From the Life of Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball exhorted Latter-day Saints to put the Lord first in their lives and not set their hearts on the things of the world. He taught that putting such things as material possessions, business, recreation, and prestige ahead of the Lord is to worship false gods. He emphasized that false gods or idols include “everything which entices a person away from duty, loyalty, and love for and service to God.”1
Wholehearted commitment to the Lord was at the foundation of President Kimball’s life and the lives of his parents. In the late 1890s, when Spencer was a small boy, his father, Andrew, received a call to be stake president in southeastern Arizona. Leaving the relative comforts of Salt Lake City to live in a desert frontier would not be easy for the Kimball family, but for Andrew Kimball “there was but one answer and that was to go.”2
Several years later, Spencer W. Kimball showed similar devotion to the Lord when he was called to be second counselor in a stake presidency. He and his wife, Camilla, “had talked of his going back to college to become an accountant or teacher,” but accepting the Church position meant setting such plans aside.3
When President Kimball was ordained an Apostle, President Heber J. Grant’s counsel to him reinforced this principle of putting the Lord and His kingdom first: “Set your heart upon the service of the Lord thy God. From this very moment resolve to make this cause and this labor first and foremost in all your thoughts.”4
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball
When we place our hearts and trust in anything above the Lord, we are worshiping our own false gods.
As I study ancient scripture, I am more and more convinced that there is significance in the fact that the commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments.
Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the “arm of flesh” and in “gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know” (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols. This I find to be a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.
It is my firm belief that when we read these scriptures and try to “liken them unto [our]selves,” as Nephi suggested (1 Ne. 19:24), we will see many parallels between the ancient worship of graven images and behavioral patterns in our very own experience.5
Idolatry is among the most serious of sins. …
Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. …
Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles can become idols. …
Many people build and furnish a home and buy the automobile first—and then find they “cannot afford” to pay tithing. Whom do they worship? Certainly not the Lord of heaven and earth. …
Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. Others have as their idols the games of sport, baseball, football, the bullfight, or golf. …
Still another image men worship is that of power and prestige. … These gods of power, wealth, and influence are most demanding and are quite as real as the golden calves of the children of Israel in the wilderness.6
Becoming attached to worldly things can make us vulnerable to Satan’s influence.
In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.7
I am reminded of an article I read some years ago about a group of men who had gone to the jungles to capture monkeys. They tried a number of different things to catch the monkeys, including nets. But finding that the nets could injure such small creatures, they finally came upon an ingenious solution. They built a large number of small boxes, and in the top of each they bored a hole just large enough for a monkey to get his hand into. They then set these boxes out under the trees and in each one they put a nut that the monkeys were particularly fond of.
When the men left, the monkeys began to come down from the trees and examine the boxes. Finding that there were nuts to be had, they reached into the boxes to get them. But when a monkey would try to withdraw his hand with the nut, he could not get his hand out of the box because his little fist, with the nut inside, was now too large.
At about this time, the men would come out of the underbrush and converge on the monkeys. And here is the curious thing: When the monkeys saw the men coming, they would shriek and scramble about with the thought of escaping; but as easy as it would have been, they would not let go of the nut so that they could withdraw their hands from the boxes and thus escape. The men captured them easily.
And so it often seems to be with people, having such a firm grasp on things of the world—that which is telestial—that no amount of urging and no degree of emergency can persuade them to let go in favor of that which is celestial. Satan gets them in his grip easily. If we insist on spending all our time and resources building up for ourselves a worldly kingdom, that is exactly what we will inherit.8
Rather than set our hearts on things of the world, we should use our resources to build up the kingdom of God.
The possession of riches does not necessarily constitute sin. But sin may arise in the acquisition and use of wealth. …
Book of Mormon history eloquently reveals the corrosive effect of the passion for wealth. Each time the people became righteous, they prospered. Then followed the transition from prosperity to wealth, wealth to the love of wealth, then to the love of ease and luxury. They moved then into spiritual inactivity, then to gross sin and wickedness, then on to near destruction by their enemies. … Had the people used their wealth for good purposes they could have enjoyed a continuing prosperity.9
The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. … Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful. Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, “Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.” (Morm. 8:39.)
