Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 9: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”

How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 9: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 13, 2011

As with most lessons in the current manual, Lesson 9’s purpose statement – “To encourage class members to become more dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ” – is a generic one that could apply equally to all lessons in the manual. Scripture verses for discussion all come from Matthew 6 and 7 and emphasize doing over merely hearing or knowing. This doing aspect is explored in several lessons from the 1947 Gospel Messages course, drawing on some of the same verses as our current manual, expanding the discussion in ways that may help today’s teachers ask more engaging questions than the “And so what does this mean?” litany of the manual.

These lessons come from Carl F. Eyring, Good Tidings to All People. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union board, 1946. They do not appear sequentially in that manual but are clustered here to more nearly duplicate the coverage of this year’s manual.

The Spirit of True Worship

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:7.)

As He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not mention prayer until He had given the4 beatitudes as the plan of action for the achievement of the good life, emphasized the responsibility which comes with spiritual growth, stressed the need of wholehearted action and the integration of the good life, and pointed out that freedom, not present in the first mile, may be found in the second. With Jesus, prayer was to be different, and, being different, the multitude needed to be prepared – needed to get the idea that attitude, not outward achievement, is basic in prayer. desire, devotion, and trust belong to the Christian prayer; conspicuous manner, loud speaking, and vain repetitions, to the pagan prayer. god was not to be cajoled, persuaded, or wearied into the desire to answer the prayer. He was to be approached in humility and with faith. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. … But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:5, 7.)

The Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is simple and beautiful. It is unusually short, but still it covers all basic human needs. It is free from vain repetitions and certainly inadequate for the hypocrite.

Jesus taught the multitude to say, father; and the natural barrier existing between the lowly subject and the King and Lord and ruler at one disappeared. IN the Father-son relation, god seemed to come so much closer. It was as if one talked to the earthly father; yet, the communion was more glorious because the Father in heaven possessed greater love and understanding. Hallowed be thy name – the closeness enhanced the reverence. Thy will be done – the willingness to trust replaced the pagan spirit of bargaining. Then in a few simple words of thankful petition, which really were an acknowledged dependence upon the father, the needs of the whole life were set forth: daily bread – the physical life; forgiveness and guidance – the spiritual life. Why a more detailed specification of needs? Jesus said, “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your father knowest what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt. 6:8.)

“It is well to know that prayer is not compounded of words, words that my fail to express what one desires to say, words that so often cloak inconsistencies, words that may have no deeper source than the physical organs of speech, words that may be spoken to impress mortal ears. the dumb may pray, and that too with the eloquence that prevails in heaven. Prayer is made up of heart throbs and the righteous yearnings of the soul, of supplication based on the realization of need, of contrition and pure desire. If there lives a man who has never really prayed, that man is a being apart from the order of the divine in human nature, a stranger in the family of God’s children. Prayer is for the uplifting of the supplicant. God without our prayers would be God; but we without prayer cannot be admitted to the Kingdom of God. So did Christ instruct: your Father knowest what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.’” [Talmage, Jesus the Christ, page 238.]

Genuine Worship. Thus, Jesus would have us invite our Father into the process of making the good life whole. It requires the refining fire of genuine worship to purge life of its dross and to unite the refined elements into a unified whole. To be genuine, worship must be voluntary and sincere. If a person is forced to worship, he will do no more than go through the motions; if insincere, the acts will be pretense.

Worship has three stages. First, one must seek God. this requires an open-minded and prayerful attitude. such an attitude may be attained through acts of love and service, by reading scripture, by meditation during church services, by joining with others in song and prayer, and by private supplication. In all these situations, through the dynamic power of faith, the soul lifts itself above the paltry things of life, above the engrossing influences of the purely physical. An attempt is made to “see life steadily and to see it whole.”

Before such an attitude took charge of our souls, we were thinking of our lands, our cars, our dresses, and our facial makeup; now under its influence we see physical things in true perspective. Before passing through the fire of worship our thinking was colored by our selfish desires; now we seek for avenues of service. And whereas before we justified ourselves in our weaknesses, now we see our faults with clearer vision.

