“Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year,” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 2
Adult members of the Church throughout the world begin this month to turn their scriptural studies toward the latter books of the New Testament: the Acts of the Apostles through the Revelation of John. This is the fourth year in the Church’s approved eight-year adult curriculum program. In the first two years we read, studied, and discussed the Old Testament in our homes and classes. During the past year we have been impressively uplifted as we studied the accounts of the Master as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
After we complete the remainder of the New Testament this year, we shall for two years focus our studies on the Book of Mormon and then complete our eight-year course with two years on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history.
I can think of few things that would be more useful to all adult members of the Church than to make a firm resolve to read and study in depth the selected scriptures during these periods of scriptural concentration.
What an impact this could have on our lives; in our homes, on our marriages, on our children, on our callings and labors in the Church! Our meetings and classes would be filled with a stronger spirit of testimony, a stronger spirit of understanding of the doctrines and principles of the gospel. By better understanding these doctrines, we would then seek to apply in our own lives their life-saving and eternal principles. Would it not be possible for us to set this goal for the coming curriculum year, thus bringing the selected scriptures into our lives in a more meaningful way than ever before?
The years have taught me that if we will energetically pursue this worthy personal goal in a determined and conscientious manner, we shall indeed find answers to our problems and peace in our hearts. We shall experience the Holy Ghost broadening our understanding, find new insights, witness an unfolding pattern of all scripture; and the doctrines of the Lord shall come to have more meaning to us than we ever thought possible. As a consequence, we shall have greater wisdom with which to guide ourselves and our families, so that we may serve as a light and source of strength to our nonmember friends with whom we have an obligation to share the gospel.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) This year as we study Acts through Revelation, we shall be able to review and learn many truths and find many ways to apply the gospel in our lives. I remember as a youth how impressed I was as I read the stirring accounts of the early apostles and other brethren and sisters. When I was just a boy, not yet a deacon, I used to climb the stairs that wound up to the attic of our home. There in that dark and unfinished room, night after night I would read the Bible by the light of a coal oil lamp. I remember how Peter stirred my soul. He was a remarkably powerful and chosen leader, a man filled with such great faith, knowledge, integrity, and breadth of human compassion and understanding that he stands out as one of the greatest leaders and prophets of all time.
As you have read those early accounts, have you pictured yourself there with Peter and John as they entered the temple gate on a certain day? Before them was “a certain man lame from his mother’s womb … whom [others] laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered.” He saw Peter and John and asked for alms, but Peter, “fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
“And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
“Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I unto thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
“And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.” (See Acts 3:1–7.)
“Such as I have.” All of us need to ponder those words. Do we, too, have something we need to share? Yes! We have the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of peace, the gospel of joy. We have truths that can make any person better and more fulfilled, any marriage happier and sweeter, any home more heavenly. We have the priesthood power of God to bless our homes and lives and the lives of others. Yes, it is to ourselves, our homes, our quorums, our classes, our Church assignments that we must carry more energetically those things that we have received. And it is to our nonmember neighbors and associates that we are now asked to also “give such as we have.” The Lord has commanded us to do so. We must lengthen our stride and must do it now.
To me, the labors of Paul have always been thrilling to read. To read of the gospel being carried into new lands—to Cyprus, to lands known today as Turkey, Greece, and Italy—has brought proof of the gospel’s impact on all people. Do you recall how in the timetable of the Lord, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us”? (Acts 16:9.) It is the same in our time. The spirit of the Macedonian is all about us. Now is the moment in the timetable of the Lord to carry the gospel farther than it has ever been carried before—farther geographically, and farther in density of coverage. Many a person in this world is crying, knowingly and unknowingly, “Come over … and help us.” He might be your neighbor. She might be your friend. He might be a relative. She might be someone you met only yesterday. But we have what they need. Let us take new courage from our studies and pray as did Peter, “And now, Lord … grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” (Acts 4:29.)
It has always been exciting and continually instructive for me to read of Peter’s ministry, and to learn about Stephen, and Philip, and the wonderful works of Barnabas, and the courageous labors of Paul—to see how they seemed always to serve on the gospel’s frontier, as do so many of our choice Saints today. I have enjoyed reading the sermons of these chosen leaders, perceiving the inspiration of the Lord that was upon them as they dealt with the timely concerns and problems of their day.
