Service in the Church
“Chapter 18: Service in the Church,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 163
We are all interested in the great latter-day work of God, and we all ought to be co-workers therein. 1
From the Life of John Taylor
From the moment of his conversion, John Taylor was committed to giving his all to the Lord’s work. Reflecting on his call in 1837 to be an Apostle, he shared these thoughts: “The work seemed great, the duties arduous and responsible. I felt my own weakness and littleness; but I felt determined, the Lord being my helper, to endeavor to magnify it. When I first entered upon Mormonism, I did it with my eyes open. I counted the cost. I looked upon it as a life-long labor, and considered that I was not only enlisted for time, but for eternity also, and did not wish to shrink now, although I felt my incompetency.” 2
This “life-long labor” that he anticipated became a reality. Through his decades of service, John Taylor placed his trust in the Lord, knowing that if he served faithfully, the Lord would sustain him and enable him to accomplish His will. One example of how the Lord sustains those who serve Him occurred when Elder Taylor was preaching the gospel on the Isle of Man, an island near England. He had arranged for the printing of some tracts he had written in response to the false accusations against the Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith. However, the printer refused to deliver the tracts until he was paid in full. Anxious to distribute the tracts as soon as possible, Elder Taylor prayed to the Lord for help, which was soon given.
“[A] few minutes after his prayer was offered a young man came to the door, and upon being invited to enter handed Elder Taylor an envelope and walked out. The young man was unknown to him. The envelope contained some money and a little note which read: ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire,’ and no signature was placed thereon. [A] few minutes later a poor woman engaged as a fish vendor came to the house and offered a little money to assist him in his ministerial labors. He told her there was plenty of money in the world and he did not wish to take her money. She insisted that the Lord would bless her the more and she would be happier if he would accept it, whereupon he received the offering, and to his surprise the poor woman’s mite, added to what the young man had given him, made exactly the amount sufficient to pay the printer the balance due him.” 3
Teachings of John Taylor
Each of us has a duty to serve in the Church and to magnify our calling.
It is not correct to suppose that the whole duty of carrying this kingdom devolves upon the twelve or the First Presidency, as the case may be, or upon the presidents of the stakes, or upon the high priests, or upon the seventies, or upon the bishops, or upon any other officer in the church and kingdom of God; that to the contrary, all of us have our several duties to perform. And I may go farther in regard to the duties of men, and also in regard to those of women; all have their duties to perform before God. The organization of this church and kingdom is for the express purpose of putting every man in his place, and it is then expected that every man in that place will magnify his office and calling. 4
If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty. 5
What is it to be a Saint? And how far am I, and how far are you fulfilling the obligations that devolve upon us as Saints of God, as Elders in Israel, as fathers of families and mothers of families? Let us ask ourselves these questions. Are we performing our various duties in building up the kingdom of God, in rolling forth his work upon the earth? And what are we doing to bring about the latter day glory? Which of our acts tends to this? Do any of them, or do all of them? And what is really our position? These are things that it is well for us to weigh, consider and find out the real responsibilities that are resting upon us. 6
It is not enough … that we are baptized and have hands laid upon us for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is not enough even that we go further than this and receive our [temple ordinances], but that we daily and hourly and all the time live up to our religion, cultivate the Spirit of God and have it continually within us ‘as a well of water springing up to everlasting life,’ [see John 4:14] unfolding, developing, making manifest the purposes and the designs of God unto us, that we may be enabled to walk worthy of the high vocation whereunto we are called, as sons and daughters of God. … It would be found very difficult for any individual left to himself to do right, to think right, to speak right, and to fulfil the will and law of God upon the earth, and hence the necessity of the organization of the church and kingdom of God upon the earth, of the properly organized priesthood, of the legitimate channel, check, bounds, laws and governments that the Almighty has introduced into his church and kingdom, for the guidance, instruction, protection, welfare, upbuilding and further progress of his church and kingdom upon the earth. …
… It is like the branches of a tree, and the root and stock of a tree. The branches flourish on a healthy stock, and one little twig on the outside, with a few green leaves upon it and a little fruit, is very productive, beautiful and pleasant to look upon, but it is no more than a portion of the tree, it is not the tree. Where does it get its nourishment from? From the root and the stock or stem, and through the various branches that exist on the tree. …
As a Saint you say, “I think I understand my duty and I am doing very well.” That may be so. You see the little twig; it is green, it flourishes and is the very picture of life, it bears its part and proportion in the tree, and is connected with the stem, branches and root; but could the tree live without it? Yes, it could. It need not boast itself and get uplifted, and say “how green I am and how I flourish, and what a healthy position I am in, how well I am doing and I am in my proper place and am doing right.” But could you do without the root? No; you bear your proper part and position in the tree. Just so is this people. …
This is a fit similitude of the church and kingdom of God. We are cemented together, united in the bonds of one common covenant. We are part and parcel of the church and kingdom of God which the Lord has planted on the earth in the last days for the accomplishment of his purposes and the establishment of his kingdom, and the bringing to pass all those things which have been spoken of by all the holy prophets since the world was. We all stand in our proper place.
