By Eric Johnson
This is the first in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
February 20-26, 2023
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Living the Savior’s teachings can help me become like Him.
The Sermon on the Mount contains many gospel principles. As you study these chapters, ask the Lord what He wants you to learn.
One principle you might find is the need to prioritize the things of God over the things of the world. Which of the Savior’s teachings in Matthew 6–7 help you focus on heavenly things? What other thoughts or impressions do you have? What are you inspired to do? Consider recording your impressions.
I think the Sermon on the Mount is ideal teaching given by Jesus. Whatever you think of The Chosen series, I was struck at the episodes at the end of the second season (and the beginning of the third, I assume, though I have not seen those episodes). The producers depicted Jesus as actively working on His sermon, including what He would say and improving His delivery and timing.
This was something I just had never thought about. After all, Jesus is God in the flesh. Why would He need to ponder his words and cadence? Then it struck me. Of course, Jesus was fully man. There is no indication that human activities came naturally to Jesus. Why wouldn’t He have to work on this aspect of His teaching?
What He delivered in this sermon were not just human words but they came from above. He set up God’s expectations and communicated in such a way that many have called this sermon the greatest ever. I am inspired to follow His teaching, though knowing how difficult these words really are.
What does it mean to use “vain repetitions” in prayer?
People often understand “vain repetitions” to mean repeating the same words over and over again. However, the word vain can describe something that has no value. Using “vain repetitions” in prayer can mean praying without sincere, heartfelt feeling (see Alma 31:12–23).
Prayer is an interesting thing. In Mormonism, the archaic pronouns such as “thee,” “thou,” and “art” are commanded by the leaders to be used because, they say, God is above us in every way. I understand the sacredness of prayer, but to think that Jesus went into a “King James” vernacular whenever He prayed is not possible. Even in the Lord’s prayer, He commanded His followers to pray “Our Father.” How much more intimate can a believer get than to call God by this name? It’s fine to use whatever words a believer wants, I guess, but to be commanded to pray using words that are highfalutin seems silly. Four hundred years ago, this language is the way they spoke and so there was nothing unnatural to speak to God in this way. Today, however, such usage is nothing more than a self-righteous game. When speaking to God, it is important to just speak in a normal way, with our regular voice and language. There is no biblical support to do it any other way. Prayer can still remain “sacred” in such a manner.
I can judge righteously.
In Matthew 7:1, the Savior may seem to be saying we should never judge, but in other scriptures (including other verses in this chapter), He gives us instructions about how to judge. If that seems puzzling, the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse might help: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (in Matthew 7:1, footnote a). What do you find in Matthew 7:1–5, along with the rest of the chapter, that helps you know how to “judge righteous judgment”?
It is not often that I find myself agreeing with this series on a point, but despite the faulty use of the JST, I wholeheartedly agree.
So why do some Latter-day Saints continually use Matthew 7:1 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged)” to criticize Christians who share their faith? Verse 1 in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) is not found in any manuscripts and it says something similar in verse 2.)
In fact, Matthew 7:2 in the JST says, “Just not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.” Those bold-faced words are not found in the biblical manuscripts, but rather Smith got these words from the second half of John 7:24, a completely different author and Gospel account! According to the context, Jesus was saying not to judge at all. Rather, He was telling them to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
It would be hypocritical for Jesus to tell His followers not to “judge” and then also say they were to “judge righteously.” So, while the text of Matthew 7 cannot be corroborated, the idea is correct. Indeed, as the lesson teaches, Jesus “gives us instructions on how to judge.”
For more on this topic, visit Is Judging Always Wrong? A Closer Look at Matthew 7:1
I come to know Jesus Christ by doing His will.
The phrase “I never knew you” in Matthew 7:23 was changed in the Joseph Smith Translation to “Ye never knew me” (Matthew 7:23, footnote a). How does this change help you better understand what the Lord taught in verses 21–22 about doing His will? How well do you feel you know the Lord? What can you do to know Him better?
Again, as mentioned in my reply two weeks ago, a reference is made to the JST. Of course, biblical Christians do not believe the JST is a reliable translation, as there is no manuscript evidence to support Smith’s changes to the text. By changing it to “ye never knew me” takes away the meaning of what Jesus was trying to communicate. The point He was making is that there will be people who say they have done many “good” things and Jesus wanted to be abrupt in His teaching by saying, “I never knew you.” That would be crushing to a Pharisaical Jewish person who thought that all of their good works amounted to something special when, according to Isaiah 64:6, these “good” works were not even equal to a pile of rags. I suppose a case could be made that, ultimately, it does mean that such a person didn’t know God–that is true–but it is not what the text is saying.
But ask Latter-day Saints if they were to die right then, would they know they would enter the celestial kingdom? (See 1 John 5:13.) It is at this point I usually hear a lot of hemming and hawing, with excuses being offered such as “I’m trying” or “I’m doing my best.” Or, “well, nobody’s perfect.” The point is that Mormonism does not offer any assurance of one’s eternal destiny because the Latter-day Saint just has no understanding if enough has been done to qualify. Such a person understands the qualification according to Mormonism for being “celestial worthy.”
For more on this topic, see Can Christians be Assured of their Salvation?
Obeying the Savior’s teachings creates a firm foundation for my life.
Living the gospel doesn’t remove adversity from our lives. Both houses in the Savior’s parable in Matthew 7:24–27 experienced the same storm. But one of the houses was able to withstand it. How has living the Savior’s teachings created a solid foundation for you? What do you feel inspired to do to continue building your “house upon a rock”? (see verse 24).
The rock must be built on truth. If a person builds on the sand, it will slip away into oblivion. This is the reason why we care so much about what we do at Mormonism Research Ministry and our site mrm.org. We want people to know the truth about God, Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith. Truth matters.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
What can we learn about prayer from the way the Savior prayed? How can we use His prayer as a model to improve our personal and family prayers? (See also Luke 11:1–13.) If you have younger children, you might practice praying together.
Prayer in the Christian’s life is crucial. But first, it is crucial to be praying to the true God. Not wanting to be flippant, but a false gospel is worse than none at all. For instance, Paul taught:
8 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! 9 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!
What does it mean to “seek … first the kingdom of God”? How are we doing this individually and as a family?
It means seeking Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We need to make sure we are following biblical teaching and not a path that leads us astray. We do this by reading His Word and understanding just what He intends for us to know.
To visualize the teachings in these verses, your family could find a mote (a tiny wood fragment) and a beam (a large piece of wood). What does comparing the two teach us about judging others?
The passage is referring to hypocritical judging. That is the point of what Jesus is saying here.
As it’s been done in previous lessons, the Joseph Smith Translation is used to support the point(s) made by the writers of the Come, Follow Me series. Although I don’t believe the JST is an accurate “translation,” it is true that Matthew 7:1 is not talking about eliminating all judgment. Instead, it is talking about hypocritical judgment. John 7:24 (partially cited in the JST’s Matthew 7:2) clearly shows this to be the case.
But before we can accurately judge, we need to first be standing on the solid rock and not the sand. There must be a foundation. Mormonism is a unique religion quite different in its essential teachings from biblical Christianity. If it is true, then according to the law of non-contradiction, biblical Christianity is wrong. It’s that simple.