This started out as a talk for a 2009 single adult fireside, then a talk for a 2010 Sacrament meeting, then a letter to my oldest son on his mission in 2011. It keeps growing so now it's too long to utilize for anything other than as a repository of my thoughts on a few interrelated subjects. This is a work in progress and some citations need to be added for some of the quotes still, and quotation marks corrected, etc. . . . , until I figure out what to make of it.
The Power of Language and Words.
The scriptures teach us that there is a diversity of administration of the spirit and that different people are given different gifts of the spirit. It is interesting to get to know lots of different people and see how much diversity there really is in what different people are inspired by and how they feel the spirit.
Some people have a special affinity for music, and are very aware of how music can be utilized to uplift and convey and help people feel the Holy Ghost, and that is for many such people a focus in their lives. Other people find evidence for God in the simple elegance of mathematical equations and scientific truths. Some people are inspired by physical prowess and athletic ability, and can watch or participate in an athletic contest or a dance and find inspiration and motivation in their lives by watching someone performing at their peak levels of ability in a physical or athletic performance.
Personally, I am a very language-oriented person. I find inspiration in reading or hearing well-written prose or an effective speech. I am as inspired by the beautiful language of the scriptures as I am by some of the doctrines and stories contained therein. Some of my favorite historical figures are people like Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill who were able to effectively employ the English language in a manner which changed history.
As a language oriented person, I have found that, for me, there is great power and motivation that can come into my life by taking a gospel word, such as covenant, or repentance, or atonement, and trying to fully understand, as well as I possibly can, the meaning of that word, so that it will begin to resonate with me when I come across it in reading the scriptures or studying the Gospel. In these thoughts I would like to try to fully understand the word “Stewardship.”
The term stewardship appears frequently in the Doctrine and Covenants, as compared to earlier, more ancient scriptural texts. Stewardship must therefore be a word that has significant meaning in the restoration and for those of us who live in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times.
For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 104:13 we read that “it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.” And in D&C 70:9 we are taught that we shall be accountable for the uses to which we put our blessings, for this is “what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man.”
The first time I came across the word stewardship and began to have some inkling of what it meant was when I was 12 or 13 years old and read what became one of my favorite books, the Lord of the Rings. You may recall that in that story there is a character named Denethor. Denethor is a person who has all of the rights and responsibilities of a king, but he doesn’t get to sit on the throne and he doesn’t get to wear the crown and his title is “Steward” rather than King. The idea is that many generations ago, the true kings of the kingdom were exiled, as a result of a kind of civic apostasy, and so the kingdom has been ruled by stewards ever since. So Denethor’s charge, as Steward, his “stewardship” is to maintain and preserve the kingdom until such time as it might be returned to the true king.
Well, it’s not hard, when an author sets up that kind of a plot device, to know what is probably going to happen, and as it turns out, as the story develops, Denethor comes to learn that one who can claim the true kingship is returning to the kingdom. (It might be noted that the true king has certain characteristics, such as the “hands of a healer” which make him a literary Christ figure, so that this whole episode is very capable of a spiritual symbolic reading). At that point, Denethor has two choices. On the one hand, Denethor can be excited about the possibility that he can stand in front of the king and say, “I and my fathers before me have fulfilled our stewardship, we have maintained and preserved the kingdom and we return it now to your hands.” He can be excited that he is going to get to hear the king say the words “Well done, thou good and faithful steward.”
But instead, Denethor resents the idea that the true king is returning. He is annoyed. He likes his calling, thank you very much, and he doesn't want to be released. You see, Denethor has forgotten. He has forgotten that he wasn't really the king. That he was a steward, with a fiduciary duty to serve the needs of his true lord, for his lord, and not for himself. He has become guilty of a kind of priestcraft.
By contrast, for an example of someone who had a healthier attitude about his Stewardship, we can look to John the Baptist, who, like Denethor, was responsible for preparing the way of the true king, when John’s disciples complained of Jesus’s growing popularity, John said in John 3:30 “Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him . . . . . He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Another example of a stewardship is found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, as the Innkeeper was asked by the good Samaritan to take care of his injured neighbor, and was given two coins to care for and assist this man. We are not told the rest of the story. We do not know if the coins the Samaritan gave the Innkeeper to care for the wounded man were used for that purpose, but we do know that if the Innkeeper did not use them for that purpose, that the Innkeeper would have to answer for any such misuse of a sacred trust that was given to him, not for his benefit, but in stewardship to help another.