While we magnify our callings we honor our God. While we magnify our calling we possess a portion of the Spirit of God; while we magnify our calling we altogether comprise the tree; while we magnify our calling the Spirit of God flows through the proper channels by which and through which we receive our proper nourishment, and are instructed in things pertaining to our welfare, happiness and interest pertaining to this world and the world to come. 7
The work of God is growing and increasing, and it will continue to do so until the words of the prophet will be fulfilled who said, “A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time” [Isaiah 60:22] but He expects every man in his place to magnify his calling and to honor his God. And while there are evils … , there is a great amount of good, of virtue, of self-abnegation [or self-denial], and a great desire to do the will of God and carry out His purposes. And it is for every man and every woman to do his and her part. 8
As we serve in the Church, we ought to conform to the word, the will, and the law of God.
We are here as Jesus was here, not to do our own will, but the will of our Father who sent us [see John 5:30]. He has placed us here; we have a work to do in our day and generation; and there is nothing of importance connected with any of us only as we are associated with God and His work, whether it be the President of the Church, the Twelve Apostles, the Presidents of Stakes, the Bishops, or anybody else, and we can only thus be of any service by placing ourselves in a position to act as God dictates us; as He regulates and manipulates the affairs of His Church in the interests of humanity, in behalf of the living and of the dead, in behalf of the world in which we live, and in behalf of those who have lived before us and who will live after us. We can none of us do anything only as we are assisted, guided and directed by the Lord. …
… We ought to wake up and put our houses in order and our hearts in order; we ought to conform to the word, the will, and the law of God; we ought to let God rule in Zion, to let His law be written upon our hearts, and to feel the responsibility of the great work we are called upon to perform. We should see that our bodies and our spirits are pure, and that they are free from contamination of every kind. We are here to build up the Zion of God, and to this end we must subject our bodies and our spirits to the law, to the word, and to the will of God. Being here in Zion we want to see that thing that Jesus told His disciples to pray for take place. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” [See Matthew 6:10.] How was it done in heaven? God spake and the worlds were formed according to His word. God said let us do this, and that and the other, and it was so. Was there anybody in heaven to object and say, “Don’t you think you had better put it off a little. Would not this be a better way?” Yes, the devil said so, and he says so yet, and he is listened to sometimes by sinners and sometimes by Saints; for we become the servants of those whom we list to obey [see D&C 29:45]. …
… The law of God is perfect converting the soul [see Psalm 19:7], and we must be governed by that law and carry it out, or be made amenable unto the Lord our God for the course we pursue, or for neglecting to perform our duties. That is the way I look at these things, and if that is not the case, why are these laws given to us. Are they the laws of God? We so understand them. Then let us perform our duties and seek to magnify our callings that we may stand approved and acknowledged of the Lord. …
Arise! therefore, ye Elders of Israel—ye Priests, Teachers and Deacons, ye Presidents of Stakes, Bishops and High Counselors, ye Apostles and First Presidency, and all of us—Arise! and let us go to work with a will to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven; for if ever that is done, where is it to start, do you think, if it does not begin here among us? God expects it at our hands. We are full of weaknesses and imperfections, every one of us; but we want to learn the word, the will, and law of God, and to conform to that word and will and law. Let that law be written upon our hearts. Let us seek to magnify our callings and honor our God, and the Lord will take care of the balance. … We will … put our trust in the living God, and pursue a course that is wise, prudent and intelligent. We will glory not in ourselves, but in the Lord of Hosts. 9
We need the sustaining hand of the Almighty as we serve.
