How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 17: “What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?”
Lesson 17: “What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?”
The rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life forms the basis of a lesson in the current Sunday School manual and in the following lesson from the 1970-71 manual for 18-year-olds.
(This may be as good a point as any to remind readers of the schizophrenic nature of this series. I post lessons from past manuals that are as closely related as possible to the lessons in our current manuals. Sometimes these older lessons are ones that might help current teachers by offering a different angle to familiar material, or by suggesting more thought-provoking questions than the current manual. Other times, though, the older lessons may be inferior to the current ones, including irrelevant stories or curiously dated discussion. Please don’t mistake my purpose in posting these lessons – they simply represent our past the same as many other articles on Keepapitchinin represent our past. If they’re useful, great; if they’re odd, well, I’m not suggesting you use them!)
The Kingdom First
“… seek ye first …” (Matt. 6:33.)
As Jesus Saw It
The rich young ruler quickly stated his goal: “… what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” As Jesus reiterated the requirements of the Ten Commandments, the seeker responded, perhaps with some pride, “Master, all these have I observed from my youth.” (Mark 10:17-20.)
But Jesus must have sensed that he had a weakness. He already kept the obvious external observances of God’s laws. would he be willing to pay the price of the eternal life he sought? Or would he let worldly considerations stand in the way?
In Today’s Setting
The aspirations of the young man of the Savior’s time find a response in most of us today. Like him, we want eternal life, and yearnings for it ebb and flow within us. Like him, we intermittently experience the uncomfortable feeling that our external observances are not enough – our church attendance, tithe-paying, word of Wisdom observance, and so on. and like him, we are too often deflected from the true course by worldly things. As with the penny held close to the eye, obscuring the sun, we let the temporary things of this world eclipse in importance the permanent ones of eternity.
The rich man grown arrogant and godless is the obvious but oversimplified symbol of worldliness crowding out God. Most situations are not that clear-cut. Nor are the wealthy or the aspirants to riches the only ones who meet those situations.
Take Bill and Joyce, for example. They were in their late thirties, active Church members who were bringing up their six children the same way. Bill was a seventy and had recently been released from several years’ service as Scoutmaster. Joyce was a counselor in the ward Primary.
Bill’s lack of early training confined him to routine clerical work, and he supplemented the family finances by hourly-paid laboring work on three evenings a week and on Saturdays. the oldest child was fourteen, two of the children being of preschool age, and the parents felt that Joyce should not go out to work in these circumstances. They were buying a small frame house, which was their only debt. the furnishings were modest; the family diet was plain and wholesome, but frugally planned. There seemed never to be quite enough money to go around, but the family members were nevertheless happy in their mutual love.
About six weeks after Bill’s release as Scoutmaster, he was asked to accept a two-year stake mission. The expectations outlined to him included the requirement of ten hours proselyting time a week. Missionary meetings would be extra. On checking with stake missionaries he found that this required at least three and probably four evenings a week plus some time on Sundays. to accept the call, Bill would have to give up at least some of his part-time work and reduce the already small amount of time spent with his family.
Bill and Joyce discussed the matter at length. Where did God’s will lay? Should they risk their precarious financial security by accepting the call? If they did, how could Bill be a proper father to his growing children? Was there some other service Bill should do instead that would satisfy their obligations both to the kingdom and to their family?
In-depth consideration explored basic questions. Was there any true security in material possessions, however extensive? If one had enough faith, did he need any security other than God’s, which he could assure by doing God’s will? Perhaps if Bill accepted the call, God would bless the family with means from a now unsuspected source. And if he did not and the family became poorer materially, would this necessarily be detrimental eternally? Do we perhaps set too much store by material things? After all, Jesus got along without any. Might not the mission, rightly represented to the children, prove a learning experience that would more than compensate for material losses and for the father’s more frequent absence from the home? And what was it Jesus had said? “… he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37.) Would they in effect be worshipping some other god if they refused the call?
How would you answer the questions posed? Is it solely a matter of having enough faith? If you were Bill or Joyce, what would your decision be? Does that decision represent seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
The Master’s Way
Treasures in Heaven
In declaring the solution to the rich young man’s problem, the Master focused on the heart of it:
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21.)
Jesus must have been saddened at the response to his invitation. The young man “went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (Vs. 22.) His desire for eternal life was secondary. Love for wealth held the primary place in his heart.
The young man typified an attitude against which Jesus warned in his Sermon on the Mount:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. (Matt. 6:19-20.)
then as now, laying up treasures on earth at the expense of those in heaven was a common human failing. In underlining the uncertainty and insecurity of such a life, the Master exposed its folly for all time in his dramatic story of the rich fool. (See Luke 12:16-21.)
Only One Master
Why this great emphasis on the evils of wealth? Jesus summed it up best in his Sermon on the Mount:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24.)
Here is the crux of it. ‘No man can serve two masters.” If a man serves (or loves) mammon – an Aramaic word meaning riches or worldly possessions – it is impossible for him at the same time to serve God. he has made wealth his god. this god, together with all other spurious gods, was condemned by Jesus himself more than a thousand years before his earthly advent when he categorically commanded: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exod. 20:3.)
Paul recognized the negative power of wealth when he wrote, “… the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) To most of us comes Satan’s temptation: “Give me your soul, and I will give you worldly wealth.” It is never worded just like that, but any dishonorable gainful act – in business, in personal life, or otherwise – is in some degree an affirmative response to that temptation. It signifies our choice between the two masters. The temptation came to Jesus, too – in the ultimate form: All the wealth of the world would be his if he would worship Satan. His answer is the pattern of response we should offer to our lesser though always serious tests: “… it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy god, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10.)