As the Lord himself said in our day, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:16; italics added.)10
Perhaps the sin is not in “things” but in our attitude toward and worship of “things.” Unless an acquisitive person can positively accumulate and hold wealth while still giving full allegiance to God and his program—unless the rich man can keep the Sabbath, keep his mind and body and spirit uncontaminated, and give unstinted service to his fellowmen through God’s appointed way—unless the affluent man has total control and can hold all his possessions in trust, subject to the call of the Lord through his authorized servants, then that man, for the good of his soul, should certainly “go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, … and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21.)
Blessings we receive from serving the Lord far exceed the rewards offered by the world.
One man I know of was called to a position of service in the Church, but he felt that he couldn’t accept because his investments required more attention and more of his time than he could spare for the Lord’s work. He left the service of the Lord in search of Mammon, and he is a millionaire today.
But I recently learned an interesting fact: If a man owns a million dollars worth of gold at today’s prices, he possesses approximately one 27-billionth of all the gold that is present in the earth’s thin crust alone. This is an amount so small in proportion as to be inconceivable to the mind of man. But there is more to this: The Lord who created and has power over all the earth created many other earths as well, even “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33); and when this man received the oath and covenant of the priesthood (D&C 84:33–44), he received a promise from the Lord of “all that my Father hath” (v. 38). To set aside all these great promises in favor of a chest of gold and a sense of carnal security is a mistake in perspective of colossal proportions. To think that he has settled for so little is a saddening and pitiful prospect indeed; the souls of men are far more precious than this.
One young man, when called on a mission, replied that he didn’t have much talent for that kind of thing. What he was good at was keeping his powerful new automobile in top condition. He enjoyed the sense of power and acceleration, and when he was driving, the continual motion gave him the illusion that he was really getting somewhere.
All along, his father had been content with saying, “He likes to do things with his hands. That’s good enough for him.”
Good enough for a son of God? This young man didn’t realize that the power of his automobile is infinitesimally small in comparison with the power of the sea, or of the sun; and there are many suns, all controlled by law and by priesthood, ultimately—a priesthood power that he could have been developing in the service of the Lord. He settled for a pitiful god, a composite of steel and rubber and shiny chrome.
An older couple retired from the world of work and also, in effect, from the Church. They purchased a pickup truck and camper and, separating themselves from all obligations, set out to see the world and simply enjoy what little they had accumulated the rest of their days. They had no time for the temple, were too busy for genealogical research and for missionary service. He lost contact with his high priests quorum and was not home enough to work on his personal history. Their experience and leadership were sorely needed in their branch, but, unable to “endure to the end,” they were not available.13
We should love and follow the Lord with all our hearts.
It is not enough for us to acknowledge the Lord as supreme and refrain from worshipping idols; we should love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. We should honor him and follow him into the work of eternal life. What joy he has in the righteousness of his children!14
Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.)
When Peter preached such a message as this to the people on the day of Pentecost, many of them “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37.)
… Our message is the same as that which Peter gave. And further, that which the Lord himself gave “unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:
“Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.” (D&C 1:11–12.)
We believe that the way for each person and each family to prepare as the Lord has directed is to begin to exercise greater faith, to repent, and to enter into the work of his kingdom on earth, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It may seem a little difficult at first, but when a person begins to catch a vision of the true work, when he begins to see something of eternity in its true perspective, the blessings begin to far outweigh the cost of leaving “the world” behind.15
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Why do you think “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments?
Ponder this statement: “Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god” (page 146). What are some false gods in the world today? (See examples on pages 146–47.)
What can we learn from the story about monkey traps? (See pages 147–48.) What do we risk if we take too firm a hold on the things of this world?
Review pages 148–50. What are some dangers of being wealthy? In what ways can we make righteous use of the resources the Lord gives us?
Review the stories on pages 150–51. Why do you think some people willingly forfeit the blessings of serving in the Lord’s kingdom? What should be our motivation when we serve?
What do you think it means to “love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength”? (page 151). What can parents do to help their children love the Lord?
The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 40.
Andrew Kimball, in Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (1977), 20.
See Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball,” in The Presidents of the Church, ed. Leonard J. Arrington (1986), 381.
In Spencer W. Kimball, 205.
“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, 4.
The Miracle of Forgiveness, 40, 41–42.
Ensign, June 1976, 6.
Ensign, June 1976, 5–6.
The Miracle of Forgiveness, 47.
Ensign, June 1976, 4–5.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 28; or Ensign, July 1972, 38.
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 358.
Ensign, June 1976, 5.
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 243.
Ensign, June 1976, 6.