The second stage is the finding of God. Into the environment of faith, sincerity, and humility just described, certain new experiences may be brought for true evaluation. The problem for consideration might be that of the payment of tithing, or the sharing of profits with one’s employees, or the accepting of a call to go on a mission, or of becoming a Sunday School teacher or Scoutmaster. But whatever the problem may be, it is likely to be solved better during genuine worship than at any other time. In the process of diagnosis, outside help will be longed for. But the soul will be so stripped of pretense and make-believe; the attitude will be so genuine and honest that even the dearest friend might not understand. “the father seeketh such to worship him.” God comes to the aid of the repentant soul. In the presence of His Spirit, and through the intimate companionship of the Holy Ghost – the gift to the baptized – the needed help is received. thus during genuine worship, as in no other experience, one may sense the very presence of God; one may experience Him in a very real manner. Such a genuine experience comes to the soul with trained mind and balanced emotions; it must not be confused with the emotional seizures sometimes seen among the ignorant and emotionally unbalanced.

It takes courage to pass through this fire of genuine and honest self-evaluation, to weigh all values properly and to render judgment in keeping with honest findings. It is very much easier to talk about God and His attributes, than to know Him through the immediate experience of genuine worship. No wonder so many, who fail to live up to the ideals of Jesus Christ, are able to discourse on His teachings. It is easy to say words. “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The refining influences of genuine worship actually recreate the basic structures of life. the results are best revealed in the acts, thoughts, and attitudes of daily living.

The third stage takes the form of an adjustment to the new “vision.” As examples, consider the problems suggested above. the reconstruction, the third step in genuine worship, leads to the faithful payment of tithing, or the laying of plans to share with employees, or the decision to accept the offer to go on a mission followed by an adjustment of affairs so that this act is financially possible, or the decision to accept the position as a religious teacher followed by an effort to become trained in this great work. thus we see that genuine worship is more than mere thought and emotion; it ends in improved deeds.

Centering Life in Spiritual Values

“… Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matt. 6:25.)

Jesus always looked through the screen of outward performance for an inner righteousness. He was able to see a soul stirred with repentance in a woman known as a sinner, but found a spirit of self-sufficiency in a man considered to be righteous. He looked beyond the act of murder to the consuming effect of anger; he looked beyond the act of adultery to the withering effect of lust. Following the example of Jesus, the teacher also will look deeper than the outward screen and, if able to guide the thinking, motives, attitudes, and ideals of the student, may be assured of successful outcomes; but, if he tries only to modify conduct by performing a sort of surgical operation upon the conduct itself, he will miss the point. The master Teacher always insists that the motives of life be directed and centered in spiritual values.

Motives of Life. The motives of life seem to spring from three areas: our physical well-being, our desire to be of personal worth, our desire to belong to and serve some social group. Thus, roughly speaking, we need to feel that we have food, clothing, and shelter; we need to feel that our achievements are worth while; we need to feel that we are respected and loved by a group we serve. Over-simplifying further, it may be said that a person is interested in physical needs, in one’s self, and in other persons including God. The second motive may be classed as selfish; the third, as altruistic. All acts are based upon an effort to fulfil needs or motives. A person with motives well-balanced and blended is said to be well-adjusted. A consideration of this problem will be attended through the next two chapters.

Physical Well-being. The striving for food, clothing, and shelter may be nothing more than the drive to preserve life; no selfish or altruistic motives need to be present. As an example of this situation one thinks of a cow grazing in a meadow. But with intelligent and civilized man, with life lived on a level far above mere sustenance, it is easy to let the urge for physical well-being serve both selfish and altruistic motives. For example, one may strive for fine clothes to be seen of men or for clothing which will meet the needs of the family and neighbors. In these cases the urge for physical well-being is not on the level of bare personal sustenance, but serves, usually without conflict, the selfish motive on the one hand and the altruistic motive on the other.

When Jesus asked, ‘is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” undoubtedly He did not object to the striving for the food and clothing necessary for physical well-being; rather, He objected to the centering of selfish motives in such things – food for gorging or for ostentation, clothing for extravagant display or for vanity. It was not against the needs of physical life that He stood, but the identification of the self with such needs. It was not against food, clothing, and shelter that He struck, but the failure to reach higher than these things in selfish or altruistic self-expression. For example, if we understand Jesus, it is better to attract attention to one’s self through a poem than through gaudy attire; better to look for the spiritual needs (which in a complete sense include basic physical needs) of a community than its purely physical well-being.

All this means that we shall not attempt to dam up the motives which flow out of that aspect of life which has to do with physical well-being, but let them be subservient to the whole – the motive pattern in which they, the selfish motives, and the altruistic motives of life have been balanced and integrated. The stoppage of the motive of physical well-being might have led to maladjustment.

