Higher Laws

Life could be compared to trains in an enormous switch station. Interconnecting and dividing tracks are everywhere.
Switch Station Trains.jpg
Each day we begin by climbing onto a chosen train car. The day then becomes a complicated knot of entering and exiting, riding and jumping, switching and connecting.
It is physically impossible to be on several train cars at once.
The defining aspect of our daily journey is which train cars we chose to ride while bypassing all the others.
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We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives. – Elder Oaks CR 2007
Just like you and I, our Savior couldn’t simultaneously be in Nazareth and in Jerusalem.
He was required, like every other mortal, to prioritize His time and His actions.
He demonstrated that mortal perfection is based on correct priorities, not on doing everything.

Living a perfect life doesn’t require that we somehow manage to ride every train car all the time.

Rather, perfection requires always putting first things first.
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Correctly prioritizing is a daunting task!

Thankfully, however, the Savior, as our perfect example, demonstrated

-one central goal

and

-one core motivation

that are at the heart of a perfect life and ultimately at the very core of godhood.

As we strive to make the priorities of the Savior our own, we will find the path to perfection and back our eternal home illuminated.
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The Great Goal of Godhood

What is the ultimate priority of our Father in Heaven?

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass
the immortality and eternal life of man.
– Moses 1:39″

It’s simple; God is focused on helping His children reach exaltation.
But it’s deep.
He wants His children to become like Him.

“As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may become.”
– President Joseph F. SmithLine 2 copy

God sits, “enthroned in yonder heavens… (because of) His character, attributes, and perfections” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 3)

God reigns because of WHO He is.

And He wants us (his children) to develop His same character.

“…you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves–to be kings and priests
to God, the same as all Gods have done–by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory…”
– King Follett Discourse

By definition, gaining exaltation means developing the, “character, attributes, and perfections” of godhood.
In other words, we have, literally, matured, changed, and perfected until we are like God.

This requires a change from the inside–a molding and shaping of person and character until we become,

“…one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…”
– John 17:21

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The Great Principle of Heaven

Grasping the pivotal nature of developing divine character leads to a straight-forward but profound truth.

That which lifts the character of man closer to God is good
and
That which distances the character of man from God is evil

Think about it for a minute.

Right and Wrong
Good and Bad
are just words that mean

Developing God’s character
or
Not

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Our Father’s Motivation

The question then becomes, on what ought we to be focusing in order to develop a godlike character?

The answer seems almost deceptively simple.

“…God is love.” – 1 John 4:81

Of the many characteristics of godhood that could be listed throughout scripture, (ex. God is light, God is perfection, God is pure, God is all powerful…) their consistent theme is love.

“…God is our loving Heavenly Father…” PMG, Lesson 1

Christ summed up his life, his perfection, and his priorities when he said,

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.
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.”

-Matthew 22:37-40

and

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
-John 13:35

If love is truly the defining characteristic of godhood, there must be more to it than our, often casual, use of the word.
As our perfect example, consider what the life of our Savior teaches us about the true meaning of love.
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Character of Christ

It is said of Christ that he went about, “doing good” (Acts 10:38).
If, as discussed above, ‘good’ means ‘developing, or helping another develop, a divine character’, then Christ is indeed the ultimate example of “doing good”.

It should be no surprise in a universe where truth is one eternal round that “doing good” and “God is love” are integrally interconnected.

Consider.

We speak of ‘true love’ being demonstrated by doing what is best for another in the long run.

And a definition of charity might read:

Charity: Faith (the willingness to act in behalf of) in another person’s divine potential.

Christ’s life and example tie all of these together!

Christ is the perfect example of goodness, pure love, AND charity BECAUSE he spent his life focused on lifting, loving, and serving those around him–encouraging them to become like his Father.

“…character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward…the Savior of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character” – Elder Bednar in ‘Character of Christ’ at BYU 2003

Christ came to do on earth EXACTLY what his Father is constantly doing in heaven.

“All that Jesus came to say and do, including and especially in His atoning suffering and sacrifice, He was showing us who and what God our Eternal Father is like…To come to earth with such a responsibility, to stand in place of Elohim—speaking as He would speak, judging and serving, loving and warning, forbearing and forgiving as He would do—this is a duty of such staggering proportions that you and I cannot comprehend such a thing. But in the loyalty and determination that would be characteristic of a divine child, Jesus could comprehend it and He did it.” – Elder Holland in General Conference ‘The Grandeur of God’ CR 2003

It truly is as simple as:

Spending an eternity focused on helping others develop divine character is the job description of godhood.

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A Real-life Application
Consider how the teachings of the Savior to the Pharisees of his time might reflect what he would say to us today.

But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. – Luke  11:42

Note, that the Savior didn’t condemn counting mint leaves.

Instead, he says of the higher laws, “these ought ye to have done, and (then) not leave the other (lower laws) undone.”

