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03 November 2015

An Example of the Believers (part 1)

At the most recent General Conference, I was really struck by President Monson's Sunday Morning talk, "Be An Example and a Light." He took two New Testament scriptures and made them the basis of his remarks: Matthew 5:16, where the Savior commands us to let our lights shine before men, and also 1 Timothy 4:12:

...but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

I set this up as my first verse to ponderize, but when the first week was done, even though I picked a new verse, I found my thoughts drawn back to this verse. Our prophet struggled through his physical weakness so he could use this verse to teach us. That made a deep impression on me. So I'm spending some quality time studying and pondering this verse. It's not the first time President Monson has used this pair of verses; he also used these same two passages last October in the Priesthood session. Ten years ago this verse provided the title and theme for his remarks to the women of the church. In the time between, the Lord lead other speakers to use this verse nineteen times. I think it is safe to conclude that the Lord considers the message of this verse to be an important one for us to hear. So what is it about? There are six attributes listed. I thought it would be good to go through each of them, and spend some time on each attribute.

In Word

According to Strong's Concordance, word here comes from the Greek logos, which means something said, including thoughts; it's the reasoning and motive. 

We should be an example of the believers in the things we say, but the Lord, as always, is as much or more concerned with the inward parts; we should be an example of the believers in our thoughts, or reasoning, and our motives as well as in what we permit to actually come out of our mouths. It's not enough to say the right things; He wants us to say correct things for correct reasons. 

President Monson said:

Let us speak to others with love and respect, ever keeping our language clean and avoiding words or comments that would wound or offend. May we follow the example of the Savior, who spoke with tolerance and kindness throughout His ministry.

In Conversation

Strong's says that, in the Bible, when they talk about "conversation" they're actually talking about behavior, about the way we live our lives. It's our deportment; the way we conduct ourselves. That's so much more than just what happens when we exchange a few words chatting with someone. Even a lengthy chat.

Brigham Young said,

Kind looks, kind actions, kind words, and a lovely, holy deportment towards [children] will bind our children to us with bands that cannot easily be broken; while abuse and unkindness will drive them from us, and break asunder every holy tie, that should bind them to us and to the everlasting covenant in which we are all embraced. If my family … will not be obedient to me on the basis of kindness, and a commendable life before all men, and before the heavens, then farewell to all influence (Teachings, chapter 23).

That's the kind of "conversation" - our actions, words, and deportment towards others - that President Monson was recommending to us when he talked about modeling our lives the way that this verse suggests. Brother Brigham was speaking specifically about family, but there is no limitation on the verse from Paul - we should be an example of the believers in our conversation. Full stop. No exceptions.

In Charity

Charity is a fascinating thing. It really could have it's own series of posts. Charity is an important ingredient in unity - which we are commanded to have in our families, and in the church. Ultimately, we'll need it in the whole world. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Christ talked about love. Charity is a gift of love – of being able to love, to understand, even the most difficult of people. And, it is a Gift of the Spirit we are commanded to seek. Study charity in the scriptures. Pray for it. Practice it, and we will begin to have it in greater measure. And, perhaps even more importantly, we will begin to know the Lord better.

According to Strong's Concordance, the word "charity" appears in the New Testament 28 times. Almost half of them come from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he famously discusses what charity is all about, and how critical it is for us to find it. In each case, the Greek word that became "charity" is agape. This is a word that appeared frequently in the Greek New Testament: more than a hundred times. This is, perhaps, not surprising, since the Two Great Commandments hinge on love. Christ said that the hallmark of discipleship is love.

Love is a difficult word to understand in the English language. For example, I could say to someone that “I love you.” ... We need to know who is speaking to whom in what context. The Greeks don’t have the same problem because they have three different words for love. The first is eros, or romantic love. The English word erotic comes from that Greek root. The second is philia, or brotherly love. The U.S. “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia, gets its name from that Greek root. The third is agape, or Godlike love, the kind of love that enables our Father in Heaven and the Lord to love us even though we are not perfect. I understand that each time in the Greek text of the New Testament when the Lord commands us to love our enemies, it is agape that is used. Here is a very important point for all of us to remember. If we want to cultivate spirituality, we should love everyone at the levels of agape or philia...
-Elder Joe J. Christensen, Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality

I believe that the hallmark of discipleship is love (specifically this agape-love) because we are trying to learn to become like our Father. To be like Him, we must be motivated by what motivates Him, and the motivation that drives what He does is love for His children. To the extent that we do become like Him, we will be so much the better able to love like He loves. And there is so much need for that kind of love in this world.

President Monson, in his Sunday morning talk, said:

The next attribute mentioned by Paul is charity, which has been defined as “the pure love of Christ. I am confident there are within our sphere of influence those who are lonely, those who are ill, and those who feel discouraged. Ours is the opportunity to help them and to lift their spirits. The Savior brought hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak. He healed the sick; He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. Throughout His ministry He reached out in charity to any in need. As we emulate His example, we will bless lives, including our own.

Charity will heal the world's hurts. It will make us more like Him.

Part 2 is here.

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