God does not see as man; he reasons not as man. Although we may partially comprehend our individual duties, we do not understand how to regulate the church of God. It needs the regular organization and the Spirit to direct through the proper channels. 10
We are acting in conjunction with the Almighty, with apostles and prophets and men of God who have lived in the various ages of the world, to accomplish the great programme that God had in his mind in relation to the human family before the world existed, and which will as assuredly come to pass as God lives. We feel, at the same time, that we are encompassed with the infirmities, weaknesses, imperfections and frailties of human nature, and in many instances we err in judgment, and we always need the sustaining hand of the Almighty; the guidance and direction of His Holy Spirit, and the counsel of his priesthood that we may be led and preserved in the path that leads to life eternal. 11
We say that we are the Saints of God, so we are. … We have believed and do believe that God has spoken, that angels have appeared and that God has opened a communication between the heavens and the earth. This is a part of our faith and creed. We believe that God is going to revolutionize the earth, to purge it from iniquity of every kind and to introduce righteousness of every kind, until the great millennium is fully introduced. We believe moreover, that God having commenced his work, he will continue to reveal and make manifest his will to his priesthood, to his church and kingdom on the earth, and that among this people there will be an embodiment of virtue, of truth, of holiness, of integrity, of fidelity, of wisdom and of the knowledge of God. 12
I feel I am enlisted for the war, and it is going to last for time, and throughout all eternity; and if I am a servant of God, I am under the direction of those servants of God, whom he has appointed to guide and counsel me by revelation from him, it is their right to dictate and control me amid all the affairs of those associated with the kingdom of God; and I feel moreover that everything whether spiritual or temporal, relating to time, or to eternity is associated with the kingdom of God. Feeling in that way it makes very little difference to me which way things go; it is not a matter of great moment whether they take that side, this side, or the other side, whether the path is rough or smooth, it will only last a certain time, and I can only last a certain time; but the chief thing with me is, how to hold on to my faith, and maintain my integrity, and honor my calling, and see to it, that I am found faithful at the latter end not only of this life, but in worlds without end; and continue to grow in all intelligence, knowledge, faith, perseverance, power, and exaltation. 13
We should sustain other Church members in their callings.
All officers in the Church are first called by revelation, or those having authority, according to the nature of the case, and then are voted for by the people over whom they are to preside. Each person possesses power according to the position he occupies; and it is expected that all persons concerned will respect his judgement and decisions. 14
We hold up our right hand when voting in token before God that we will sustain those for whom we vote. And if we cannot feel to sustain them, we ought not to hold up our hands, because to do this would be to act the part of hypocrites. …
What is meant by sustaining a person? Do we understand it? It is a very simple thing to me, I do not know how it is with you. For instance, if a man be a teacher, and I vote that I will sustain him in his position, when he visits me in an official capacity I will welcome him and treat him with consideration, kindness, and respect. If I need counsel, I will ask it at his hand, and I will do everything I can to sustain him. That would be proper and a principle of righteousness. I would not say anything derogatory to his character. If that is not correct, I have it yet to learn. And then if anybody in my presence were to whisper something about him, disparaging to his reputation, I would say, look here! are you a Saint? Yes. Did you not hold up your hand to sustain him? Yes. Then why do you not do it? Now, I would call an action of that kind sustaining him. If any man makes an attack upon his reputation—for all men’s reputations are of importance to them—I would defend him in some such way.
When we vote for men in the solemn way in which we do, shall we abide by our covenants? or shall we violate them? If we violate them, we become covenant-breakers. We break our faith before God and our brethren, in regard to the acts of men whom we have covenanted to sustain.
But supposing he should do something wrong, supposing he should be found lying or cheating, or defrauding somebody, or stealing or anything else, or even become impure in his habits? Would you still sustain him? It would be my duty then to talk with him as I would with anybody else, and tell him that I had understood that things were thus and so, and that under these circumstances I could not sustain him. If I found that I had been misinformed, I would withdraw the charge; but if not, it would then be my duty to see that justice was administered to him, that he was brought before the proper tribunal to answer for the things he had done; and in the absence of that I would have no business to talk about him. 15
Pray for those that God has placed in the different offices of this church that they may be enabled to perform their several duties. The Lord will sustain his servants and give them his Holy Spirit and the light of revelation, if they seek him in the way that he has appointed, and he will lead them and lead you in the right path. This is the order of the kingdom of God, as I understand it. … And it is for us to learn that order and be obedient to it. 16
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• Have you ever received a calling for which you did not feel prepared? How did you respond to the challenge? (See also 1 Nephi 17:50.) How can we prepare ourselves to serve the Lord in any capacity?
• President Taylor stressed that all of us have duties to perform in the Church. Why is it important for each of us to serve?
• In what ways have your Church callings benefited your life? In what ways can you serve more fully?
• How have you or your family been blessed by a Church member who magnified his or her calling? What feelings come into your heart for those who diligently serve you and your family?
• What experiences have you had when the Lord has helped you as you served? What can you do to receive His guidance more consistently as you serve? Why is it important, as we serve, to glory not in ourselves, but in the Lord?
• How can we actively sustain others in their callings? How does it strengthen the Church when we demonstrate our support for each other? What can we do within our homes to help our families sustain our Church leaders?