions are captives in Babylon. They are being integrated with a court system that already exists, and they naturally come to a point of friction between their old culture and this new one. There will be more points of friction at other points in their lives, but this is the first time we see them caught between their new king and God.
And so we must recognize that they are at the mercy of others. From these passages it would seem that they were not even able to obtain their own food, being entirely dependent on what was brought to them instead. Thus Daniel could make a request for a special diet, but if unclean meat was what was given to him then unclean meat was what he would have.


The prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: ye make me endanger my head to the king
And the prince of eunuchs could see no reason to honor Daniel’s request. The man was not himself a Hebrew and was not converted to their customs. His concern had far more to do with losing his head if he presented the Israelite youth as less fit than those who ate meat and drank wine! He thus had the power and the motivation to override Daniel’s religiosity. The two men were at an impasse and Daniel did not have the upper hand.
This very easily could have been the end of the story. Daniel could have taken the eunuch’s rejection and let his morals be crushed. He could have oscillated between anger at having been made a victim and shame at having not stood up more. He could have given up all his principles entirely, he could have made a bitter crusade and decried the prince of the eunuchs as an unfeeling sinner.
Any of these paths would have been easy to resign oneself to, but as we will see, none of them were what Daniel elected.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Question

It is said that if you want to maintain a friendship you should never discuss religion. We might be able endure differences of opinion in sports and clothing brands, but we won’t tolerate conversations about the things that really matter.

Obviously this timidity to discuss spiritual matters has to do with their inherently sacred nature. We all feel a heightened sensitivity about things which are sacred. These parts are closer to our heart, and therefore a callous word is much more likely to wound our feelings. There is also the tendency to feel judged whenever someone else believes that what we do is a moral wrong.

But I don’t believe the solution should be to cut off communication there. I believe spiritual feelings can be conveyed in a way that is sensitive and loving. I believe that sometimes we need to testify of what we know is right, even if it will be perceived as offensive by the those that we are speaking to. I also believe that there is room to examine one’s intention in how they speak, and room to examine one’s intention in how they listen. With this study I would like to consider exactly those points. How can we share testimony, champion good, and call to repentance in a way that God approves of? How can we hear the opinions of others and receive or reject it as appropriate?

I have already studied a similar topic before, one where I considered how we can remain respectful in our differences of spiritual opinion. But I want to give special attention in this study for those moments where we need to share a spiritual truth that others may fight difficult to hear. I want to focus on both sides of that moment, the giving and the receiving.

In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own experiences in this matter. Have you ever tried to share something out of love, but had it received as if out of hate? Have you ever felt muzzled when trying to champion that which is good? Have you ever felt that you must say what you had to say, no matter how it would be received?

Optimism in a Falling World- Summary

I think the studies that do me the most good are the ones that expand my understanding of what it even means to be a follower of Christ. The more I am able to redefine my paradigm to be like his the more I am able to walk in his footsteps. And this study absolutely made me take a long, hard look at what it really means to be a Christian. And along with that realization came another: I’m often not a very good one.
Which might sound like a self-condemning conclusion, but really it is not. Realizing how far one has yet to go is a sign that they are actually upon their way. One must first have a solid foundation in a subject before they can appreciate the full depth of their ignorance.
This isn’t what I expected to find when I began this study. I really wasn’t sure what the answer to my periodic cynicism towards the world would be, but I didn’t think it would be: the problem is in you, so become a better Christian. A sharp, yet loving reproof. An invitation to become more so that I can be more happy.
Here are three fundamental concepts that came up while conducting this study.

