Your Charge: To Increase in Wisdom and Favor with God and Man


Ezra Taft Benson

As a text I take a phrase from the words of the beloved physician Luke in the New Testament. For impressive brevity it stands out boldly. It covers a period of 18 years following the return of Jesus from Jerusalem to Nazareth. Except for this one rich sentence of greatest import, the scriptures for this 18-year period are silent. These are Luke’s words: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

Here in a broad outline, in one succinct sentence, are given the four major fields of man’s activity and striving—mental, physical, spiritual, and social. All are important. Each occupies an important place in man’s advancement toward perfection.

All of us, like the Savior, can, and must, continue to advance all the days of our lives in all that really matters. How shall we do all this? How shall we continue to increase in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man until we reach the perfection that should be our destiny?

Do you recall the passage in the 14th chapter of John, where Jesus is bidding farewell to his disciples after the Last Supper? He tells them that he goes to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house; that where he is, they also may be. And Thomas says to him: “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” (John 14:2–5).

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The road lies before us. It is clearly marked. Our course is clear. We must follow the strait and narrow road marked out for us by the Son of God in all that we desire, think, and do.

We must imitate him in our mental growth as we search for truth. Let us never fear truth, but only its misuse. On the contrary, let us love truth above all else—for God himself is truth.

King Solomon of old, advised that “wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). This was his profound conclusion after a lifetime spent in searching for that which is most important to man.

Blessed are they who seek to learn wisdom. This same Jesus who increased in wisdom declared to a modern prophet, Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich” (D&C 6:7).

It was once thought, and still is in some places, that when a young person sets out on a quest for academic knowledge, his faith in God will soon be destroyed. But it is not the search for knowledge—nor knowledge itself—which costs a man his faith. As President Joseph F. Smith declared, some “read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 373). Yes, it is intellectual pride that leads one to think he is self-sufficient in matters of mind and of spirit. Let us ever realize the difference that exists between a discoverer of the truth and the Lawgiver of all truth. The first is human; the other divine.

There is an all-too-prevalent spirit of experimenting with things that have already been proved beyond doubt. It finds expression in such phrases as “I’ll try anything once,” “You’re only young once,” “Be a good sport,” “You only go around once in life,” “Times are different,” etc.

Times are different, but fundamentals remain unchanged. Honesty is still honesty. Virtue is still virtue. Truth is still truth. Honest effort is still rewarded. Gravity still pulls all things to earth. Disregard for law still brings punishment. Two and two still make four. The Ten Commandments are still in force, as are all the other laws of life, nature, and the universe. Cecil B. DeMille once said that men and nations cannot break the Ten Commandments; they can only break themselves upon them.

It is unscientific and unscholarly to waste time attempting to prove or disprove things that have already been established beyond question. The true scientist no longer attempts to disprove the pull of gravity, or the rotation of the earth, or the motion of heavenly bodies, or the sequence of the seasons, or man’s need of food and water, or the function of the heart. These things are established, and for each individual to bring them into question and insist on going through all the experimentation whereby they have been established would be costly, wasteful, and unfeasible.

It is just as unscientific, unscholarly, and even more costly for each individual to insist upon personally conducting the experiments that have proved that sin brings sorrow, that disbelief brings emptiness and unrest, that things forbidden of God are not good for man, that the use of tobacco is an enslaving habit, that unchastity brings unhappiness, etc.

Religion and science have sometimes appeared in conflict. Yet, the conflict can only be apparent, not real, for science seeks truth, and true religion is truth. There can never be conflict between revealed religion and true science. Truth is truth, whether labeled science or religion. All truth is consistent. There is no conflict—only in the interpretation of fact.

It is well to remember that when men make new discoveries in their energetic search for truth, these will always be in harmony with all fundamental and eternal truths. Yes, truth is always consistent, whether it is revealed directly from God to man, through his inspired prophets, or comes from the laboratory through diligent searching of his children and through the influence of the Spirit of the Lord upon them.

This quest for wisdom or intelligence, which the Lord defines as “light and truth,” is a glorious challenge. We have been assured by the Author of Eternal Life that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

“And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (D&C 130:18–19.)

One of the prophets on this continent before the advent of the Savior commented that “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:29; italics added). This same thought was expressed in another way by the writer of the Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5–6; italics added.)

You are in a changing world beset with many perplexities. But while change is all about us, and will continue to be, in the physical world, we must recognize that there are certain heaven-sent verities, principles, and values that are eternal. These never change.

As you travel life’s highway, you will encounter theories, proposals, and programs that have wide appeal. You will be required to pass your judgment on them. Be not misled. Remember that ideas and theories are either sound or unsound; their soundness does not depend upon which men hold them.