A Feeling of Personal Worth. We admire persons whoa re fired with aspirations. Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The basic urge to acquire this satisfying sense of personal worth takes the form of ambition, thirst for knowledge. Through science, philosophy, art, literature, gifts to institutions, family, and monuments to our memory we strive to immortalize ourselves among our fellows. The feeling of personal worth may hinder or it may help the process of making the good life whole.

The Feeling of Personal Worth Misguided. It is easy to identify oneself with personal possessions. We speed down the street in a new car to satisfy our selfishness; we build the best house on the most fashionable street to feel a greater sense of personal worth; we put on a new hat, dress, and shoes and move among our friends with greater ease and confidence. But Jesus preaches against strong identification of self with such things when He asks, “is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment,” and again, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”; and finally, “But seek he first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these (physical) things shall be added unto you.”

The miser has too strong a self-identification with money. To him gathering and hoarding money means the building and securing of personal worth. the extreme nationalist strongly identifies himself with country – the glorification of country means a glorification of self. A parent may over identify himself with his child and seek to glorify himself by insisting that the child shall excel in those things which he in his youth failed to accomplish. For example, the child may be forced, against his will or natural inclinations or capabilities, to be athletic or to study music lessons in order to satisfy the parent’s long nourished but unconsummated striving for personal worth. On the other hand, the child might over identify itself with the parent, thus imposing upon itself the limitations and dangers to personality that go with striving to be exactly like somebody else.

The proud individual over-stresses the value of himself; the covetous person seeks to draw all favor to himself, even at the expense of others; the wrathful person over-stresses his own right; the envious person wishes others to be less happy, so he, in comparison, may be more happy; the glutton gorges himself without thought of others; the slothful person wishes to reap without paying the price of sowing; the lecherous person demands personal sexual pleasure without regard for the well-being of others.

The Feeling of Personal Worth Properly Guided. During childhood each of us learned to identify himself with his name, his family, certain objects, and certain ideals. A young boy was so impressed, through the help of his mother, with Dr. Karl G. Maeser’s admonition: “Whatever you be, don’t be a scrub,” that is identified himself with the type of person who would never resort to mediocrity. Such an identification was a dynamic influence in this boy’s life, because the powerful force of the feeling of personal worth was applied in the forming of a worth-while ideal. It is safe to say that we shall have special interest in those objects or ideas with which we have identified ourselves – the quest for the feeling of personal worth will urge us on.

Thus, if we identify ourselves with moral values or with modes of social behavior, we shall find that our striving for personal worth will drive us to the achievement of a moral character and a social outlook.; No wonder Jesus took pains to tell us that we should not center our interests in physical things.

Let a teacher lead a student to feel that honesty means self-completeness, that fairness in competition is the distinguishing trait of the hero, that frankness or open-mindedness is the outstanding quality of the scientist; that courage characterizes the pioneer; and that chastity is the basis of true manliness, then the feeling of personal worth will have been used successfully in moral teaching. Let the teacher with insight use biographies of great men and women to illustrate how greatness is achieved and succeed in leading the students to a respect and love for these characters, then there is a probability that the virtues of these heroes may become identified with the selves of the students, and, if so, the striving for personal worth will have been harnessed in the teaching of morality.

Thus the question which Jesus asked, “is not the life more than meat?” becomes doubly significant. First, it clearly points out the danger to the good life of identifying the self with personal possessions, over-stressed interests, and immoral conduct; second, it leads the thoughtful student and teacher to realize that the urge for personal worth may be used successfully in building the good life, if the self is identified with spiritual values.

Service to Fellow Men

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27.)

Again Jesus seems to place values in reverse. To become strong, one must be weak; to be chief, one must be servant. This teaching is a far cry from the philosophy, “might makes right.” No wonder the youth who looks for greatness has difficulty in finding his way. some say, “to become great you must achieve.” Others exclaim, “To become great you must serve.” Remembering the discussion of the last chapter, the first admonition urges the youth to seek greatness through a selfish motive, the desire to be of personal worth; the second directs the youth to seek greatness through the altruistic motive, the desire to serve humanity. To become well adjusted this youth will need to learn to blend and balance these motives. Let us continue the discussion of the last chapter.