The Kingdom First
In the Sermon on the Mount the Savior expressed the thought as a positive, comprehensive principle: “… seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33.) though apparently directed specifically to the chosen twelve at that point (see 3 Ne. 13:25-34; 14:1), this is a summation of the teachings of the prophets and the instructions and example of the Master himself, and it applies emphatically to all true followers of Christ.
Worldly wealth, like many other earthly potentials, is morally neutral. Only when man exerts his agency upon it does it assume direction and therefore purpose, good or bad. Significantly, no scripture condemns worldly wealth or the wealthy as such, but only unrighteous acquisition or use. Here are Jacob’s words on the priority and purposes of earthly wealth:
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good – to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jac. 2:18-19.)
The principle comes with a warning in our gospel dispensation:
Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (D&C 56:16.)
Envy, greed, covetousness, obsession with thoughts of wealth – these are universal temptations. to harbor such base desires is to serve the wrong master, and the poor as well as the rich are condemned for such servitude:
Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands! (D&C 56:17.)
The Savior’s Standard – The Father’s Will
The Master’s earthly life was a complete fulfillment of the principle he taught: seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Frequently he expressed it verbally as his doing the will of his Father. (See, for example, John 4:34; 5:30; Matt. 6:10; Luke 22:42.)
Not only his earthly success but his pre-earthly godhood clearly resulted from this attitude. In his earliest recorded choice he signified his complete allegiance to the Father’s plan of salvation by the words: “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (Moses 4:2.)
This God-directed response to all situations was noted early in his earthly career. At twelve it was already apparent. Thus, in the celebrated incident in the temple he responded to his mother’s anxious inquiries, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49.)
Fittingly, in incidents at the beginning and at the end of the Savior’s earthly ministry, he demonstrated complete surrender to the Father’s will. As his ministry began he sought God’s authorized servant, John the Baptist, who was baptizing “unto repentance” in the river Jordan. there he insisted on receiving baptism at John’s hands. Nephi explained why the Holy One, a sinless person, should do this: to humble himself before the Father, to fulfill all righteousness, to pledge his obedience to the Father’s will. (See 2 Ne. 31:6-7.)
Three years after his baptism, Jesus kneeled in Gethsemane, seeking divine aid to face the great ordeal. Could the Father remove the bitter cup from him? If not, he prayed “… not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42.) Even the supreme test could not shake him from the characteristic response.
Jesus’ life in between these two events shows complete devotion to the kingdom of God. Peter, a close observer of Jesus’ ministry, summed it up by saying that Jesus “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38.) Doing the Father’s will, seeking first the kingdom, found expression in Jesus’ life by activity for the welfare of God’s other children. He healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, raised the dead, gave words of comfort, forgave sins, taught the gospel, even rebuked when necessary. he set up the organization that would continue his saving work after his death and trained its principal officers. Through fervent prayer and fasting he kept in close touch with his Father.
All this he did with no thought of gaining earthly wealth. In fact, though the God of this world, he apparently had few material possessions. On one occasion he said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20.)
Walking in His Steps
To Each His Test
In the world today how can we obey the commandment to seek first the kingdom of God, to put God’s will first? For obvious reasons wealth has become the supreme example of sin which diverts men from the kingdom, but others have similar effect. What gods does this materialistic world worship? In what guises does modern “mammon” appear?
For the most part the basic answers have not changed with the centuries. As well as; money, worldly power, status, and pleasure would come high on the list. Naturally, Satan does not introduce them by these descriptions. When a man has turned laudable ambition into worldly success, he is sometimes tempted to wield his newly acquired power unrighteously. When a married couple have creditably raised educational and living standards by their drive and industry, they are apt to sacrifice spiritual gains in a tense race to “keep up with the Joneses.” When a person properly appreciates the great outdoors, he can very easily come to make camping, fishing, hunting, boating, swimming, and such pleasures is whole life, to the detriment of Sabbath observance and church service. However worthy, the original impetus, power, status, or pleasure has become the end of existence.
Church members must be alert for diversions from the main goal. Our personal test will not necessarily be the same as the rich young man’s, but the question is the same: Will we pass or fail the test?
Not of the World
Being in the world but not of the world is not easy, but “easy living” has never been a definition of gospel living. Jesus and his apostles warned against choosing the world in preference to God. (See Matt. 13:22; Rom. 12:2; 1 Tim. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:10.) And in our day the Savior has emphasized, “… for I give not unto you that ye shall live after the manner of the world.” (D&C 95:13.) We should remember this in all our dealings with our fellowmen.
Living God’s commandments will raise us to spiritual levels above that of the world. Earlier in this dispensation the saints for a time sought to live the law of consecration. Essentially speaking, this involved assigning to the Lord’s kingdom all their time, energies, and material possessions other than those required to maintain themselves and their families. (See D&C 42:30-33.) The failure of that experiment does not negate the principle. Consecration is a celestial law to which we are expected to give allegiance now in total attitude in preparation for eventual allegiance in total action. Observing the laws of tithing and the fast are steps in that direction; making welfare contributions is another; wholehearted service in our Church callings is another. those who keep God’s commandments willingly and cheerfully are moving away from the materialistic world toward the fulfillment of this celestial law of consecration and therefore toward celestial glory.
Those who do not seek first God’s kingdom will not arrive there to live in his presence, as the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus dramatically portrays. (See Luke 16:19-31.) Those who do seek that kingdom singlemindedly will be compensated in infinite measure for any sacrifice made in the process.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (Matt. 19:20.)
Today the saints have received a similar promise:
And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity. (D&C 38:39.)
Or to express it another way:
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. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich. (D&C 6:7.)
Our Father has an infinite amount to give. He promises it to all who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Such allegiance is the true test of discipleship to Jesus.