Be mindful that there are many phenomena in God’s universe that cannot, to our present human understanding, be explained. There will always be those little minds who, out of vanity or intellectual display, will attempt to destroy faith in the very foundations of life. Be assured, however, that no man, worthy of the name, who has been humbled and awed before the unexplainable wonders of this marvelous universe, will ever scoff at sacred things or try to rob you of your faith in the unseen.

Our inability to explain a thing in terms of our materialism does not disprove its reality. By yielding obedience to your faith in God and the laws of the universe, both spiritual and physical, there will come a soul-satisfying security that is priceless. You will need this anchor as you face a doubting world.

To you we say: Advance unafraid! Meet the challenge of a modern world! In doing so, beware of the philosophy which suggests that morality is out of date—that virtue, chastity, marriage, and honorable family life are throwbacks to a Victorian age. These are eternal principles—as eternal as life itself. Remember, it is truth that endures. It is truth that makes men courageous enough to become Christlike. It is the truth that makes men and nations free. Yes, be intelligent. Intelligence is wise and judicious use of knowledge.

Continue to grow mentally—to grow in wisdom—to grow in truth. Desire it! Pray for it! Study it! Practice it!

Do all this and you will find truth; it cannot be denied you. Having found it, never forget its source, remembering always that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

“And Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52).

Like the Master, in whose footsteps you follow, may you constantly increase in wisdom.

“And Jesus increased in … stature” (Luke 2:52).

It may seem trite to say that you are the trustees of posterity, but it is true. The future of our country will, sooner than you think, rest in your hands and those of your contemporaries.

Be worthy trustees. Continue to grow in stature. Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily. Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in gloom and melancholy, but in light and love.

Your physical well-being is not only a priceless blessing to yourself, but a heritage that you may pass on to your descendants. With good health, all other activities of life are greatly enhanced. A clean mind in a healthy body will enable you to render far more effective service to others. It will help you provide more vigorous leadership. It will give your every experience in life more zest and meaning. Good health is a noble and worthwhile attainment.

The Word of Wisdom leads to clean habits, thoughts, and actions. Obedience to it will make you more receptive to the Spirit of God, which “cannot dwell in an unclean tabernacle.” Follow the gospel plan that provides for solid work, clean entertainment, and activity to promote growth of stature.

Possibly the best measure of the stature of a man or woman is in their own home, at their own fireside. As you look hopefully forward, what conclusions have you reached about marriage, the home, and family? What value do you place on “the old-fashioned American home with its goodly number of children, its religious atmosphere, its prayer, its blessings and its rather Puritanical ideas about duties and obligations, including deference and respect for parents and older folk?”

The foundation of a happy home must be laid during premarital days. You young people should keep your associations on an uplifting, spiritual level. Moral purity is an eternal principle. Its violation destroys the noblest qualities and aspirations of man. Purity is life-giving; unchastity is deadly.

You should realize that there is a grave danger in building your premarital associations on a physical basis of necking, petting, and fornication. The harmful effects of such unlawful associations are carried over into married life, bringing disappointment, heartache, and the weakening of the structure of the home. Unchastity is the most damning of all evils, while moral purity is one of the greatest bulwarks of successful homemaking. Happy and successful homes—let alone individual lives—cannot be built on immorality.

As a member of a large family of children and a grateful father of six, may I say to you, keep the fountains of life pure. Guard your virtue as you would guard your lives. Reserve for the marriage relationship the sweet and soul-satisfying intimacies of life, as the God of heaven, who instituted the marriage covenant, so intended. He has commanded purity of life and a single standard for men and women. If you fail as young people to properly restrain yourselves, you will pay the penalty in heartache, disappointment, and loss of self-respect. Do not reach out too eagerly for physical intimacies that are only lawful under the marriage covenant. These will come in their own due time in the sacred bonds of marriage.

Youth, be true to God’s holy laws. Remember, they cannot be broken with impunity. If you would be happy and successful in your earthly association, courtship, and home building, conform your lives to the eternal laws of heaven. There is no other way.

Remember that no great nation has ever fallen without first becoming morally corrupt. The sins of immorality have always left scarred and misshapen creatures whose misfortune decries one of the most loathsome of human depravities. “Be ye clean.” Honor this commandment and you shall become a great bulwark for freedom and righteousness; and in so doing you shall increase “in stature.”

“And Jesus increased in … favour with … man.”