As members of this Church, all of us are given a variety of Stewardships. Many of us, for example, are parents. In our relationship with our children, do we have an attitude of entitlement and ownership or of Stewardship? Do we feel that if it is convenient to us to lose our temper and let loose on our children whenever they frustrate us, that we have the right and entitlement to do so? Or do we recognize that our children are our spiritual brothers and sisters, children of the same Heavenly Father we have, and that our parental relationship with them is a charge given us by our Heavenly Father, which we need to fulfill in a loving and patient manner which will allow our children to grow in confidence, and in a manner which would be pleasing to their true Father and Mother? Do we see our relationship with our spouse as something we own or something we must nurture?
C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, describes how the devil wants us to develop a sense of ownership and entitlement rather than understanding that all we have is a gift from the Lord, given to us as a charge, not a right. Through his narrator, the Senior devil tempter, Screwtape, he describes Satan’s plans to lead us toward his path by having an ownership rather than a stewardship mentality in our lives:
“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity [for example] comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies – those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counselors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor. We [the devils] produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun– the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’ ‘my servant’ 'my wife’ ‘my father’ ‘my master’ and ‘my country’ to ‘my God.” They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’ the ‘my’ of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation . . . but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like.’ . . . . And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and especially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong- certainly not to them whatever happens.”
The Apostle Paul taught that our body and our spirit both belong to God, having been “bought with a price” 1 Corinthians 6:20. The price that has been paid, is of course, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, pursuant to which, we no longer belong to ourselves, but to God and our Savior, and everything we have been given has not been given to us as a possession, but as a charge, or a stewardship, to bless the lives of others. We need to be constantly aware of our stewardships, and constantly on our guard against the opposite attitude: the attitude of ownership, entitlement, and priestcraft.
We have many stewardships in our lives, including our callings and our blessings. I would like to address three specific Stewardships that we have. These are taken from a speech President Monson gave in a General Conference shortly after he became our Prophet, in which he spoke of our duty (i) to learn what we need to learn, (ii) to do what we need to do, and (iii) to be what we need to be. Let’s start with learning:
I. The Stewardship to Know and learn what we must Know.
Our minds and our time are stewardships given to us to develop as best we can. There are many types of knowledge that we have a duty and a stewardship to develop during our lives.
We have a stewardship to learn and develop our minds in all the general fields of knowledge the world has to offer. Brigham Young taught that “Mormonism embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.” On another occasion Brigham Young stated: “Not only does the religion of Jesus Christ make the people acquainted with the things of God, and develop within them moral excellence and purity, but it holds out every encouragement and inducement possible, for them to increase in knowledge and intelligence, in every branch of [engineering] or in the arts and sciences, for all wisdom, and all the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of His people.” See also, D&C 88.
We also have a duty and stewardship to learn Gospel Knowledge. I remember going to a marriage fireside that was taught by a BYU Professor. The title of the fireside was Keys to Successful Marriage. I was expecting a talk about rules for how to treat your spouse and why to go on regular dates, etc. But instead the speaker spent the whole evening discussing the Plan of Salvation. Why? Because of something that Boyd K. Packer has frequently stated: “True doctrine, understood, changes behavior. The study of doctrine will do more to change behavior than the study of behavior will do to change behavior.” The premise of this marriage fireside was that if we understood the plan of salvation, then we would understand how precious our marriage was, and naturally act in accordance with that knowledge.
Most importantly, we have a duty and a stewardship to develop knowledge of our Savior. According to John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.”
The idea that we need to come to know Jesus is also set forth in Matthew 7:21-23. This is a scripture which, according to John Taylor, is talking about priesthood holders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not members of other churches. Although not set forth in our footnotes, in the full JST translation this scripture reads: “And then will I say, Ye never knew me, depart from me, Ye that work iniquity” JST Matt 7:33. (See also, Parable of the 10 virgins; Matthew 25:1-13. Again, the JST translation changes “I know you not” to “ye know me not” JST Matt 25:11.)
Joseph Smith taught “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.” Jesus taught that we get to that point by knowing Christ, for we can not see anything Christ does without knowing of something He says His Father has done before him.
