“Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods,” Ensign, May 1996, 14
As I face this congregation, I sense the responsibility entrusted to me. As you face the General Authorities and officers of the Church, you also bear responsibility. We are all accountable for acting upon the truths that are taught.
Facing you, I am reminded of military days long ago when our platoon heard shouts from a sergeant: “Attention!” “Right face!” “Left face!” “About face!” We learned to respond to those orders with instant precision. In retrospect, I don’t recall ever having heard his command to “face upward.” Yet scriptures tell us to “look to God and live.”1
My topic today relates to the first of the Lord’s Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”2 This commandment may be better known than obeyed. May I share a suggestion that I have found useful in testing my own allegiance to this commandment? When confronted with a challenging choice, I ask myself, “Which way do you face?”
Sadly, many individuals don’t know where to find God, and exclude Him from their lives. When spiritual needs arise, they may look to the left, the right, or round about. But looking to other people on the same level cannot satisfy spiritual shortages. When the immortal spirit is starved, hunger persists for something more filling. Even when material success comes, there is a hollow ache—if living well falls short of living worthily. Inner peace cannot be found in affluence accompanied by spiritual privation.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invite all to come unto Christ and enjoy the spiritual feast that His gospel provides. The Saints savor a sweet spiritual nourishment that sustains them through life. This sustenance comes because they have made covenants to take upon themselves the name of the Lord and strive to obey his precepts. Strength comes in recognizing and in being grateful for the Lord’s gifts of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life.
These gifts are available to all. Citizens of many countries claim membership in the Church. Regardless of their flag or form of government, they find that allegiance to the Lord does not preclude their being loyal citizens of their nations. Fidelity to God enables one to develop a more profound patriotic allegiance and become a better citizen.
In addition to their national citizenship, members of the Church are also citizens of God’s kingdom.3 Their commitment to it, however, may be variable. The great majority seek “first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness.”4 Some allow their allegiance to God and His kingdom to slip below that of other interests in life. They have not yet determined which way they face.5
I perceived such confusion in the mind of a newspaper reporter who asked one of our leaders when a representative of such-and-such a country would become a General Authority. While that question was being answered, I thought about our beloved General Authorities born in the countries of Asia; of Europe; of North, Central, and South America; and of the islands of the sea. Though these Brethren come from many nations and speak several tongues, not one of them was called to represent his native country. Presiding quorums of the Church are not representative assemblies. Each leader has been called to face the people as a representative of the Lord, not the other way around.
General Authorities are “called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority.”6 They are called as “especial witnesses”7 unto all the world, to teach and testify of the Lord Jesus Christ.8
No matter where we live or in what position we serve, all of us need to determine which way we face. God’s commandments serve as a standard against which priorities can be measured. Our respect for the first commandment fashions our feelings for all the others. Consider the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, for example.9 We live in a time when many people throughout the world have transferred their allegiance on the Sabbath from places of worship to places of amusement. Again I ask, “Which way do you face?”10
Scriptures give us encouragement to do right: “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, … and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, …
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.”11
Self-esteem is also earned by obedience to God’s commandments regarding chastity.12 Yet in our day those commands have been attacked and trivialized. The morality of self-discipline with appropriate “denial or restraint has been popularly depicted as unhealthy and dehumanizing.” The truth is, “it is dehumanizing to define ourselves by our desires alone.”13 Each human being is a child of God—created in His image—with natural appetites to control.
If we break God’s first commandment, we cannot escape retribution. If we allow any other person or cause to come before allegiance to Him, we will reap a bitter harvest. Paul foresaw “destruction” for those “whose God is their belly.”14 (I might include all forms of anatomical affection.) Any who choose to serve “the creature more than the Creator”15 deprive themselves of spiritual reward.