It has been a joy to sense the fellowship and brotherhood that must have flowered in many of those early branches of the church. There was a concern for each other’s eternal welfare, a concern for each other’s physical well-being; there were terms of endearment, perhaps even as endearing and as beautiful as the terms brother and sister are for us in our time.
I have often wondered, did all of those members of the early church truly accept each other as brothers and sisters as they were taught? The early church was a church of new members. All were converts. Did they—some of one year, others of ten, others of 20-year membership—did they always fellowship each other with love? Did they—the “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
“Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
“Cretes and Arabians” (Acts 2:9–11)—did they all work together in love and brotherhood with no envyings, nor jealousies, nor divisions by status or by education or by nationality? Surely it seems abundantly clear even to us why our Lord’s final hours before Gethsemane were spent teaching “my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12.)
The message is the same for us today. The Church will always be a church filled with converts. Whether the place be Salt Lake City, or Sao Paulo, Los Angeles or London, Tokyo or Turino, Italy, it is the Lord’s plan that there be converts among us, brothers and sisters newly brought into the fold of Christ through the efforts of their loving friends and neighbors. Let us fellowship and love each other in the true spirit of the gospel.
I have always been uplifted by reading the short epistle of Paul to Philemon; it teaches us a principle and a spirit concerning gospel brotherhood. Philemon’s servant, Onesimus, had run away from his master and joined Paul in Rome. Paul converted Onesimus to the gospel and in sending him, a changed man, back to Philemon, Paul took the occasion to teach both men some important truths. Paul wanted to teach Onesimus, the servant, the necessity of being obedient to law, and he wanted to teach Philemon the need for greater love, a love sufficient to make his servant free, even his equal: I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
“Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
“Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him. …
“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
“Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
“If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
“If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account. …
“Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord. …
“Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” (Philem. 1:10–12, 15–18, 20–21. Italics added.)
What a spirit of brotherhood is taught by this great missionary, this apostle of Jesus who also spoke elsewhere to the Corinthians that he would even change his eating habits if that would mean the difference between keeping someone with the Lord or turning him away through misunderstanding! (See 1 Cor. 8.)
It is an inspiration and joy to see this same spirit at work throughout the Church, to see the Saints embrace and help and assist and pray for those who daily enter the kingdom of our Lord. Continue to reach out to each other—and the many more who will enter the Church. Welcome them and love and fellowship them.
Sadly, there have been occasional incidents where some among us have not done so, accounts of some who have rejected those whom the Lord has accepted by baptism. If the Lord was “not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11), let us, therefore, as with Peter at the temple gates, take our brothers and sisters by the hand and lift them up into our circles of concern and love.
During this year we shall have the opportunity to read and study the Epistles of James and Jude. What a privilege! According to scholars, both men were brothers of our Master. Can we think of what it was like to have grown up in the same house, to have played, worshipped, and worked with the Creator and Savior of the world! I have thought that the writings of these two men reflect a rare understanding. Their counsel, their comments, their instructions have always taken on a special importance to me. I see in James, that great priesthood leader of his day, a gifted and inspired worker. And Jude, what a scripturalist! His short epistle demonstrates how he had made the scriptures of his day a part of his life. Both of these authors have blessed my life significantly. I feel the same way toward John, the final author in our New Testament. To have known the Lord so intimately and to have been associated in the apostolic ministry and in the First Presidency for so much of his life argues impressively that I should seek to apply his counsels in my life.
What a wonderful year of study lies before us. I encourage all of us to read and ponder and pray about the principles, events, and counsel that we will be studying this year. Make these topics a part of your conversations where appropriate and a part of your home environment. Let your children enjoy and profit from your gospel study and conversations in your family home evenings and daily activities. Let us seek to attend our priesthood, Sunday School, and Relief Society classes prepared to receive enlightened and inspired instruction and prepared to contribute to enlightened and inspired class discussions. Furthermore, let our teachers in each of these classes prepare themselves by study and by prayer so as to present the messages in a way that all may be enlightened and uplifted.
Let us this year seek to read and understand and apply the principles and inspired counsel found within the books from Acts to Revelation. If we do so, we shall discover that our personal acts of righteousness will also bring personal revelation or inspiration when needed into our own lives.