Sword vs Word

As we consider how to strengthen ourselves and those around us, the best way to strengthen and encourage others to follow Christ can be debated and is in the scriptures. In Alma we learn of two ways how we can encourage others to turn to Christ – however, as with most things, one is a better choice.

In Alma 31, we learn that a whole community of the Nephites had left the Gospel of Christ and, as a result, the high priest, Alma, considered how best to reach out to those lost souls. In Alma 31:5 we read “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” The sword, mentioned here, is symbolic of fear or coercion – other factors not quite forcing but influencing greatly through threat to make people change. Alma believed that the word of God, teaching and testifying with the Spirit, would have a greater impact on the people of Zoram than any other means, including the sword.

As time went on in the experience, Alma went with a group of missionaries to the city to try and reach out to the Zoramites. He met with a number of people who had fallen on difficult times, not having much money and being cast out of the synagogues because of their exceeding poverty. Alma was grateful for the listening ears however recognised the reason why they were ready to receive. He said “And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved. And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.” (Alma 32 13-15) These words are clear – it is good to be converted through being compelled to be humble (by the sword) however it is better to be converted by your own choice (through the word).

However, I noticed a small distinction in the wording for those that are compelled to be humble and those that truly humble themselves. It says for those that are compelled that they ‘shall be saved’. For those that truly humble themselves it says that the same ‘shall be blessed’. There is a reason for the different wording. Could probably go into another post into what the differences between ‘saved’ and ‘blessed’ could mean – however, presuming that blessed is a greater version of ‘being saved’, this highlights how we need to make sure we are humble. Even if there is an event which compels us, we should ensure we are able to stay humble when the event has happened. Otherwise, we may find that we lose our way without other occurrences to keep us humble.

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How to Minister – Nephi and Lehi

Helaman 5:12, 35-47 – prison

As always in the Church, we are encouraged to serve. It is a service Church. Every person is called to the work in some capacity or another. Without the efforts of diligent saints who try to serve others then the work of the Lord would not got very far to have an effect in the lives of God’s children. We know this. However, it is very often something that is not done well. One only needs to look at the number of home teaching visits done by brethren of the Church as just an example. We are always asking this question: how can we encourage more to minister? However, I think there is another question we should be asking as well: how can we get more to minister more effectively?

To consider this I want to look briefly at an experience related in Helaman, focusing on Nephi and Lehi. First, we need to ensure we are firm on a foundation built on Christ as they were. The well-known verse reads “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12) As we continue through our mortal lives, we do not know the challenges we will face but if we build our lives on Christ He will guide us through. If we can do this, then we will be in a much better position to support others and minister to them.

We can then learn about the importance of ministering when we look at an experience found after this important verse. Moving on, after this wise counsel, Nephi and Lehi found themselves imprisoned for their beliefs and sentenced to death. However, the Lamanite who were going to carry out the sentence came across a life-changing scene. The Nephite prisoners were indeed there but encircled, seemingly, by fire and unharmed. Whilst they were trying to take in this inexplicable scene, the Lamanites then experienced more bewilderment as they were covered by an impenetrable mist which they could not see beyond.

As the situation grew ever more bleak, one member of their group, an ex-Nephite called Aminadab remembered what he had been taught:

“35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.” (Helaman 5:35-36)

This previous member of the Church saw examples shining through the darkness of ministers who had their focus heavenward. As we consider how to reach out to those around us, we should never underestimate the Spirit which emanates from those who live the Gospel and try to be the best they can be – aiming towards their Heavenly Father. What will happen, if we do this well to those who are ready to change their lives, is that they will remember feelings and promises (covenants) they have made in the past which would enable them to feel the security and comfort they see from those who are living those covenants. Aminadab felt this as the experience continues:

“37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.” (Helaman 5:37)

He, the lost soul, then reached out to others around him and encouraged others to look toward the ministers. They then used their agency to turn and look. We must remember as we minister to encourage all to ‘turn and look’. We can’t hope to inspire others to change if we do not invite them to do so. The experience continues:

“38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.” (Helaman 5:38-39)

Naturally, questions came – as we support, teach and minister we must equip those we teach to be ready to answer questions about their faith. We can teach them and help them to feel the Spirit all we want but they must be taught how the Gospel is relevant to their lives and that people will also want to find out more. In this experience, Aminadab knew the answer but we must prepare those we teach to know that sometimes they may not know the answer – and that’s ok.

“40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.” (Helaman 5:40-45)

As the Lamanites followed the advice of the convert-turned lost sheep-turned minister, they also felt the converting power of the Lord’s embrace.