Unless we have the foundational, higher laws in place, our focus on the lower and minute details of the law will make us just like the Pharisees–blind to the true purpose and intent of  the law.

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Throughout the Old Testament, the Isrealites had been commanded to avoid mixing with other races.
This was a law of Moses commandment (applied in extremism by the Pharisees) and was a lower law designed to protect the Hebrew people who had demonstrated time and again an inability to live among wickedness and not be converted to it.

Christ, on the other hand, lived by a higher law.

He spoke with Samaritans,
healed the daughter of a Roman centurion,
and spent his days with sinners, lepers, and the unclean.

Christ showed us by example that the higher law, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is fulfilled by walking with those who struggle and by ministering in person to those in need of help.

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“We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like leaven,” whose function is to raise the whole mass by its influence. His followers cannot do that if they associate only with those who share their beliefs and practices.” – Elder Oaks

If the example of the Savior teaches us anything, it is that we are expected to fully immerse ourselves in our wards and communities in an effort to help those who are struggling.

While the sins of others like immodesty, foul language, or political misconceptions certainly can have a negative influence in our lives and are the ‘obvious sins’, segregating ourselves to avoid contamination, distancing ourselves from fellow saints, and forgetting our responsibilities to serve and lift suggests that perhaps in us may “remain the greater sin”.

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread…
And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which
cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

…whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man… but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man”. – Matt 15:11-20

(For additional thoughts on what the atonement of our Savior teaches us about maintaining cleanliness and keeping the spirit in our lives, please read ‘No Unclean Thing‘)

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A Latter-day Opportunity

In the wisdom of the Lord, Latter-day Saint wards are decided by geographic boundaries. Other religions let people pick and choose the church, pastor, social cliche, and friends that they find most comfortable and convenient while neglecting those who are the hardest to get along with–the next-door neighbor.
If we cannot find it within ourselves to cross the road and serve our neighbor, if we are unable to immerse ourselves in building strong wards and relationships, if we choose to distance ourselves from those the Lord has chosen to place in our ward and care, how can we ever expect to become Zion?
The Lord, in His wisdom, has given us the hardest task of all–truly coming to love our next-door neighbor as ourselves.

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.” – The Screwtape Letters

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Our Perfect Exemplar

The source of our Savior’s love was his vision of each person’s eternal potential and worth. If the Savior was here now, how would he treat those with differing opinions, clothing styles, or even religious beliefs?

Would he cross on the opposite side of the road leaving them (metaphorically) lying beaten and robbed–in need of help?

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Do we have a love for our brothers and sisters making us ready to,

“leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”
-Luke 15:4-5

Or as Joseph Smith expressed it.

“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. … God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but … the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.”
– Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith pg. 240-241 as quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland

Reach out each day with love and compassion remembering,

“Everyone has weaknesses, and there are at least two sides to every story.
If you err in judgment, be sure you err on the side of love and mercy.
-Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith ch. 5

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As we consider our priorities each day, may we remember that “God is love”
and
that being possessed by true love (charity) is THE essential aspect of godhood

Charity is both God’s ‘What’ and ‘Why’.

God spends His eternity building the divine character of others.

Live your life focused on building the divine character of others and you will discover you will, inadvertently, build the same character in yourself.

You truly love God by truly loving others.

In other words, the two great commandments interconnect as the formula of a divine character.

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Only through charity can we truly become like God and develop, “His image in our countenance”.

But charity is the pure love of Christ…wherefore…pray unto the Father…that ye may be filled with this love…that when he shall appear we shall be like him…
-Moroni 7:47-48

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And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
-1 Cor 13:1

Elder Utchdorf taught the principles discussed here very eloquently and his apostolic words are here included.

A Prophetic Excerpt

“The Savior Himself provided the answer with this profound declaration: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” This is the essence of what it means to be a true disciple: those who receive Christ Jesus walk with Him.

But this may present a problem for some because there are so many ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that merely keeping track of them can be a challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of “good ideas.”

This was one of the Savior’s criticisms of the religious “experts” of His day, whom He chastised for attending to the hundreds of minor details of the law while neglecting the weightier matters.

So how do we stay aligned with these weightier matters? Is there a constant compass that can help us prioritize our lives, thoughts, and actions?

Once again the Savior revealed the way. When asked to name the greatest commandment, He did not hesitate. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” He said. “This is the first and great commandment.” Coupled with the second great commandment—to love our neighbor as ourselves—we have a compass that provides direction not only for our lives but also for the Lord’s Church on both sides of the veil.

Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk.

When we truly understand what it means to love as Jesus Christ loves us, the confusion clears and our priorities align. Our walk as disciples of Christ becomes more joyful. Our lives take on new meaning. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father becomes more profound. Obedience becomes a joy rather than a burden.”

– President Uchtdorf  CR 2009

 

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