In the spring of 1834, the Church was having financial difficulties, and efforts to collect funds for its relief had failed. In March 1832, Church leadership in Ohio had established an organization called the United Firm to manage the Church’s commercial, mercantile, and business interests in a way that would help establish Zion and care for the poor (see D&C 78). In April 1832, Joseph Smith and others had met with the Church leaders in Missouri and organized a branch of the United Firm in Jackson County (see D&C 82). These two branches—one in Ohio and one in Missouri—had continued for two years. In a meeting held on April 10, 1834, the members of the firm decided to dissolve the organization. However, Joseph Smith received a revelation about two weeks later “that the firm instead be reorganized” and that “its properties were to be divided among members of the firm as their stewardships” (introduction to D&C 104). Under Joseph Smith’s direction, the term “United Firm” was later replaced with “United Order” in this revelation. The Lord also counseled Church leaders regarding their debts and instructed all Church members how they were to care for the poor.
Place a heavy object (such as a large book or rock) at the front of the classroom. Invite a student to lift the object using only one finger. This should be difficult or impossible, but let the student try. Then permit the student to invite fellow students to help lift the object. Students who assist must promise to help until the object is raised, and they too must only use one finger. Allow the first student to continue inviting more students until they are able to lift the object.
What was necessary to lift the heavy object? (Answers may include teamwork, unity, and so on.)
Explain that in the early days of the Church, financial problems were a heavy burden for the Church. In March and April 1832, the Lord directed the leaders of the Church to organize the United Firm, whose members covenanted to work together and be responsible for overseeing the Church’s mercantile and publishing operations in order to decrease Church debt, care for the poor, and further the Lord’s work. This institution was originally called the United Firm (see the introductions to sections 78, 82, and 104 in the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants). By the spring of 1834, debt caused the leaders of the Church to consider dissolving the firm. On April 23, 1834, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 104, in which the Lord revealed what was to be done with the United Firm and its properties.
Invite a student to read the introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 104 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Lord wanted the leaders of the Church to do with the United Firm. (Before students read, explain that Joseph Smith later directed that the term “United Firm” be replaced with “United Order” in the published revelation.) Ask students to report what they find.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify one of the reasons for the United Order’s troubles. You may need to explain that in verse 4, the word covetousness refers to a selfish desire to possess something, usually something that belongs to someone else.
What did some of the brethren break because of covetousness?
Remind students of the object lesson at the beginning of the lesson. Ask them to consider what would have happened if several of the students promised to help but then changed their minds and decided to walk away as the object was being lifted.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 104:5–10 by explaining that the Lord decreed that the consequences for breaking the covenant associated with the United Order would include being cursed and being cut off from the Church (see also D&C 78:11–12; 82:11–21).
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:11–13 silently, looking for what the Lord said each member of the United Order was to receive. Ask students to report what they find. You may need to explain that a steward is a person who is given responsibility for property that belongs to someone else.
According to verses 12–13, why did the Lord appoint a stewardship to each member of the United Order?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who owned the property associated with the United Order.
Who owned the property that was to be given to members of the United Order? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The Lord created the earth, and all things in it are His.)
How might this truth influence the way you view and use your possessions?
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:15–18 silently. Ask them to identify how the Lord instructed His stewards to use the things of the earth.
How does the Lord want His Saints to be provided for?
What do you think it means that “the poor are exalted in that the rich are made low”?
To help students understand the meaning of this statement, invite a student to read aloud the following explanation by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The Lord’s way consists of helping people help themselves. The poor are exalted because they work for the temporary assistance they receive, they are taught correct principles, and they are able to lift themselves from poverty to self-reliance. The rich are made low because they humble themselves to give generously of their means to those in need” (“Inspired Church Welfare,” Ensign, May 1999, 77).
What principles do verses 17–18 teach about our responsibility to help others? (Students may identify a variety of principles, including the following: We are accountable to use what the Lord has given us to help others. Write this principle on the board.)
Invite students to think of “the poor and the needy” as not only those who need financial assistance but also those who need spiritual, emotional, mental, and social assistance. Likewise, we can think of our abundance as more than just the money or material possessions we have. Our abundance includes our time, talents, knowledge, testimonies, and skills.
Why do you think it is important that we impart of our abundance to those in need?
How can we help others in the Lord’s way?
Invite students to ponder their efforts to help the poor and the needy. Ask them to write a goal for how they will use what the Lord has given them to help someone in need.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 104:19–53 by explaining that the Lord gave specific instructions about the stewardships assigned to members of the United Order. Write the following on the board: Doctrine and Covenants 104:23, 25, 31, 33, 35, 38, 42, 46. Ask students to read these verses silently, looking for a pattern in the Lord’s promises to each member of the order. Invite students to report what they find.
Ask students which words or phrases are repeated in these verses. Point out that the phrase “inasmuch as” means “insofar as” or “to the extent that.”
What can this phrase teach us about how our obedience affects the blessings we receive?
Write on the board Inasmuch as we are humble and faithful, the Lord will …
Ask students how they would complete this principle. (Use their words to finish the incomplete principle on the board. For example: Inasmuch as we are humble and faithful, the Lord will multiply our blessings.)
When have you seen someone blessed for being faithful in their responsibilities to the Lord?
Invite students to consider how they can be faithful in the responsibilities the Lord has given them.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 104:54–77 by explaining that the Lord provided instructions for establishing treasuries to safeguard funds that would be used for the benefit of the Church, such as in printing the scriptures.
Ask students to ponder whether they have ever been asked to do something they thought was impossible. Invite a few to share their experiences.
Explain that in the process of obeying the Lord’s commands, the United Order had incurred a large debt. A number of events prevented the order from repaying the loans. For example, the mob’s destruction of the printing press in Jackson County, Missouri, contributed to continuing economic hardships, and mobs prevented the Saints from using the storehouse in Independence.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:78 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the Lord’s instruction concerning the Church’s debts.
What did the Lord instruct the members of the United Order to do?
Point out that repaying the debt may have seemed impossible to the Saints, but the Lord gave instructions to help them. Write IF and THEN at the top of two columns on the board. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 104:80–82 aloud. Ask half of the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord asked members of the order to do in order to receive His help in paying their debts. Ask the other half to follow along, looking for what the Lord promised He would do to help the Saints as they paid their debts. Invite the first group to record their answers on the board under “IF,” and have the second group write their answers under “THEN.”
What principle can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 104:80–82? (Students may use different words, but they should identify something like the following principle: If we are humble and faithful and call upon the Lord’s name, then He will help us accomplish what He has asked us to do.)
What does the Lord ask Church members to do today that might be considered challenging? What role do you think humility, faithfulness, and prayer have in accomplishing the things the Lord has asked you to do?
Who from the scriptures is an example of the principle we identified in verses 80–82? Who do you know today who is an example of this principle?
Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a way that they can be more humble, faithful, or prayerful so that the Lord can help them accomplish the things He has asked them to do.