Thus, our priorities should be honestly evaluated in terms of that first commandment. If change in direction is needed, we may want to issue a self-command to “about face!” Doing so would please the Lord, who said, “Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.”16
Trees reach up for the light and grow in the process. So do we as sons and daughters of heavenly parents. Facing upward provides a loftier perspective than facing right or facing left. Looking up in search of holiness builds strength and dignity as disciples of Deity.17
Facing upward is crucial for successful parenting. Families deserve guidance from heaven. Parents cannot counsel children adequately from personal experience, fear, or sympathy.18 But when parents face children as would the Creator who gave them life, parents will be endowed with wisdom beyond that of their own. Wise mothers and fathers will teach members of their family how to make personal decisions based upon divine law.19 They will teach them that “this life is the time … to prepare to meet God.”20 They will teach them that decisions of a moral and spiritual character cannot be based on freedom to choose without accountability to God for those choices.21 With that understanding, parents and children will be rewarded with strength of character, peace of mind, joy, and rejoicing in their posterity.22
Similarly, relationships with neighbors, friends, and associates will be enhanced as we approach them with “the pure love of Christ.”23 A desire to emulate the Lord provides powerful motivation for good. Our craving for compassion will cause us to act in accord with the Golden Rule.24 By so doing, we will find joy in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, or doing volunteer work of worth.
Service to neighbors takes on new stature when we first look to God. In the Church, when priesthood and auxiliary leaders face their congregations, quorums, and classes as would the Lord, they learn that it does not matter where they serve, but how. Position in the Church does not exalt anyone, but faithfulness does. On the other hand, aspiring to a visible position—striving to become a master rather than a servant—can destroy the spirit of the worker and the work.
Occasionally confusion exists regarding servants and masters. The Bible reports that a group of men “had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” among them. Jesus said, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”25
Was Jesus asking His disciples to respond to random requests from the crowd or to serve tables?26 No! He was asking them to serve in His way. The people were not to be masters of his disciples. The Lord is their Master.
In rendering service to others, which way do we face? From the right or the left, we can only push or pull. We can lift only from a higher plane. To reach it we don’t look sideways; we look up to our Master. Just as we must look to God to live well, so we must look to God to serve well.
If we are called to positions of leadership, we are accountable to the Savior for the acts we perform in that office. Those actions are shaped by attitudes, and attitudes are elevated while lowering our heads in humble prayer. So state words in the hymn “Before Thee, Lord, I Bow My Head”:
Look up, my soul; be not cast down.
Keep not thine eyes upon the ground.
Break off the shackles of the earth.
Receive, my soul, the spirit’s birth.
And now as I go forth again
To mingle with my fellowmen,
Stay thou nearby, my steps to guide,
That I may in thy love abide.27
Praying helps us to face trials in life. Prayer centers our attitudes precisely. With that focus, we do not wander to the right or left through land mined with traps of temptation. Disciples do not flirt with danger at the jagged edge of disaster. Experienced mountain climbers do not lean toward the dangerous edge but toward safety, with ropes and other safeguards to secure them to those they trust. So it is with us. When we climb mountainous challenges of life, we should lean toward our Master and be yoked with him, clinging tightly to the iron rod of the gospel, to family, and to trusted friends.
President David O. McKay taught this about edges: “Many of us through selfishness are lingering near the edge of the animal jungle where Nature’s law demands us to do everything with self in view.”28
The Lord said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”29 I have learned that such faith gives emancipating power. Facing God first lets us decide firmly what we shall not do; then we are free to pursue what we ought to do.
Recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley declared: “Love of God is the root of all virtue, of all goodness, of all strength of character, of all fidelity to do right. Love the Lord your God, and love his Son, and be ever grateful for their love for us. Whenever other love fades, there will be that shining, transcendent, everlasting love of God for each of us and the love of his Son, who gave his life for us.”30
Brothers and sisters, race, nationality, occupation, or other interests need not stand in the way. All can look to the Lord. All can place him first in their lives. Those who do so and remain faithful will qualify for his sublime promise:”31 “Every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.”32 This glorious destiny can be ours, I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.