Lesson 22: Joseph Smith Organizes the Relief Society and Administers the Temple Endowment
“Lesson 22: Joseph Smith Organizes the Relief Society and Administers the Temple Endowment,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 22,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
Joseph Smith Organizes the Relief Society and Administers the Temple Endowment
Introduction and Timeline
The Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842. Emma Smith was called to serve as the first president of the organization, a fulfillment of revelation given years earlier (see D&C 25:7). On May 4, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith first administered the temple endowment to nine Church leaders in the upper room of his Red Brick Store.
March 17, 1842The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was organized.
May 4, 1842Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment to nine Church leaders.
September 28, 1843Emma Smith received the temple endowment.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapter 37
Suggestions for Teaching
The Prophet Joseph Smith organizes the Relief Society
Display the accompanying image. Explain that in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in January 1841, the Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo (see D&C 124:25–28). William Weeks, who was chief architect of the Nauvoo Temple, made this sketch in 1841 in preparation for the construction of the temple.
Based on your reading of chapter 37 of Saints: Volume 1, how did two Latter-day Saint women propose to contribute to the building of the temple? (“Margaret [Cook] noticed that many [temple construction] workers lacked adequate shoes, trousers, and shirts. She suggested to Sarah [Kimball] that they work together to provide new shirts for the workers. Sarah said she could supply the materials for the shirts if Margaret did the sewing. They could also enlist the help of other women in Nauvoo and organize a society to direct the work” [Saints: Volume 1, 447–48].)
What did these discussions and efforts ultimately lead to? (The organization of the Relief Society.)
Divide students into groups of two or three, and give them copies of the accompanying handout, “Organization of the Relief Society.” Ask students to read the handout in their groups and mark details about the organization of the Relief Society that stand out to them. Invite them to discuss their responses to the questions on the handout in their groups.
After sufficient time, ask students to report the truths they identified. They may mention several truths, including the following: Relief Society is of ancient origin and is a divinely inspired part of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Relief Society is organized under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood.
In what ways do you think Relief Society is an essential part of the restored Church of Jesus Christ?
What do you think it means that the Relief Society is organized under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood?
To help students understand what it means that the Relief Society is organized under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency:
Dallin H. Oaks
“In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: ‘While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood’ [Joseph Fielding Smith, “Relief Society—an Aid to the Priesthood,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, 4].
“In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, ‘You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.’ He also said that the Relief Society ‘[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.’ And, of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. Thus, speaking of the Relief Society, President Smith explained, ‘[The Lord] has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the directions of the bishops of the wards … , looking after the interest of our people both spiritually and temporally’ [Joseph Fielding Smith, “Relief Society—an Aid to the Priesthood,” 4, 5].
“Thus, it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 50–51).
How might these statements help us better understand that the Relief Society is organized under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood?
Ask students to locate chapter 37 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 449, starting with the paragraph that begins “After everyone sang …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 451 that begins “‘Each member should be …’” Ask the class to follow along, looking for what occurred and was discussed on the day the Relief Society was organized.
What stands out to you in this account?
What are some ways women of Relief Society have done “something extraordinary” to bless you or someone you know?
Invite a student to read the following paragraph aloud:
“Sisters in Nauvoo clamored to join the Relief Society. They were excited to give temporal and spiritual aid in an organized, authorized way. They also recognized the unparalleled opportunity to be taught by a prophet in preparation for higher spiritual knowledge and the blessings of the temple. They loved being unified with one another and with their priesthood brethren in these great causes. …
“… The sisters were blessed to be taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith in six of their meetings. As he taught, they felt rich outpourings of the Spirit. …
“Joseph Smith taught principles that helped Relief Society sisters ‘relieve the poor’ and ‘save souls’—foundational principles upon which the society was built. … Since the early meetings of Relief Society, sisters have applied the Prophet’s teachings in their effort to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need” (Daughters in My Kingdom , 15–17).
Consider inviting several students to share their testimony of Relief Society as a divinely inspired part of the Savior’s Church. Encourage the sisters to be actively engaged in Relief Society in their branches, wards, districts, and stakes.
The Prophet Joseph Smith administers the temple endowment in Nauvoo
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is a photograph of the upper room of the reconstructed Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois. On May 4, 1842, long before the completion of the Nauvoo Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment to a small group of Church leaders in the upper room of his Red Brick Store, which had been arranged in preparation for the endowment ceremony. Although we do not know exactly when the Prophet Joseph Smith received an understanding of the temple endowment, we do know that he received it by revelation (see Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001, 33).
Invite a student to read the following account aloud. Ask the class to listen for how Joseph Smith’s history described the ordinance of the endowment that he administered on May 4, 1842:
“I spent the day in the upper part of the store, … in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the First Born, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days.
“And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritually minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 414).
What do you find interesting or significant in this account?
Explain that the word Eloheim (more commonly transliterated Elohim) is a Hebrew word that means “God” or “gods.” In this context, the term “the Eloheim” includes Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Elohim,” scriptures.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
What does the phrase “come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds” teach us about the purpose of the ordinance of the temple endowment? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The temple endowment prepares us to enter into and abide the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Russell M. Nelson:
Russell M. Nelson
“In the temple we receive an endowment, which is, literally speaking, a gift. In receiving this gift, we should understand its significance and the importance of keeping sacred covenants. Each temple ordinance ‘is not just a ritual to go through, it is an act of solemn promising’ [Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 638].
“The temple endowment was given by revelation. Thus, it is best understood by revelation, prayerfully sought with a sincere heart [see Moroni 10:4–5]. President Brigham Young said, ‘Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, … and gain your eternal exaltation’ [Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1941), 416]. …
“… Obedience to temple covenants qualifies us for eternal life, the greatest gift of God to man [see D&C 14:7]. Eternal life is more than immortality. Eternal life is exaltation in the highest heaven—the kind of life that God lives” (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001, 33).
How might this statement help us understand the importance of receiving the temple endowment and honoring the covenants we make in the temple?
Explain that during the two years before his death in June 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith introduced temple ordinances “to several dozen men and women, who met together often to pray and to participate in temple ceremonies as they awaited completion of the Nauvoo Temple in December 1845” (“Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, Women,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Emma Smith received the temple endowment on September 28, 1843. She was the first woman to receive the endowment and subsequently assisted other sisters to receive the same ordinance (see The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, ed. Jill Mulvay Derr and others , xxviii, 9–10).
What are some ways you have been blessed by temple ordinances and performing temple ordinances for your ancestors?
Testify that the temple endowment prepares us to be in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Encourage students to worship the Lord in the temple as often as their time and circumstances allow.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 38–39 of Saints: Volume 1.
Commentary and Background Information
The gathering of God’s people today
In their reading of chapter 37 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), students will learn more about the practice of plural marriage in Nauvoo. If students have questions about this topic, you could refer them to the Gospel Topics essay “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” (topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Plural marriage will be addressed in more detail in lesson 24.