The Need to Reach Beyond the Family. Too often the child is reared in a home that operates on the policy: “My wife and I, our son, John, and our daughter, Betty, we four and no more.” John is taught to respect his parents, to submit to their wishes, and to be unselfish toward Betty, his sister. But he is urged to be a better student than the boy who lives in the next block. He is encouraged to play the violin better than the boy through the block so that he, rather than his neighbor, might be the one selected to perform in the school musical. He is required to wear better clothes than the dirty, uncultured boy who lives across the street, and is instructed not to associate with him. Inside such a home John is urged by altruistic motives, but outside, selfishness drives him on. Unfortunately, his altruistic acts fail to help him integrate his home life with his community life. As a mature man, John will probably be altruistic toward his family and he may even express his helpfulness toward others in an impersonal way through charitable institutions, but in all these acts he will fail to have a true interest in human beings and in the future of the race.

A College Student Balances the Motives of Life. There is always satisfaction in personal improvement, but joy is seldom found in such an endeavor if the whole of life is centered in the strivings for feelings of personal worth. Some years ago a superior college senior came to the writer for advice. he said: “I do not understand myself. I have enjoyed schoolwork all my life. Grade school, high school, and college, until

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“Foolish idealism,” says the arrogant, war-mad realist, “empires, spheres of influence, and world power are built, and always have been built, on the hate of enemy. The superior must dominate the inferior.”

But this same so-called realist will have to admit that empires built on hate have always failed. Though seeming to be successful at first, they have always shattered under discordant forces from within and superior pressures from without. how long must we permit the ever-failing experiment of trying to build a world order through hate and exploitation? Jesus proposes the experiment of love, the building of a world-brother hood through love and service. let us have faith in his experiment. The results of hate instead of love, of exploitation instead of service, have been so negative and so devastating! Human salvation requires a consecration of love and service based on the eternal truth, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall find it.”

Evaluating Principles and Persons

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (matt. 7:20.)

No doubt many of Jesus’ listeners wondered about the truthfulness of the new and unusual doctrine which He taught in the Sermon on the Mount. True, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”; but was this enough? Sensing their skepticism, Jesus gave the answer: Try the principles out in personal living and note carefully the results. If my authority is questioned, if faith in my insight has not developed, if what I say seems unreasonable, then try an experiment in personal living and look for practical results. ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. 7:16-19.)

Searching for True Values. The good life must always be in process: the habit of being teachable in the things of the spirit must be enduring; the need to make the good life whole must ever be present; the refining fire of worship must continually purify the soul; the centering of life in spiritual values must always give orientation; and the consecration, without prospect of reward, of the good life to the cause of human salvation must be a sacred and eternal quest. All of these quests demand a common process, the process of evaluation which finds and tests the values of life. Five distinct ways may be used, singly or in various combinations, in such an evaluation: (1) accepting the testimony of others – authority; (2) depending upon an inner feeling of inspiration; (3) utilizing the insight of reason; (4) checking by experiment; (5) looking for practical results – “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The Way of Authority. Other individuals must be trusted, unless one is to be limited to one’s own firsthand experience. Obviously a person cannot be everywhere at the same time, or at the same place for more than a lifetime. Thus, it is not possible for him, through firsthand contacts, to gain all desirable experience. Life would be extremely dull and provincial without trust in transmitted information which comes from the past and from other parts of the world at the present. Also, there are experiences a person would not wish to have, experiences which would be detrimental to body and soul, but which may need to be known in order to be avoided. then, too, there are generalizations which emerge from the experience of the race which it would be wise to accept; prophetic insight and parental wisdom which it would be wise to heed. Surely, certain evaluations can be made safely on the basis of authority.

The Way of Intuition and Inspiration. One does not discover a friend or a sweetheart by accepting the authority of others, by cold logic, by experimentation, or by checking on practical utility. the friend or the sweetheart is discovered by intuitive insight, oftentimes difficult to describe and explain, but nevertheless as convincing as the other ways used in evaluation.

In true worship one may expect inspiration. It often follows after other ways of evaluation have failed, but never until the spirit is contrite, and the mind is prepared to receive the message. this way of evaluation is most exacting and sacred and must not be confused with so-called hunches which the careless, naive, and indolent often identify with inspiration. The way of inspiration must be used safely if tested in the fire of true worship.

The Way of Reasoning. An attempt to explain things is an attempt at reasoning. It would be very helpful if one could find a single broad explanation which would include all lesser explanations. then the explanation of all details could be found by what is known as deductive reasoning. If such a broad explanation has a tested basis in human experience, then deductive r3asoning is safe. However, if the basis is said to be self-evident, satisfying to the mind and therefore not needing to be tested in human experience, deductive reasoning may be very unsafe.

