The Great Commandments

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“The Great Commandments,” Ensign, July 1980, 3

First Presidency Message

The Great Commandments

In a day when men are troubled and contention is rampant, and in a world beset with problems for which there seem to be no solutions, it behooves us all to pause and reflect on the cause of our unrest, and to consider the remedies that will bring us back to reason and sanity.

If only we could hearken to the words of the Author of peace and brotherly love, we could right every wrong, silence the guns of warfare, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, beat our swords into plowshares, and live in a state of happiness which would enable us to prepare more quickly and more adequately for the day of judgment which surely must come to each of us.

In answer to the lawyer who asked, tempting him, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said:

“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 and 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).

Why are we so slow to accept God at his word? Why can we not understand that all social problems can be justly dealt with only as we accept God as the creator of the universe and live according to the laws by which he governs in the affairs of men?

I once viewed a preview of the movie The Ten Commandments, and it left me with this impressive message—we are free to serve God and keep his commandments or to be ruled by a dictator. We can be free only so long as we choose to be obedient to those laws which guarantee our freedom. Violation of law can bring us bondage or death or at least restriction of our freedom.

If we love God and our fellowmen—that is, our neighbors—we will treat them as we would like to be treated. There are many things involved in showing true love. Consider the words of the Lord to Moses:

“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. …

“Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart. …

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:16–18).

In Deuteronomy we read the words of Moses to his people:

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:5–7).

Christ said: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

John, in his exhortations to the people, gave this strong denunciation:

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20–21).

Our feelings toward one another must be those of brotherly love. Religion should cement and strengthen and never weaken this feeling. It is most important that we respect and honor the religious beliefs and feelings of our neighbors.

I believe that Christ was really the Begotten Son of God in the flesh. But the fact that others do not believe the same thing is no cause for ill feelings, hate, or lack of brotherhood. Because I believe as a Mormon, another believes as a Catholic, another as a Protestant, another as a Jew, we should not shun or criticize or have ill feeling, but respect each other’s views, realizing that a belief in God makes everyone better, as individuals and as citizens, to the extent that they follow God’s teachings—particularly, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

This love of which the Savior spoke, and which he emphasizes as being the most important thing in life, must begin in the home and then be carried into our daily lives. Tolerance and respect for others’ beliefs must be taught in the home. Children must learn to love and live and play with those of differing beliefs, while being staunch and true to their own convictions and teachings.

It has always been interesting and inspirational to me to note that as our missionaries go out into foreign countries to preach the gospel of peace and love, they soon learn a different language, adopt foreign customs, and come home with a deep and abiding love for the people of the land where they served. We must all learn to do this wherever we live or serve.

The most difficult thing for us seems to be to give of ourselves, to do away with selfishness. If we really love someone, nothing is too difficult for us to do for that individual. There is no real happiness in having or getting unless we are doing it for the purpose of giving it to others. Half the world seems to be following the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness—many think it consists of having and getting and being served, when really happiness is found in serving others.

Sometimes I am almost convinced that it is human nature to magnify the weaknesses in others in order to minimize our own. Let us always remember that men of great character do not belittle others nor magnify their weaknesses. In fact, the thing that makes them great is the showing of love for and interest in the success and welfare of their neighbors. True love does not permit us to hold grudges or ill feelings, to bear tales, or to steal a good name. We should not talk about or criticize one another, but strive to build and strengthen one another.

A friend of mine related the following experience. His father and his father’s cousin lived in the same community and were competitors in the construction business. A bitter rivalry, triggered in the beginning by some contract bidding, grew up over the years and was eventually inherited by the immediate families, even after the death of my friend’s father. It was difficult for them to be civil to one another, even in their church callings, where my friend was the bishop of one ward and his cousin in another. The situation festered.

Suddenly my friend found himself with a call to serve as a mission president. He and his family were thrilled with the prospect, but he had an uneasy feeling. He kept asking himself if he were really worthy for such an important call. He knew he was living the Word of Wisdom, was a full tithepayer, faithful in his Church activities, was morally clean, and so forth, but the uneasy feeling persisted.

In the midst of his preparations he was returning from his office one afternoon when something said to him, “You must go to your father’s cousin and straighten things out. You cannot go out to teach the gospel of love while this feeling exists between you.”

So he went to his cousin’s home, rang the doorbell, and waited fearfully, but there was no response. He turned away feeling that at least he had tried and that this attempt would conclude the matter. But the uneasy feeling did not go away.

The next day at a funeral service his cousin came in and sat across from him. He asked his cousin if he could see him after the service. I quote from my friend’s account:

“When I rang the doorbell he invited me into the living room and congratulated me on my mission call. We talked a few minutes about things in general, and then it happened. I looked at him with a feeling of love which replaced all the old bitterness, and said: ‘I have come to ask forgiveness for anything I have ever said or done that has tended to divide us and our families.’

“At this point tears came into our eyes, and for a few minutes neither of us could say a word. This was one time when silence was more powerful than words. In a few minutes he said: ‘I wish I had come to you first.’ I replied, ‘The important thing is that it is done, not who initiated it.’

“At this moment we had a rich spiritual experience which caused us to purge our lives and our souls of those things which had separated us. That experience has resulted in our having proper family relationships. Now I could go on my mission and teach the true meaning of love because for the first time in my life I had experienced its deepest dimension. Now I could honestly say that there wasn’t a person in the world that I didn’t love and appreciate. Since that day my life has never been the same, for it was then that I learned in a most positive way, as I had never understood before, this injunction of the Master to his disciples: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another’ (John 13:34).”

As we look back over our lives whether they be short or long, we realize that the thing that gives the greatest joy is doing something for someone else because we love him. Let us express our love to God and to our fellowmen now, while we can, by our every act and word, for we shall not pass again this way.

Photography by Eric W. White