What are some steps we can take to really know Jesus Christ? My Mission President wrote a doctrinal dissertation about the German author Karl Mai. In the course of writing that dissertation my Mission President, to get his Ph.D., studied every book and short story Karl Mai had ever written, but he also studied his personal private letters and journals. When he was done with that process, my Mission President could have told you what Karl Mai thought about just about any subject: religion, politics, child-rearing. He knew Karl Mai because he had studied his words. Maybe in similar fashion we need to read everything Christ has said to us and his prophets in the scriptures, so we know who he really is.
How seriously should we take the stewardship to come to know Jesus Christ? Well maybe if we turn that question on its head that might give us some idea: How important was it for Christ to know us?
Alma 7:11 and 12 tells us what Christ was willing to go through so he would know us: He condescended, to use the phrase the Angel taught to Nephi, to cease being God the Son, and to become a mortal man, so he could know and understand us: “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
Well if Christ was willing to go through all of that, that he might know us, than shouldn’t we be willing to read the five gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Third Nephi, and Christ’s words to modern prophets, so we might know him.
I have a favorite story about this idea of the condescension of Christ. It’s a story that was written by Kierkegaard:
Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise - the king took on a totally new identity - He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.The King and the Maiden, Soren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Epic, by John Eldredge
This story explains why Christ, when he came to earth the first time, did not do so in the full magnitude of his divine glory, offering his people no choice, in accepting or rejecting him. Rather, as is explained in Phillipians 2: 5-8 “Christ Jesus [though] equal with God . . . made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” so he might fully understand what it was to be one of us. We have a stewardship to try to do something similar in reverse. To try to live Christlike lives so we can understand and “know” Christ in a personal way as well, so, like the maiden in the story, Christ, having descended to our level, can eventually raise us up (exalt us) to His.
II. The Stewardship to Do what we must Do.
So, we have a stewardship to come to know Christ. But knowing isn’t enough. Remember the famous story about Spencer W. Kimball, that he changed a word in the chorus to the hymn “I am a child of God.” It used to say “teach me all that I must know” now it says “teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.” So we also have to do certain things. Or maybe we could word it like this: In order to truly come to “know” Christ, part of our learning must come through doing, through living a Christlike life.
So, let’s address our stewardship to DO certain things.
Just as we could spend hours discussing all of the things we ought to know and learn and gain a testimony of; we could also talk for hours about all the commandments we ought to be performing and doing. But we always need to try to focus on what’s most important.
When Christ was asked what are the greatest commandments he said they were to Love God and, Like unto it, to Love our neighbor as ourself. So among the most important commandments apparently is the command to serve others. I think its significant He didn’t say “love humanity” or “Love mankind” Those concepts can be ethereal, He said love your neighbor, in other words, specific persons who are actually part of your real life.
Here again I think understanding the plan of salvation can help us to follow this commandment more perfectly. If we understand who our neighbor is, it becomes easier to follow the commandments that tell us to love and serve him.
I’ll quote C.S. Lewis again: “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it . . . . It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. . . . Next to the blessed sacrament, . . . your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” C.S. Lewis, the Weight of Glory.
Well the wonderful thing about the church is the many opportunities it gives us to help one another along the right path.
I read a book recently called Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, about a man named Louis Zamperini who was a POW in Japan during WWII. One episode in this book that I found quite moving was the story of how, before being captured by the Japanese, he and two of his colleagues survived on life rafts for over 40 days in the Pacific Ocean. These three airmen found themselves as the only survivors of an airplane crash. They found they had two bars of chocolate as rations for their survival on the rafts. They decided they would each eat one square of chocolate every morning and every night to make it last as long as they could. Well, while the other two men slept, one of the men, Francis McNamara, panicked, and he ate all the chocolate. The other two men weren’t too happy when they woke up the next day and found out what had happened, but there wasn’t much they could do except continue to try to survive. As their journey continued, they discovered a significant thing. It was going to take all three of them to survive on the raft. Two men or one man on the raft would not have been able to survive. Frequently, they all 3 had to work together to survive. For example, on one occasion they were spotted by Japanese fighters who strafed their life rafts. For the next several hours, lasting into days, one of the men, using crude implements, had to try to patch up and sew up the holes in the raft that survived that strafing, the other man had to continuously pump air into the raft while that was happening to keep it afloat, and the third man had to fend off the sharks. After forty days, before they were “rescued” by some Japanese and began their time as POWs, Francis McNamara wasn’t going to make it any more, and began to pass away. His boatmates looked at him and thanked him for his service. They knew without him they wouldn’t have survived. They owed him their lives. He had redeemed himself from his error in eating all the chocolate.
