“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” teaches that “[Jesus] ‘went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38), yet was despised for it” (Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2000, 2). As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to follow His example of doing good despite the possibility of persecution. In this lesson, students will discuss why we should treat those who mistreat us because of our beliefs with the same love and respect Jesus showed His persecutors. As we follow the Savior’s example, we will be blessed with courage to live and defend our faith and we will be able to help others draw closer to the Lord.
Begin class by asking students the following question:
When you think of the Savior’s exemplary life, what of all the good He did in mortality stands out most to you?
After students have responded, read (or share in your own words) the following account told by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about two sister missionaries:
“With admiration and encouragement for everyone who will need to remain steadfast in these latter days, I say to all and especially the youth of the Church that if you haven’t already, you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require both courage and courtesy on your part.
“For example, a sister missionary recently wrote to me: ‘My companion and I saw a man sitting on a bench in the town square eating his lunch. As we drew near, he looked up and saw our missionary name tags. With a terrible look in his eye, he jumped up and raised his hand to hit me. I ducked just in time, only to have him spit his food all over me and start swearing the most horrible things at us. We walked away saying nothing. I tried to wipe the food off of my face, only to feel a clump of mashed potato hit me in the back of the head. Sometimes it is hard being a missionary because right then I wanted to go back, grab that little man, and say, “EXCUSE ME!” But I didn’t’” (“The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 6).
Ask students to read Matthew 5:43–47 silently, looking for a principle Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount that these sister missionaries practiced. (You may want to suggest that, as students read, they practice the scripture study skill of name substitution to help personalize the message of these verses. To practice this skill, students should substitute their own name for the words ye and you.)
What is a principle Jesus taught in these verses? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we are to follow Jesus Christ’s teachings, we must learn to love our enemies and be kind to those who persecute us.)
What makes this gospel principle difficult to live?
Display the following statement on the board:
Explain that although the Savior was accepted by many people in both Galilee and Judea, and many saw His good works as a witness of His divinity, others despised and persecuted Him for His good works.
On the board, list the following scripture passages under “Jesus went about doing good”:
Divide the class into small groups, and assign each group to study one of the passages listed on the board. Ask students to identify in each passage the good work Jesus performed and how people responded to it. After sufficient time, ask students to report what they discovered. Point out that this series of passages reveals a pattern in the Lord’s life that we can learn from. Ask the following question:
What did you notice about how the Savior responded to the persecution He experienced?
Encourage students to picture in their minds the event recounted in the scripture passage they studied. Then ask:
What thoughts or feelings might you have had if you had witnessed Jesus on that occasion?
What do you think Jesus would want you to learn from His words and actions at that time? (The following is one principle students may identify: As we seek to follow the Savior’s example of doing good, we will sometimes have to endure persecution.)
Tell students that in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ counseled His disciples how to respond when they were persecuted. Copy the following phrase and scripture references on the board, and assign each student to read at least one of the passages. Ask students to identify in the passage they read a principle Jesus taught that could guide them in their interactions with others.
After sufficient time, ask students to explain the principles they found and how they apply to our relationships with other people. As students share principles they identified in Matthew 5:21–24, you may want to point out that 3 Nephi 12:22 and the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 5 omit the words “without a cause” (Matthew 5:22; see also Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 5:24 [in Matthew 5:22, footnote b]). (As students respond, emphasize the following truth: Heavenly Father expects us to follow Jesus Christ’s example when we are persecuted for our beliefs.)
“Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. …
“When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 27).
Discuss with students the challenges and blessings of following the counsel of Elder Holland and Elder Oaks. Then invite a student to read Matthew 5:9–12 aloud.
According to these verses, what promises did Jesus make that might make it easier to respond in Christlike ways when we are persecuted for our religious beliefs?
Invite students to ponder how they might apply one or more of the Savior’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to a current relationship they have or how they could have applied them to a past experience. Ask if any students would be willing to share their thoughts with the class.
Give each student a copy of the following statement by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But to ‘love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]’ (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage. …
“When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior. We show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return. That is not weakness. That is Christian courage. …
“As we respond to others, each circumstance will be different. Fortunately, the Lord knows the hearts of our accusers and how we can most effectively respond to them. As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord. …
“As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate. Our heartfelt testimonies are the most powerful answer we can give our accusers” (“Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 72, 73–74).
Give students time to read and highlight principles taught by Elder Hales. Invite them to share what they learned. If needed, discuss some or all of the following questions:
How can our actions toward other people affect their relationship with God? (Help students identify the following principle: As we follow Christ’s example of responding with love and kindness toward those who oppose us, we can strengthen their relationship with God as well as ours.)
How is treating others in this manner part of the baptismal covenant we have made with Heavenly Father? (It is one important way of standing as witnesses of God at all times, in all things, and in all places [see Mosiah 18:9].)
Ask students if they have had any experiences in which following the Savior’s example and teachings allowed them to help someone else draw closer to the Lord. Ask a few students to share their experiences.
Encourage students to examine their relationships with others, identify one that could be improved, and write down how they will apply the principles discussed today to that relationship.