3 Nephi 14:1-12 — LeGrand Baker — Jesus teaches us how to teach the gospel

3 Nephi 14:1-12

One of the greatest advantages of having printed scriptures (as opposed to having them rolled up in a scroll) is that the printed ones are divided into chapters and verses that facilitate easy references. However, one of the greatest disadvantages of printed scriptures is that those divisions are actually editorial insertions that may change how we connect and understand the ideas we read. Sometimes a single sentence is divided into several verses, and sometimes the chapter divisions are in the wrong places. Here is just one example of a chapter break that may change the meaning:

37 Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.
38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice (John 13:37-38).

CHAPTER 14
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1-2).

Now read it this way:

      Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.
.     Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Third Nephi chapter 14 is a bit like that. As a stand-alone chapter, it seems to contain many short statements that can be—and often are— read as individual “sayings.” We can’t blame Orson Pratt for that. When he divided the Book of Mormon into chapters and verses, if its wording was like the Bible he used the Bible’s numbering system. Consequently, the chapter and verse divisions in 3 Nephi’s Sermon at the Temple is essentially the same as is in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament.

However, in the Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 14 is different from Matthew 7 because the Book of Mormon gives us a context that is not apparent in Matthew. That context is that chapter 14 follows immediately upon the instructions to the Twelve and is about how they are to depend on the Lord as they travel and perform their other duties. If the chapter break were not there we could more readily recognize that, after giving an assignment to the Twelve, the Savior turned to the congregation and included them in the rest of his instructions, for all those present would also be responsible for teaching and bearing testimony that he had come. His new instructions are about how they should teach the gospel. His instructions, as we have them, are succinct but inclusive.

If read that way, 3 Nephi 14 is not a series of unrelated “sayings,” but a concise, coherent and very instructive statement about how to teach the gospel and to whom one should teach it. In the following, I have taken the text out of its verse structure, believing that it will be easier to read afresh if we break the patterns of “short sayings” that we are so familiar with.

3 Nephi 14:1-12
1 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying:

1-2 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

In teaching the gospel, this is the beginning of all wisdom. As soon as we take it upon ourselves to judge who should and who should not hear the gospel, we also leave ourselves open to the verdict, “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Successful missionaries soon learn this lesson. Just like the prophet Samuel when he saw one of David’s brothers and thought this young man should probably be king.

7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Just as the prophet Samuel had to listen to the Spirit in order to know whom to select as Israel’s next king, so we also have to listen to the Spirit in order to know whom we should teach and what and how we should teach them. The Savior’s next instructions are a caution about what not to teach.

3-5 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

A mote is a speck of dust, a beam is larger, but a beam is different from a log. A log is large peace of wood that may still lay in the forest just about the way nature created it, but a beam is in use as an important part of the building’s structural support system. I think the Savior deliberately used “beam” rather than “log.” And I suspect the reason was that his concern was not the size of the object but its use. In his analogy, the beam is holding up a superstructure in our mind or in our heart—a mental or “doctrinal” structure that is so important to only ourselves that it precludes our recognizing really important truths.

It is at this point in a similar sermon in Luke this is where the Jesus asks, “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? (Luke 6:39). Here is an example:

I remember, as a boy, the first time I ever heard of temple recommends. I lived in a little one-ward town where almost everyone attended church and everyone knew everyone else’s business. The buzz about the ward was that the stake president was denying active Mormons their “rightful” temple recommends. The background of the stake president’s actions was this: John A. Widtsoe and his wife had just published his book called The Word of Wisdom. In it they spelled out in great detail what it meant to “keep the word of wisdom.” I recall a few examples that everyone was talking about. One was that chocolate was a caffeine-like substance and therefore chocolate was against the word of wisdom. Another was that the D&C specified that wheat was for man, so eating whole wheat bread was keeping the word of wisdom. However (according to the book), white flour was not wheat, but was only an unhealthy byproduct of wheat, therefore, eating white bread was breaking the word of wisdom. The stake president read the book and took it to heart. When he interviewed people for a temple recommend he asked if they ate white bread. If they said “yes,” he would not give them a recommend because he said they were not living the word of wisdom.

Reports of that soon got to Salt Lake and the situation was corrected. But it is still a good example. The stake president had read a book written by an apostle, and he took its contents to be doctrine. He restructured his own definition of the word of wisdom and sought to impose that definition on the members of his stake. I believe his redefinition was a“beam.” The support of a “doctrinal” superstructure that he let blind him to the temple worthiness of the members of his stake.

If that is correct, then the Savior’s instruction about not having a beam in one’s own eye is a perfect description of the importance of teaching only the truths of the gospel and not going off into funny places or condemning other people for sins we may be all to eager to attach to them—even though they are really not sins at all.

The Savior’s next instructions are the other side of that same coin. He had warned us to teach anyone the Spirit identified as being worthy, and not to teach our favorite funny “doctrines.” Now he tells us who not to teach:

6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

When people will not want to hear we do not have the right to try to make them listen. One does not impose truths on other people just because we think we know what’s good for them. There are two factors to consider here. The first is the obvious: are they ready or worthy to understand the truths we wish to teach. But the second is just as important: are we ready and worthy to teach sacred truths. That is the next issue the Savior addresses:

7-8 Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

The sequence of ask, seek, knock, “and it shall be opened unto you” is familiar to Latter-day Saints. The implication here seems to be a reminder that the sequence is not only a perfect example of how we learned, but it is also the pattern we should follow in teaching others. To ask implies an interest and a desire to learn. Desire is an individual thing and we cannot impose it upon other people no matter how much we wish we could. So, now in their wisdom, the brethren tell us to just be good neighbors and good friends, and then, when we perceive their desire to know, then we should facilitate their efforts as they seek to know. The way to teach the gospel is just that simple.

The Savior concludes his instruction with a warning that brings us back full circle to his beginning: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It is the same principle he expressed earlier in the Beatitudes: “And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (3 Nephi 12:7).” He said:

9-12 Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets (3 Nephi 14:1-12).

I wrote some time ago that I believe that everything we have to know and everything we have to do in this life is summarized on page 431 of the Book of Mormon. It begins with “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen.” Then, in the Beatitudes, it walks through all of the ordinances and covenants. Then it concludes with the charge that we must be “the salt of the earth (missionaries to the world),” and “to be a light (menorah) to this people” that is to teach and be a blessing other Latter-day Saints.{1}

What we have just read in chapter 14 are detailed instructions about how to be that salt and that light. The application for Latter-day Saints is universal in terms of being a missionary or sharing the beauties of the gospel with one another.

Only a few minutes before, while teaching about the importance of love, the Savior had said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect (3 Nephi 12:48).” His instructions to the Twelve and then to all the congregation about how to share the blessings of the gospel are given in the context of that admonition. The Father and his Son are the very personifications of that ability to share, to bless, and to save. That quality equates to charity— “the pure love of Christ.” For each of us, perfection in that one thing may be almost possible, even in this world.

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FOOTNOTE

{1} For an explanation that “the salt of the earth” is about missionary work, and “the light of this people” is about teaching and blessing other Latter-day Saints, see the chapters on the Beatitudes in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.

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