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12 December 2015

An Example of the Believers (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

We should be an example of the believers~

In Spirit

President Monson said, of those who are successfully being an example in spirit:

We experience a special feeling when we are with them, a feeling that makes us want to associate with them and to follow their example. They radiate the Light of Christ and help us feel His love for us. (Be an Example and a Light)

This radiance of the Light of Christ is what Elder Ballard was hoping that we would allow others to see when he encouraged us to build gospel-sharing homes, and then allow our friends to come into them.

Now, the Greek that this comes from is extremely interesting. The Greek word, pneuma, is used 350 times in the Bible. Strong's says that it means "a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit:—ghost, life, spirit(-ual, -ually), mind." It reminds me forcefully of some of the Eastern philosophy I've rubbed up against. Very interesting. This section has really made me slow down and ponder what is being conveyed here.

What is it to be an example of the believers in spirit?  In our "rational soul"? Our "vital principle"? Our "mental disposition"? Surely we're not talking about skin-deep Sunday Christianity, here. This is no pretended virtue that our Prophet recommended to us in his extremity! This is something much more. The idea of a current of air or breath reminds me of how God put into us our spirits - the breath of life - and we were alive. It's THAT fundamental. No wonder the scriptures talk about a "mighty change" in our hearts. This goes right to the center of what it is to be alive, to be fully human, to be made (and remade) in the Divine image.

No wonder, then, that -

We experience a special feeling when we are with them, a feeling that makes us want to associate with them and to follow their example. They radiate the Light of Christ and help us feel His love for us.

In Faith

To be an example of faith means that we trust in the Lord and in His word.
-Thomas S. Monson, Be an Example and a Light (emphasis added)

Faith can be hard to really distinguish from trust in the Lord, because the two are so closely related. The more we trust Him, the more our faith grows. Or maybe it grows the other way, sometimes: the more our faith grows, the more completely we are able to trust in Him. In His words, in His timing, in His guidance - even when we can't see how it makes sense, or it leads away from what we think we want or need. Trusting Him means understanding that His ways are higher, better than ours, that He is wiser that we are, and able to counsel us wisely. No matter the topic, no matter the cost; His ways are better.

To be an example of faith means that we trust in the Lord and in His word. It means that we possess and that we nourish the beliefs that will guide our thoughts and our actions. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in our Heavenly Father will influence all that we do. Amidst the confusion of our age, the conflicts of conscience, and the turmoil of daily living, an abiding faith becomes an anchor to our lives. Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.
-Thomas S. Monson, Be an Example and a Light

There was a lot of talk at the October Conference of how to go about nourishing our beliefs. I counted 5 different speakers who asked us to read and ponder our scriptures. And I don't think that I caught this one, from President Monson, where he said, "Nourish the beliefs that will guide our thoughts and actions," since he didn't come right out and say the words, "read your scriptures." (It's easy to miss things when you're watching with little kids!)

In Alma's sermon to the Zoramite poor, I think it's interesting that he compares faith to a seed. Not that this is particularly earth-shattering news; most people who have any familiarity with the Book of Mormon at all are going to be at least passingly familiar with this comparison, because it gets discussed frequently. But I think it's interesting because it's such a plain thing. A seed. We help our toddlers plant them in clear plastic cups so they can see the magic of a seed - and that with very little help. Some few types of seeds are fussy things, but when I think of seeds, I think of those cups we do with toddlers. As long as the toddler doesn't knock them over (too many times) or completely drown them, they're going to start growing. If you put it in damp dirt, there will be a plant. So what does that say about faith?

Paul taught that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Such a simple thing: exposure to God's word - to scripture. It's simple, like the kindergartner's seed. Just bring the elements together, and let the miracle happen. No wonder they're asking us to read our scriptures. Brother Uchtdorf said it like this:

Brothers and sisters, living the gospel doesn’t need to be complicated.

It is really straightforward. It could be described like this:

  • Hearing the word of God with earnest intent leads us to believe in God and to trust His promises.
  • The more we trust God, the more our hearts are filled with love for Him and for each other.
  • Because of our love for God, we desire to follow Him and bring our actions in alignment with His word.
  • Because we love God, we want to serve Him; we want to bless the lives of others and help the poor and the needy.
  • The more we walk in this path of discipleship, the more we desire to learn the word of God.
And so it goes, each step leading to the next and filling us with ever-increasing faith, hope, and charity.

It is beautifully simple, and it works beautifully.

In Purity

Purity is a very interesting word. It comes from the Greek hagneia, meaning cleanliness, and especially chastity. Which really surprised me. I have always understood chastity to be about sexual relations, but that doesn't fit this context very well. Webster's 1828 dictionary has this insight:

CHASTE, adjective
1. Pure from all unlawful commerce of sexes. Applied to persons before marriage, it signifies pure from all sexual commerce, undefiled; applied to married persons, true to the marriage bed.
2. Free from obscenity.
While they behold your chaste conversation. 1 Peter 3:2.
3. In language, pure; genuine; uncorrupt; free from barbarous words and phrases, and from quaint, affected, extravagant expressions.

That made a lot more sense for the context in 1 Timothy 4:12. Be an example by being sexually pure and by avoiding obscenity and "barbarous words and phrases". Thinking about that has made me reconsider some of the things that I occasionally say. Just as modesty is far more than the clothes we wear, the cleanliness that the Lord is trying to help us achieve is far more than sexual purity. We need the whole package to achieve what He has in mind for us: he wants to make us Zion people, heirs and joint heirs with Him. There's an awful lot of insight in this verse as to how that is to be accomplished.

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