“Love Thy Neighbor”


Russell M. Nelson
This is an edited version of a talk delivered at the Regional Representatives’ Seminar held 4 April 1986.

“Love Thy Neighbor”

The Lord’s concern for the one is evident in many ways. Luke gives three illustrations: the parables of the lost sheep, the misplaced piece of silver, and the prodigal son. Each emphasizes the concern our Lord has for the individual soul.

This concern continues today. The First Presidency recently said that those not receiving the blessings of full activity in the Church are invited to “come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints.” (Ensign, Mar. 1986, p. 88.)

Sometimes in our zeal to do right, we may stumble over our own feet. Our efforts to do good may be undermined unknowingly by labels we apply, even though labels can be important. Our Sunday School studies of the Old Testament have shown us the symbolic significance of names given to the great patriarchs. Abram, for example, had a name that means “exalted father.” Then, just as he was getting used to that name after nearly one hundred years, the Lord changed it from Abram to Abraham to indicate that he would be more than an exalted father. He would become “a father of many nations.” (See Gen. 17:1–5.)

Gabriel, magnified by many heavenly errands, bears a name that means “man of God.”

Elijah, meaning “my God is Jehovah,” has components of the names of both Elohim and Jehovah. Bearing a name signifying the Father and the Son, Elijah was the one entrusted with the keys “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.” (D&C 110:15.)

But a human soul without such purposeful designation searches for identity and assurance. In a popular musical an orphan sings these lines:

Every night I kneel and pray,
Let tomorrow be the day
When I can see the face of someone who
I can mean something to.
Where, where is love?

(Lionel Bart, Oliver.)

If a child, slow of speech, is declared a stammerer by others, he or she may speak with even less assurance than before. In fact, some evidence suggests that stuttering is aggravated merely by labeling one a stutterer. Unkind words exchanged between people can also injure deeply, especially if discourteous labels are applied in the process.

People tend to become what is expected of them. Labels convey those expectations. Pigeons may feel comfortable in designated pigeonholes, but people can be offended when labeled or classified.

Yet, in spite of the obvious dangers, we are prone to label one another. “Smoker,” “drinker,” “inactive,” “liberal,” “unorthodox” are but a few terms applied, as though we cannot separate the doer from the deed.

In the eyes of God, all are his children; all are brothers and sisters. Millions who have joined the Church have witnessed to the Lord at the time of their baptism their willingness to take upon themselves his name and to keep his commandments. Having entered the first gate of baptism to embark upon the strait and narrow path (see 2 Ne. 31:17–18), members of the Church may progress toward salvation and exaltation.

But we progress at our own pace. Each of us, regardless of struggles, is a choice soul, precious in the sight of the Lord. Many of us, if not most, will slip and fall somewhere along the way.

Because leaders stand at a higher level of perception, they can look on those making the climb to identify those in distress. I hope those who are leaders—stake presidents, bishops, home teachers, visiting teachers—have learned to love and to lift all members, but especially to lift those who have stumbled along the gospel pathway.

“For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. (Eccl. 4:10.)

I believe this is what the Lord meant when he taught us through Paul to “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet.” (Heb. 12:12–13.) For that correct path leads to the glorious gate that enables blessings of the priesthood to come into our lives. That is the gate of the temple. The ultimate reason for our membership in the Church is that we may enjoy all the blessings there for us and our families.

Obstacles along the way, such as habituation to tobacco or to stimulating drinks like coffee and tea, need not raise artificial barriers between us as brothers and sisters or between an individual and the fulfillment of his or her own potential.

Years ago I was given a home teaching assignment to a special couple. A faithful, wonderful wife welcomed us to their home while her husband retreated to a small room filled with amateur radio equipment. But our concern for him was great enough that we tolerated the dense smoke of his cigars as he reluctantly responded to our questions about the principles of radio operation.

As our regular visits continued, earlier barriers melted into bonds of dear friendship. Our wives became fast friends, too. The sweetness of his soul began to emerge. He refined his life. Now, more than thirty years later, we look back on his distinguished service as a stake president, mission president, and temple president. Last year, I had the great privilege of ordaining this dear friend of mine a patriarch!

Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness. …

“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. …

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:1–2, 10.)

A wife grieves because of errant activities of her husband. Parents sorrow when a child goes astray. But scriptures hold great promise, particularly for those who have been taught the gospel earlier in life: “Train up a child in the way he should go,” the proverb states, “and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)

Job expressed hope with this analogy:

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.

“Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;

“Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.” (Job 14:7–9.)

That scent of water is the wonderful refreshment of love. Most of the disaffected have separated themselves from full fellowship in the Church not because of doctrinal disputations but because of hurt, neglect, or lack of love. Progress toward full participation in the blessings of the gospel needs no new programs, only a new vision of love that can be rendered best by friends and neighbors.

When someone asked the Savior, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:36–40.)

Quick and easy ways to “come back” cannot be packaged at Church headquarters and delivered to local priesthood leaders. Love cannot be conveyed remotely, even with new technology. These two great commandments must be applied by leaders of the Church locally, thus building the Church throughout the world:

“Preach my gospel … and cause my church to be established.” (D&C 28:8.)

When that happens, great blessings of eternal worth will result:

“For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

“They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.”

But that is not all the scripture promises:

“They who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

“And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:33–38.)

Such blessings of supernal significance are worth all our efforts, for ourselves and for our neighbors. Priesthood quorums are an indispensable part of this preparation. Their agendas should be focused more on our Father’s business of brotherhood and blessings than on disputations. Strength from priesthood brethren bonded in mutual commitment is envisioned in this passage from the Book of Mormon:

“They were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.

“Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.” (Alma 53:20–21.)

Let us not forget the Relief Society and its worth. Our concern applies equally to the sisters. The parable of the lost coin demonstrates the effectiveness one woman can have when seeking diligently for what was lost, and the joy she and the angels experience when one is found:

“What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?

“And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.

“Likewise, … there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:8–10.)

How sorrowful must a brother or sister feel when they think they are abandoned, when they think no one cares! Perhaps it was this feeling that caused the psalmist to write, “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” (Ps. 142:4.)

The church of our loving Lord cannot function that way! We all need each other. Paul explained this by likening members of the Church to parts of the body:

“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

“And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? …

“The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor. 12:15–16, 21, 27.)

As we fortify ourselves for our mighty redeeming tasks, may we heed this inspired prayer from the Book of Mormon:

“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing [our brothers and sisters] again unto thee in Christ.

“Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.” (Alma 31:34–35.)

Let us unlabel our brothers and sisters. They are not strangers, “but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.) Let leaders and members alike love God and love one another. Obedience to these two great commandments will crown our efforts with success.

“Verily, thus saith the Lord, … if those who call themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments … they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come.” (D&C 125:2.)

That time will be glorious, especially when shared with all the sheep of the fold, with none lost! We shall bless the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors as we help them prepare for the great day of the Lord, which is nigh.