Studies affirm the fact that while prospective employers look for and expect technical skills, their primary consideration is, “How does he get along with people?” Perhaps it is also well to realize that 80 percent of the people who lose their jobs, lose them not from lack of ability to do the job, but from lack of ability to get along with co-workers, bosses, and customers. These facts point out the significant impact that growing in favor with man has upon our ultimate success.

I used to have on my desk a catchy slogan that read, “People do not care how much we know, if they do not know how much we care.”

The formula for successful relationships with others boils down to that divine code known as the Golden Rule. “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12).

It was the Master who said: “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:27). Unselfish, willing service to others was the keynote of his relationship with men. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

To serve others willingly and unselfishly should be one of our greatest virtues. It is not even a matter of choice. It is an obligation, a sacred command.

“A new commandment I give unto you,” he said, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Do we find it hard to live with the human faults of our fellowmen? Did not he live in all-surpassing kindness with 12 rough followers, and one of them a thief and then a traitor? And did he not, on the night he was seized, think of them to the last when he said to his captors, “If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way” (John 18:8).

Do we find it a burden to give of our time to others? Did he not heal all those who were brought to him, even though many a day and a night it seemed the whole city was gathered around him?

Are we sometimes asked to do for others what may seem to be beneath us, or what is tiresome and monotonous? Was not the Son of God born in a stable? Did he not make himself a servant, even to washing the feet of his disciples, saying to them, “The servant is not greater than his lord” (John 13:16)?

Love one another. Serve your fellowman. The example has been given you.

It was the Master himself who prayed for all those who believe in him in these words: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21).

And Paul wrote that we are “every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).

Therefore, let us serve one another with brotherly love, never tiring of the demands upon us, being patient and persevering and generous, living in harmony and, if possible, at peace with all men.

If we would serve God through service to our brethren, we shall have need of a love for work.

Energetic, purposeful work leads to vigorous health, praiseworthy achievement, a clear conscience, and refreshing sleep. Work has always been a boon to man. May you have a wholesome respect for labor whether with head, heart, or hand. May you ever enjoy the satisfaction of honest toil. The decree that “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen. 3:19) is still basic. You will never wish or dream yourself into heaven. You must pay the price in toil, in sacrifice, and righteous living.

Freedom, a willingness to work, and the desire to serve our God through service to our fellowmen—these are the sources of true wealth. Cling fast to these truths and you must inevitably increase in favor with man. “And Jesus increased in favour with man.”

“And Jesus increased in … favour with God.”

This is the most important of all man’s strivings. Without it, nothing is of the slightest account. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Growing in favor with God is the veritable foundation upon which all other worthwhile blessings rest. Concerning this fact the Savior admonished his disciples, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

Spiritual strength promotes positive thinking, positive ideals, positive habits, positive attitudes, and positive efforts. These are the qualities that promote wisdom, physical and mental well-being, and enthusiastic acceptance and response from others. Favor with God gives necessary incentive and perspective to life. It gives man real purpose for living and achieving.

Again, the road is clear before us. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father. …

“… and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:21, 23.)

We increase in favor with God as we do the will of God. Let us be faithful in the work he gives us, whatever it may be, and whatever our station in life. Let our desires be in harmony with God’s will as it is revealed to us—keeping his work in our hearts—conquering selfish desires that would retard our personal progress.

Be not ashamed to believe and proclaim that God lives; that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world; that the resurrection is a reality; he is the Father of our spirits; that we lived as spirits before mortal birth and will live again as immortal beings through the eternities to come. Blessed are you if you have a testimony of these things. These great spiritual truths have seen systems come and go, and so it will be in the future. These truths will take precedence in your lives over all contrary theories, dogmas, hypotheses, or relative truths from whatever source or by whomsoever advocated.

Therefore, go forward intelligently and yield simple and loyal obedience to all God’s commandments.

And now in conclusion, forget not your noble heritage. Each of you has been born of goodly parents. You are among the choicest spirits our Father has ever sent upon the earth. You are living in the dispensation of the fulness of times—the greatest of all gospel dispensations.

Yours is a great challenge. You are choice spirits. Forget not that each of you has been endowed with the priceless gift of free agency. You have been given the freedom to “choose liberty and eternal life, … or to choose captivity and death” (2 Ne. 2:27). You need not be the victims of circumstance, for unto you it is given to achieve and become “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

May you, by following this same path, merit the same commendation. May you gain the deep and abiding satisfaction that comes from rendering the maximum service of which you are capable. May your life be enriched to overflowing as you realize the fulfillment of your fondest hopes and noblest aspirations.

If you follow this divine pattern established by the Savior, you cannot fail, for you will have fulfilled the measure of your creation!

[illustrations] Calligraphy by Warren Luch