Cynicism is a Product of Despair)

Some of us are naturally more optimistic than others. Some see the glass as half full while others view it as half empty. Yet I am convinced that pervasive cynicism is not anyone’s natural state. Each of us begins this life as children, and children as a whole are far more believing and optimistic. They have to learn to see the world more darkly.
At some point each one of us has our brightness broken. To one degree or another each of us was mistreated while still innocent. At the very least, every small child comes astray of someone having a bad day sooner or later. But it isn’t just what others do to us that break us, either. There are also the times we violate our own conscience. Through each of these processes we feel guilty and dirty, our souls are distressed, and we cannot correlate the promise of eternal joy with how wrong we feel inside. In this we come to understand what it truly means to be in hell.
And so long as we cannot see our own way to brighter fields we’re never going to be able to see it for the world either. If forgiveness seems inaccessible for what we have done, if our wrongs are more than we can ever do, then surely it is the same for the world’s even greater evils. In short, it does not seem humanly possible for that which is broken to be made whole once more.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Matthew 18:3- And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Believing in Others is a Product of Being Saved)

But of course there is a message of hope for those caught in such dire straits. When I began this study I really hadn’t intended to cap it off with yet another examination of Jesus Christ’s atonement, yet it found its way to the heart of my research even so. Because at the end of the day every worldly problem has its root in those fundamental problems of a fallen world and moral compromises. And those both have their solution in his atoning sacrifice.
If we ever want to have more hope in the world, then we first need to be able to have hope restored in ourselves. And if we want to have hope in ourselves, then we need to stop seeing our happy ending as being dependent on our own actions, and instead let it rely on the actions of one who has already succeeded. Then we start to see our triumph as a sure thing, and our hope becomes unshakeable.
When the reality of these facts truly sinks in for our own selves, then it is easy to see that the same sure triumph is available to all the rest of the world, too. We stop seeing other peoples’ problems as being their responsibility to solve. Just as with us, we know it has already been solved for them if they will just accept it. There no longer remains any question of whether they are now “too bad” or “too far gone” to make their way back. I mean, yes, they absolutely are too far gone to bring themselves back, but now we know that that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are never too far gone for him to bring back.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57- The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 19:25-26- When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The Salvation of Self Must Come First)

Of course feeling reclaimed from our own guilt and despair isn’t just a one-time thing, either. We will feel the reality of Christ’s redeeming love once initially, be filled with hope for all mankind, but then need to refresh those feelings many times over throughout our lives. In my case the old pessimism comes over me gradually when I am not paying attention. I have thought that I was still in a good place, but then suddenly looked all about me and wondered how I had wandered once more into fields of despair.
I began this study by trying to focus on the despair and not on where I stood. I began by looking at the external and not the internal. But at least I was looking, and over the past couple weeks my focus has gradually shifted back to where it needs to be.
And this leads me to the final point of this study. If I ever look at the world, see naught but wrong, and cannot fathom of any way to correct it, then my first instinct should be to consider what is amiss in myself. I cannot help lift anyone until I first stand on firmer ground, just as Jesus could never have pulled Peter upwards if he had also been floundering in the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Luke 22:32- But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Optimism in a Falling World- Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 55:8-9

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he said, and shall he not do it?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. My ways are higher than your ways

Sometimes a friend might ask me to join a cause and I don’t have faith in it. Usually this is because I can see flaws in the design, or I question his motives, or because even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We are imperfect humans, and many of the plans we conceive of are complete folly, unworthy of trust and faith from others.
And sometimes I think we take the skepticism we have for the plans of men, and we bring it into our view of God’s plans as well. We hear bold claims in the gospel like how Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:16, John 12:46-47) and it sound incredible. We are invited to be a part of that work and are told that by small and simple things we may have a tremendous effect in this world (Alma 37:6-7) and it sounds impossible.
We hear such tremendous, sweeping claims and we struggle to believe in them because we are so acquainted with tremendous, sweeping claims ending in utter failure. It goes against all the ways of this world to trust in a plan that is so grand. But of course, when we hold this skepticism it means we are viewing God and His capabilities as being the same as that of man. And as today’s verses firmly attest “God is not a man.” The same limitations do not apply to Him, nor to us when we act in His cause.