Some of us may feel we can’t give proper service to our fellow men. We may feel there is some sin in our lives that is holding us back. We feel we ate all the chocolate and so now we’re not worthy of the priesthood or of the Holy Ghost. But we need to remember that our fellow raft-mates need us. Our assistance may be essential to their salvation. We need to remember we can repent. We can be made whole. We can seize on the power of the atonement to be redeemed, and we can get on with the business of helping out our fellow-humans. Don’t let the fact that we’ve made errors, that we’ve eaten all the chocolate, hold us back. We need to move on from that and serve and save others.
If there’s one thing this Church seems to teach again and again, it is that we are not entitled to be saved as individuals due to our own personal purity and righteousness. Instead we are taught we have a stewardship towards others. For example, We cannot be saved without our dead. We cannot be saved without the hearts of the children being turned to their parents, so we cannot be fully saved without our families. We cannot be saved if we neglect our callings to serve each other. We have a stewardship to serve others. We need to broaden our view of what our stewardship encompasses. At a worldwide training meeting recently, Elder Bednar told a story of a Bishop who asked the Primary President of his ward, what are you doing to help the Priests get ready to serve a mission. She was a little perplexed. That didn’t seem to fall under her charge. But she realized he was asking her to broaden her view of her stewardship. She asked the Priests to come talk to the 8 year olds who were getting baptized about the subject of baptism, something they would be teaching as missionaries. We need to broaden our vision of who is in our life-raft with us and who we need to reach out and have a stewardship to help.
Elder Dallin Oaks, in a General Conference talk, said:
“Each of us should apply that principle to our attitudes in attending church. Some say 'I didn’t learn anything today' or 'No one was friendly to me' or 'I was offended' or 'The Church is not filling my needs.' All those answers are self-centered, and all retard spiritual growth.
In contrast, a wise friend wrote:
'Years ago, I changed my attitude about going to church. No longer do I go to church for my sake, but to think of others. I make a point of saying hello to people who sit alone, to welcome visitors, . . . to volunteer for an assignment. . . .'"
Dallin H. Oaks Unselfish Service, April 2009 General Conference. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/04/unselfish-service?lang=eng
This is a person who has developed a stewardship mentality.
III. The Stewardship to Be All that We Can Be.
But even doing everything we are supposed to be doing isn’t enough. After we have done all that we need to do, the next question is, what do we need to be. For example, Laman & Lemuel did many of the same things that Nephi did: they went back for the plates, they went back for Ishmael's family, they helped build the boat, but they did these things begrudgingly, and they didn’t become what Nephi became.
In Moroni 7: verses 6-10, we can read about the idea that if we do good acts without proper intent, but grudgingly, it is counted as evil and it profiteth us nothing. So our greatest stewardship is to be the type of people that God wants us to be.
In one of my favorite talks, from the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained as follows:
"In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something. Many Bible and modern scriptures speak of a final judgment at which all persons will be rewarded according to their deeds or works or the desires of their hearts. But other scriptures enlarge upon this by referring to our being judged by the condition we have achieved. The prophet Nephi describes the Final Judgment in terms of what we have become: 'And if their works have been filthiness they must needs be filthy; and if they be filthy it must needs be that they cannot dwell in the kingdom of God' (1 Ne. 15:33; emphasis added). Moroni declares, 'He that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still' (Morm. 9:14; emphasis added; see also Rev. 22:11-12; 2 Ne. 9:16; D&C 88:35). The same would be true of 'selfish' or 'disobedient' or any other personal attribute inconsistent with the requirements of God. Referring to the 'state' of the wicked in the Final Judgment, Alma explains that if we are condemned by our words, our works, and our thoughts, 'we shall not be found spotless; . . . and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God' (Alma 12:14).
From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts--what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become." CLOSE QUOTE. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, The Challenge to Become, October 2000 General Conference. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/the-challenge-to-become?lang=eng
Our ultimate Stewardship is to hand back to God a clean and pure and fully developed self which has become the type of person God wants us to be, and whose loved ones have also, through our service, become what God wants of them. And what manner of men ought we to be, the Savior asked, and what was his answer? Even so as I am. Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect” even as your Father in Heaven is perfect. This is a tall order, and we will not fully reach it in this life, but it is what we have been commanded, and the grace and atonement of Jesus Christ can help us on the way, so let’s get started.
D. Chris Albright
June 12, 2014