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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 1: The Great Commandment—Love the Lord

Chapter 1: The Great Commandment—Love the Lord

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 36–45

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

The first and great commandment is to love the Lord.

I wholeheartedly agree! The key, though, is to have a relationship with the true “Lord” and God of the universe. Worship to a false deity is worse than no worship at all.

The great test of life is obedience to God. “We will prove them herewith,” said the Lord, “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).

For good reasons, Christians don’t accept the Book of Abraham as scripture.

The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it.

What is God’s will? According to John 6:29, it is to believe in the true Jesus of the Bible. (“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”) First Timothy 2:3-4 adds, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Only when this happens can true sanctification take place. As 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.”

The great commandment of life is to love the Lord.

“Come unto Christ,” exhorts Moroni in his closing testimony, “… and love God with all your might, mind and strength” (Moroni 10:32).

This reference comes straight from the gospel of Matthew (22:37) and is not unique to Moroni.

This, then, is the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30; see also Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27; Moroni 10:32; D&C 59:5).

It is the pure love of Christ, called charity, that the Book of Mormon testifies is the greatest of all—that never faileth, that endureth forever, that all men should have, and that without which they are nothing (see Moroni 7:44–47; 2 Nephi 26:30).

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” pleads Moroni, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of [your] heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him” (Moroni 7:48).

If a person loves God with “all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,” he or she will want to worship the authentic version. If someone tries to pass a counterfeit bill, it will be seen and rejected. How could God delight in worship to a false god?

To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all-consuming and all-encompassing. It is no lukewarm endeavor. It is total commitment of our very being—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—to a love of the Lord.

The breadth, depth, and height of this love of God extend into every facet of one’s life. Our desires, be they spiritual or temporal, should be rooted in a love of the Lord. Our thoughts and affections should be centered on the Lord. “Let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord,” said Alma, “yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever” (Alma 37:36).

With these statements, I agree.

We show our love for God when we put Him first in our lives.

Why did God put the first commandment first? Because He knew that if we truly loved Him we would want to keep all of His other commandments. “For this is the love of God,” says John, “that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3; see also 2 John 1:6).

Many Mormons assume that Christians don’t believe in good works. This is simply not true. While Christians believe in justification by faith alone (by nothing we brought to the table), good works follow. First Thessalonians 4:3 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says ,” For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Yet the very next verse reads, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Paul is not suggesting that antinomianism (lawlessness) should prevail. Rather, a genuine salvation will be followed by good works (fruit) that will be seen. The Christian is saved “unto” good works and not “by” good works.

We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

Ahh, a great passage! Having “no other gods before me” includes any “false” gods.

When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.

When we put God first, we will do whatever it takes to determine what is true and what is false. Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20 says,

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Galatians 1:8-9 distinguishes between a true and false gospel:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

How can we determine a true gospel from one that is false? Acts 17:10-12 shows us that scripture (the Bible) must be utilized.

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives.

When Joseph was in Egypt, what came first in his life—God, his job, or Potiphar’s wife? When she tried to seduce him, he responded by saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

Joseph was put in prison because he put God first. If we were faced with a similar choice, where would we place our first loyalty? Can we put God ahead of security, peace, passions, wealth, and the honors of men?

When Joseph was forced to choose, he was more anxious to please God than to please his employer’s wife. When we are required to choose, are we more anxious to please God than our boss, our teacher, our neighbor, or our date?

Joseph of Egypt was willing to go to prison rather than deny his loyalty to God.

The Lord said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). One of the most difficult tests of all is when you have to choose between pleasing God or pleasing someone you love or respect—particularly a family member.

Nephi faced that test and handled it well when his good father temporarily murmured against the Lord (see 1 Nephi 16:18–25). Job maintained his integrity with the Lord even though his wife told him to curse God and die (see Job 2:9–10).

The scripture says, “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12; see also Mosiah 13:20). Sometimes one must choose to honor Heavenly Father over a mortal father.

We should give God, the Father of our spirits, an exclusive preeminence in our lives. He has a prior parental claim on our eternal welfare, ahead of all other ties that may bind us here or hereafter.

How many people calling themselves Mormon remain in the LDS Church because they don’t want to upend the apple cart? This is because leaving the “one true Church” could cause a person to be disowned by his or her loved ones. Even a marriage in these circumstances might not be secure. The person may not believe the church anymore, but he or she stays because leaving could cause so many additional problems. In addition, I know people who left the Mormon Church and the bishop advised the spouse to get a divorce! With this, many remain status quo and just live a life of lies to keep peace.

God, our Father; Jesus, our Elder Brother and our Redeemer; and the Holy Ghost, the Testator, are perfect. They know us best and love us most and will not leave one thing undone for our eternal welfare. Should we not love them for it and honor them first? There are faithful members who joined the Church in spite of the objections of their mortal relatives. By putting God first, many later became the instruments to lead those loved ones into the kingdom of God.

I don’t believe Jesus is our “Elder Brother,” but I agree: If you are a Latter-day Saint who knows the church is not true but remain in it, I would consider taking a bold step of courage for your eternal welfare. My hope is you would not sidle up to atheism, as many ex-Mormons do, but rather discover a vibrant relationship with the Creator of the universe.

If someone wants to marry you outside the temple, whom will you strive to please—God or a mortal? If you insist on a temple marriage, you will be pleasing the Lord and blessing the other party. Why? Because that person will either become worthy to go to the temple—which would be a blessing—or will leave—which could also be a blessing—because neither of you should want to be unequally yoked (see 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Benson was pretty clear that “missionary dating” is not to be tolerated. This is not the view of many Mormons today. For more on this topic, click here and here.

You should qualify for the temple. Then you will know that there is no one good enough for you to marry outside the temple. If such individuals are that good, they will get themselves in a condition so that they too can be married in the temple.

Getting married in the temple means going through ceremonies that are not biblical in order for the family to be together forever. It is all part of Mormonism’s false gospel.

When we choose to put God first in our lives, His blessings come in abundance.

Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.

God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Had Abraham loved Isaac more than God, would he have consented? As the Lord indicates in the Doctrine and Covenants, both Abraham and Isaac now sit as gods (see D&C 132:37). They were willing to offer or to be offered up as God required. They have a deeper love and respect for each other because both were willing to put God first.

Christians don’t uphold the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture. And the Bible never says that Abraham and Isaac “now sit as gods.” This is part of Mormonism’s false gospel.

The great test of life is obedience to God.

The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it.

The great commandment of life is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30).

May God bless us to put the first commandment first and, as a result, reap peace in this life and eternal life with a fulness of joy in the life to come.

I conclude my review by declaring that the greatest commandment is to love God more than we love anything else. This means loving the truth. If Mormonism is true, it should be followed in whole. If it is a false gospel, then it must be abandoned and the truth should be pursued. If you are a Latter-day Saint, test your faith. As my friend Peter Barnes used to say, “A faith not worth testing is a faith not worth having.”

Check out the articles here and here.

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