Some critics of Jesus Christ’s gospel see it as nothing more than a set of commandments, and the commandments as nothing more than a set of restrictions. Such a view severely limits the scope of the blessings that the Redeemer offers us through His gospel. The plan of salvation is about more than not doing bad things. It’s even about more than being forgiven of those bad things we do.
Many commandments direct us to actively become better, such as:
- “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” (Mark 12:30).
- “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
- “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
- “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
- “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12).
- “Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do” (2 Nephi 31:12).
- “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7).
If our focus is on avoiding sin and following a checklist of religious observance, we’ll miss out on much of why we’re here. It’s not enough to not do evil. Penelope, one of the young women in the Parable of the Two High-School Students, did well in her classes and stayed away from bad situations, but in doing so she also failed to take advantage of opportunities to improve the experience of those around her. If we are like Penelope and our aim is to increase only our own stature and development, we will not achieve in the life to come what we could have.
Conversely, if we are like Janice from the parable, we will not only avoid evil and progress along our own path, but we will strive to improve our world and better the situation of people around us. We will not do it for recognition but out of a genuine desire to help. And perhaps the irony is that we will progress farther spiritually than if we are focusing on our own progress. We do need to “make time for the Lord” (said President Russell M. Nelson) and pay our devotions to Him, but He expects us to balance that with efforts to lift others.
Jesus Himself had to spend time alone in fasting and prayer, and He clearly had studied the scriptures. But often, even when He wanted some time to Himself or with His apostles, He felt compassion for others and helped those who were seeking Him (for example, in Matthew 14:13–14).
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of the Church has taught that part of walking with Christ is to sacrifice our own comforts to help those in need and to take notice of those overlooked or shunned by society because that’s what Jesus did (“Walk with Me”). Sometimes those people are in our own families or other social circles. Sometimes we have to look farther afield and seek them out.
Looking beyond what is convenient is something I’m hoping to become better at. Today’s world holds no shortage of worthy causes to participate in, whether it be a little or a lot. As with the widow with two mites, if we give what we can, the Lord takes notice.
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Thanks for your perspective, Ben. This is a topic I have grappled with on a personal level. I am, by nature, an introspective person and an introvert. I am quick to see what I need and slow to see the needs of others. I have made it a matter of prayer. Though I cannot quote the source, I heard someone once say that compassion, like charity, is a gift of the Spirit, and we must pray for it. My prayer is that God will trust me with one small prompting today from the Holy Ghost, and I promise to obey.