2 Peter 1:1-10 — LeGrand Baker — for Ben
October 8, 2007
My Dear Ben,
Thank you for your email. I am deeply honored that you would include me among your two “most trusted friends.” I love you very much.
The scripture that first ran through my mind as I read your email is the very famous one from the prophet Samuel, “Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22) That is one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the canon. In the ancient Near East, when people sat down to a meal, they did more than give a blessing on the food, they dedicated the food to their god and invited him to join them in the meal. That is why the Jews could not eat with gentiles. To share a meal with a heathen would be to acknowledge their god. In that light, the context of Samuel’s statement is this: the Lord had promised victory to King Saul and his armies, but had instructed him to kill the people and also their animals. The battle was successful, but they did not kill and waste the food. Rather they saved “the very best” of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord. When one made a peace offering, only some blood and fat were put on the fire, and the meat was eaten—symbolically in the presence of God, who was also at the table. It was when Samuel got there, and found that Saul and his armies couldn’t wait to have their picnic, that he said “to obey is better than to sacrifice.” Obedience is not better than a legitimate sacrifice done in righteousness (zedek), it is only better than a picnic.
Sacrifice means the same as sacral, sacred, sacrament. It does not mean to give something up. It means to set something apart from the profane, and make it sacred. We are required to make only two sacrifices. One is tithing, which we set apart to be used for sacred purposes. The other is ourselves—a broken heart and contrite spirit—to make one’s Self sacred, so we can return to be with God.
As I read Abraham 3, this is the conversation that took place among the Council of the gods.
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down [future tense] , for there is space there, and we will take [future tense] of these materials, and we will make [future tense] an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove [future tense] them herewith, to see if they will do [future tense] all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command [future tense] them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be [future tense] added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have [future tense] glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have [future tense] glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. [“who keep their first estate” and “who keep their second estate” are both written the same way and are both a projection in the future. English majors have a name for that kind of future tense, but I don’t know what it is.] (Abraham 3:24-26)
If all of that is in the future tense, then their first estate, and the world they were about to build to test their obedience was the pre-mortal spirit earth on which we lived before we came here
As I understand that, the “them” and “they” are intelligences for whom the spirit world was built. There, in our pre-mortal spirit world, the question was “will you obey?” Those who obeyed were then invited to come to this earth—to our second estate—where a different question would be addressed. Before we came here, there were two reasons that one might obey. One was because we could see the advantages, and knew which side our bread was buttered on. The other was that we loved the Lord and his children, and our obedience was a product of that love.
So we came here where we can neither fully understand nor remember. If this world was devised to test whether Heavenly Father’s children would obey, it was poorly designed. Most people have no idea what to obey, and those who try go against their cultural norms and get burned to the stake. It was in the previous world that we demonstrated that we would obey. This world was designed to ask, “Why did you obey?”
If back then, it was because we understood it would be to our advantage, then we seek self aggrandizement here. If we obeyed there because we loved our Father and his children, then that will be our motive for obedience here. We will obey because we choose to obey. That kind of obedience is technically not obedience at all, because, rather than being subservient to another, it is an exercise of one’s own will.
On the mountain, when Jehovah gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he described himself as “shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6) Jesus paraphrased that to his disciples when he said,
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:15-16)
In both versions, obedience is a product—a natural consequence—of love. That is also consistent with another commandment the Jehovah gave to Moses. He said,
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Later, he expanded that commandment when he said,
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
When a lawyer confronted Jesus with the question, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus combined the two to make them one.
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40.)
Ben, as I read your email, I detected buried not very far beneath the surface of your question, “Help me understand what the Lord wants me to do?” a far more urgent question: “Help me understand what the Lord wants me to do to fulfill my covenants and make my calling and election sure?”
It is easier for me to answer that question than the one about missionary rules. The reason it is easier is because the Apostle Peter has done it for me. At the beginning of Second Peter (his final instructions to the Saints when he knew he was going to be killed) he gave the answer. He wrote a simple formula about how to make one’s calling and election sure:
1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ [this is official from the President of the Church], to them that have obtained [past tense] like precious faith [pistis = making and keeping covenants. He is writing to people who have received their endowments] with us through the righteousness [zedek = correctness in temple things] of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
2 Grace [lovingkindness, hesed] and peace [as in Moroni 7:2-4 — He is writing to the same kind of Saints that Moroni was writing to] be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, [peace comes through knowledge because peace is a power that transcends sorrow]
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, [“all things” means ALL things] through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: [the call has already been issued. Again the audience is the same as in Moroni 7]
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises [another reference to the temple]: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature [he says “might be” because he is about to tell us how], having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. [lust is an excessive desire for anything]
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith [pistis = making and keeping covenants] virtue [the Greek word means manliness or vigor] ; and to virtue knowledge [Define knowledge as “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (D&C 93:24). The Savior said to Nicodemus, “he that doeth truth cometh to the light” (John 3:21). One can not DO truth, if one does not KNOW truth];
6 And to knowledge temperance [being moderate, doing nothing in excess]; and to temperance patience [not just with other people, but also with ourselves and with God. After all, sometimes God doesn’t do things as quickly as we think he ought to.] and to patience godliness [the footnote in our Bible says that word is “reverence.” We can’t hurt anything we revere];
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness [the special kind of love that people in the church share for each other]; and to brotherly kindness charity [the kind of love that the Saviour has for us. When we love him as he love us, then we will love others as we love him].
That isn’t a list, it’s a sequence. Let me show you.
1 faith = pistis = something that we are given, a power that we may exercise
2 virtue = something we have = the integrity to do what must be done
3 knowledge = something we are given and expected to act upon
4 temperance = the way we conduct our own lives
5 patience = attitude and actions toward other people
6 godliness = reverence = attitude and actions toward other people
7 brotherly kindness = attitude and actions toward other people, especially those
with whom we serve in the church.
8 charity = attitude and actions toward other people.
The law of consecration is what one does when charity is what one is.
The first four steps Peter outlines are about what one has to do for one’s Self enable us to serve. The second four are the steps that qualify us for eternal life. Even though they are a sequence, each of them must be developed in cycles, somewhat simultaneously with the others, because they build on each other. Peter continues,
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: (2 Peter 1:1-10)
As far as I know, to make our calling sure is simply to fulfill the covenantal responsibilities we were called to perform, that is to keep the covenants we made at the Council in Heaven, before we came here. When we have done that, our election will have become absolutely sure.
Now, my beloved friend, there is a very good reason I showed this to you. It is that there is nothing in that sequence that suggests anyone else has to even notice what you are doing, what you have done, or who you are. The qualities of greatness have nothing to do with what the world (or even many members of the church) calls being “great.” True greatness has only to do with the qualities of one’s soul. That greatness shines from your eyes and illuminates your whole person. It is the single thing that defines who and what you are.
If love is the engine that drives our actions, and if we obey because we choose to, then both love and obedience are—together—the single expression of the eternal law of our own beings. They define who Ben was at the Council, who Ben is just now, and who Ben will always be. It is that light that causes me to love you so much.
I suspect that the ultimate answer to both of your questions is simply this: Relax; be truly Ben; be happy and laugh a lot; and seek to be like the Savior who used up his life because he loves us, and who performed the atonement to make us free—so we can be whatever we choose to be.
I do love you,