When Galileo turned his telescope upon the moon, and saw, for the first time in history, a surface made rough by large mountains an craters, deductive reasoning caused the churchmen of his day to say, “Galileo, there must be an imperfection in your telescope because the moon must be a smooth and perfect sphere.” These churchmen argued falsely as follows: All heavenly bodies are perfect bodies and perfect bodies are perfect spheres. The moon is a heavenly body; therefore the moon is a perfect sphere. This argument was false because the broad explanation: all heavenly bodies are perfect bodies, and perfect bodies are perfect spheres, has never been found to be true.

In science, deductive reasoning is often used safely as in this example: All floating bodies have a weight equal to that of the liquid displaced. This ship is a floating body, therefore if the weight of the displaced sea water is calculated the number found will be the weight of this ship. In this case the broad explanation: all floating bodies have a weight equal to that of the liquid displaced, has been carefully tested. In keeping with this principle, we speak of a ship’s displacement as being a certain number of tons, meaning the weight of the sea water displaced. the broad explanation, called a principle of science, was built by inductive reasoning from many scientific experiments.

Finally, the way of reasoning will be of use in the process of evaluation, if the search for explanation does not stand in the way of the search for experimental data.

The Way of Science. The way of experimentation si the way of science. Try things out and record what is found is a rough way of describing experimentation. this way of science has turned out to be a very suitable means of determining facts and relations in the broad field of objective experience, where, under the same controlled conditions, the personal experience of one agrees with that of the other. It has succeeded very well as the way to seek truth in the physical universe, the way to determine that which is. We shall find another way, the way of pragmatism, which we shall use when we seek for that which ought to be.

The way of authority, of intuition, and of reason should never surrender completely to the way of science, but they would do well to let the way of science keep them at their best – there is a place for all.

The Way of Pragmatism. In the domain of human action, pragmatism is especially valuable. It was in this domain that Jesus set up the rule for testing, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Testing “by their fruits” is especially valuable in seeking the good; because, while the seeker for truth must report what he finds, the seeker for the good must decide what ought to be. For example, in describing the environment, the searcher for the truth will report the environment as he finds it; in evaluating the environment the searcher for the good will report the environment not only as it is, but also as it ought to be. The test for what ought to be is the test of the fruit, the outcomes, the practical utility.

The generally accepted method of evaluating types of conduct is to approve or disapprove any type on the basis of the consequences that usually follow from it. Thus truthfulness is approved because it promotes confidence between individuals in all social relations. Lying is condemned because it tends to break down such confidence. Honesty with respect to property is approved because it promotes confidence in all business relations and, in fact, makes possible these relationships. Stealing is condemned because it tends to destroy all property rights; it is also a case of violation of law, so long as property rights are guaranteed by law. Good will toward fellow men is approved because this attitude tends to promote social harmony, cooperate activity in beneficent causes, and, in general, the disposition to be helpful. Hate is condemned because it has the opposite consequences and, in operation, reacts unfavorably upon the personality of the one who harbors such an attitude.” [Milton Bennion, Moral Teachings of the New Testament, pp. 76-77.]

Principles of Morality and Moral Character. The way of pragmatism seems to be the most efficient means of determining moral principles. Can this same method of testing be applied to moral character? “The moral character of a man is determined in large measure b his motives. This does not mean, however, that two men equally well-meaning are, therefore, equal in moral attainment. The making of a strong character requires much more than good motives; these must be joined with social intelligence and social efficiency. nor do good motives alone make a good act. Many ignorant or thoughtless people act very badly but with very good motives. thus arises the dual basis of moral judgment by which an act may be condemned while the actor is exonerated, except as he is thoughtless or ignorant through negligence. The tendency of modern educational and ethical thought is to hold people responsible for thoughtlessness and reasonably avoidable ignorance. … As people become enlightened in all matters pertaining to human welfare, possible acts correspondingly disappears; this becomes foresight of consequences and appreciation of their meaning for human welfare will be keeping pace with good motives.

“Since all of these things properly enter into the development of an individual or of a community, both may well be judged by their fruits.; In the long run such judgment is inevitable.”

Judging Others. The ways of evaluation and testing herein described are not offered so that one might set oneself up as a judge of others; rather they are offered as an aid to self-evaluation, and as an aid to the testing of principles which might be used by all. Jesus says: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. … And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eyes, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matt. 7:1, 2.)


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