We have been told that society in the last days would display some of the social symptoms that existed in the time of Noah. We have very few adjectives that describe Noah’s contemporaries, but his neighbors were apparently very disobedient to the commandments of God, and the earth was “corrupt,” and significantly, society then was “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). Violence and corruption usually occur because of selfishness. In a time like this, how fitting it is that we focus on service to our fellowmen! The Lord said in the sermon on the Mount: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14–16.)
Service to others deepens and sweetens this life while we are preparing to live in a better world. It is by serving that we learn to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves!
Need for service
The Lord does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other. The righteous life is achieved as we magnify our view of life, and expand our view of others and of our own possibilities. Thus, the more we follow the teachings of the Master, the more enlarged our perspective becomes. We see many more possibilities for service than we would have seen without this magnification. There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality without service!
The abundant life noted in the scriptures is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and to man. Jesus said, you will recall, that on the first two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, and those two commandments involve developing our love of God, of self, of our neighbors, and of all men. There can be no real abundance in life that is not connected with the keeping and the carrying out of those two great commandments.
Unless the way we live draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and to our fellowmen, there will be an enormous emptiness in our lives. It is frightening for me to see, for instance, how the life-style of so many today causes them to disengage from their families and their friends and their peers toward a heedless pursuit of pleasure or materialism. So often loyalty to family, to community, and to country is pushed aside in favor of other pursuits which are wrongly thought to be productive of happiness when, in fact, selfishness is so often the pursuit of questionable pleasure which passes so quickly. One of the differences between true joy and mere pleasure is that certain pleasures are realized only at the cost of someone else’s pain. Joy, on the other hand, springs out of selflessness and service, and it benefits rather than hurts others.
Some observers might wonder why we concern ourselves with such simple things as service to others in a world surrounded by such dramatic problems. Yet, one of the advantages of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it gives us perspective about the people on this planet, including ourselves, so that we can see the things that truly matter and avoid getting caught up in the multiplicity of lesser causes that vie for our attention.
May I counsel you that when you select causes to devote your time and talents and treasure to, be careful to select good causes. There are so many of these causes to which you can give yourself fully and freely and which will produce much joy and happiness for you and for those you serve. There are other causes, from time to time, which may seem more fashionable and which may produce the applause of the world, but these are usually more selfish in nature. These latter causes tend to arise out of what the scriptures call “the commandments of men” rather than the commandments of God. Such causes have some virtues and some usefulness, but they are not as important as those causes which grow out of keeping the commandments of God.
Latter-day Saints everywhere are encouraged to become actively engaged in worthy causes that will improve our communities and make them more wholesome places in which to live and raise a family.
Early in this dispensation the Lord made clear the position his restored church should take with respect to civil government. In a revelation he gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith, he said: “And now, verily I say unto you concerning the … law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, [that it] belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.
“Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you … in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land” (D&C 98:4–6).
In harmony with this statement, the Church later adopted as one of its Articles of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (A of F 1:12).
Uphold and sustain the law, but work within the law to be an influence for good, as the Prophet Joseph Smith counseled us.
Please avoid, even by implication, involving the Church in issues. It is so easy, if we are not careful, to project our personal preferences as the position of the Church on an issue.
Service through missionary work
One of the most important and rewarding ways in which we can serve our fellowmen is by living and sharing the principles of the gospel. We need to help those whom we seek to serve to know for themselves that God not only loves them but he is ever mindful of them and their needs. To teach our neighbors of the divinity of the gospel is a command reiterated by the Lord: “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).
Not all of us can engage in full-time missionary work, where one might have opportunity to explain the gospel and bear testimony of its divinity many times a day. But what every member most definitely can do is follow President David O. McKay’s inspired slogan, “Every member a missionary.” He can befriend and fellowship nonmember neighbors, fellow employees, friends and acquaintances, and those with whom he is engaged in community service. By his interest and association, he should strive to bring those nonmembers to the point where they will willingly receive the stake or full-time missionaries. What every member ought to do, by good example and by bearing testimony, is to portray to nonmembers the joys of gospel living and understanding and thus help to bring them to the stage where they will accept more formal teaching.
The proper motivation for missionary work of any kind, as for all Church service, is of course love for fellowmen; but always such work has its by-product effect on one’s own life. Thus, as we become instruments in God’s hands in changing the lives of others, our own lives cannot help being lifted. One can hardly help another to the top of the hill without climbing there himself.
Service brings growth
In serving others, we “find” ourselves in terms of acknowledging divine guidance in our lives. Furthermore, the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—indeed, it is easier to “find” ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!
George McDonald observed that “it is by loving and not by being loved that one can come nearest to the soul of another” (George McDonald Anthology, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1970). Of course, we all need to be loved, but we must be giving and not always receiving if we want to have the wholeness of our lives and a reinforced sense of purpose.
In the account of the barren fig tree (see Matt. 21:19) the unproductive tree was cursed for its barrenness. What a loss to the individual and to humanity if the vine does not grow, the tree does not bear fruit, the soul does not expand through service! One must live, not only exist; he must do, not merely be; he must grow, not just vegetate. We must use our talents in behalf of our fellowmen, rather than burying them in the tomb of a self-centered life. Personal purity and veracity and stability in leadership are essential if we are to give sanctified service to others. We must expend our energies and use our skills for purposes larger than our own self-interest if we desire true happiness.
May we ponder carefully, deeply, and prayerfully our roles in life, where we can give the greatest service, to whom we can make the greatest contribution, what we should do with our lives and with our special skills and training. Our success will be measured by what we can give of our lives and our contribution to others rather than what we can get and receive from others.
The happy and abundant life begins from within and then moves outward to other individuals and to our communities. If there is richness and righteousness in us, then we can make a difference in the lives of others and in our towns, just as key individuals have influenced the lives of each of us for good and made us richer than we otherwise would have been.
What is our greatest potential? Is it not to be Christlike ourselves? And what are the qualities we must develop to achieve such greatness? We might consider intelligence, light, knowledge, and leadership. But perhaps the most essential godlike quality is that of compassion and love—compassion shown forth in service to others, unselfishness, that ultimate expression of concern for others we call love. Wherever our Father’s children magnify their opportunities for loving service, they are learning to become more like Him.
In answer to the question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” the Savior has set our course:
“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 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. 22:37–40.)