Sunday, June 5, 2016

Do unto others?



Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away. (3 Nephi 12:42)
Does this mean that Jesus wants us to limitlessly give to all that ask?

In context:

 38 And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;

 39 But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;
 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;
 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.
 43 And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;
 44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
 45 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.
 46 Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.
 47 Old things are done away, and all things have become new.
 48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Nephi 12)


Joseph Smith taught that sometimes the key to unlocking the meaning of a passage of scripture is to discover the question that prompted it. Here, the question is not "should I always give people what they ask for?" Verse 38 gives the preamble for this passage.  The question is "should I live the law of revenge?" Jesus' answer is "absolutely not." Do not seek for retribution from those who sue you. Do not hate the occupying soldiers who oppress you by making you walk a mile in their service. Do not abstain from lending because you fear the debtor will not repay/the year of Jubilee is coming soon (a sin common to Israelites from the days of Moses). Then he ties it back to revenge by saying we should love our enemies. He is teaching a higher law than the law of Moses. That law is not to wantonly do whatever anyone asks you to do.

Is giving everything anyone asks of you love? Can that ever hurt the recipient? Of course. If a crack head asks you for drugs, you will hurt them by complying with their request. Would a loving action cause long term harm? Some would say you are helping them by accelerating their consequences. I sure am glad God doesn't do that to us. Can you imagine if a parent responded to a child's playing with an electric socket by handing him some matches? "Let's accelerate the consequences, he'll learn faster!" We pray for God to not lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. We do not pray for him to make the temptation greater so that we get what is coming to us.

In the same flavor of wanton giving, we find that superficial Christianity suggests that we do unto others what we would like them to do to us. Again, the basis is a poorly interpreted scripture.

 7 ¶Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
 12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7)

Pay careful attention to what precedes verse 12. In verses 7-11, Jesus is describing what the Father does. In verses 9-10, Jesus uses peoples' familiarity with what a good father does to help them understand what the Father does. Why does this matter?

Have you ever asked something from God that he didn't give you? Ever?

In one line, I have just disproved the common understanding of verse 12. In order for it to mean what many say it means, God would have to act the same way he's supposedly telling us to act. Guess what? He doesn't.

Instead, we have a wonderful example here of Jesus' teaching of partial truth. Jesus was and is the master teacher. One of the traits that makes him the master teacher is his ability to effortlessly glide through layers of truth, delivering just the level of truth appropriate for his listeners. (This is one reason why he doesn't want us to live by what we think he taught, but by the Spirit. What we think he taught can limit us to our current understanding. The Spirit will always upgrade us as soon as we are ready for something beyond our current understanding). That is what he is doing here. If you want a really good example of this, check out Matthew 10.

16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
 23 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
(Matthew 19)

Here, Jesus begins with the simplest of doctrine. At the insistence of the man, he proceeds to the next level. And so on.

Back to Matthew 7, what is he hiding with his simplistic teaching? He is hiding the fact that God not only doesn't grant every request, he denies the vast majority of them. Why? Because we ask what we want, and not what we ought to ask.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:23)
Here is the advanced version of this doctrine:
 64 Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you;
 65 And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation. (D&C 88:64-65)


God tells us we should only ask for the things we believe to be God's will, or perhaps even know to be God's will:


10 Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not. (D&C 8:10)


So, back to what we should do when someone asks something of us. What should we do? We should do what God does. How does God decide which petitions to grant?

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. (2 Nephi 26:24)
Let's make this simple: Jesus doesn't do anything for a man unless it benefits the man, because he loves the man so much that he died for that man.

If you ask God for something that won't help you, will he give it to you? Do you likewise unto others.

What about more generally? Is it as simple as doing unto others as you would have them do to you? No, it isn't. Suppose we are sinful idiots (we are). Suppose our idea of what is right is completely perverse (it is).

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)


19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man...willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
How are you going to treat others righteously by judging by your unrighteous desires? You can't.

Again, this simple adage is a great place to start. It's better than nothing. But it is elementary. It is not the celestial law. It's not even close.

So what are we supposed to do, then? We are supposed to do what is right.

Sometimes love means giving what is asked for. 
 12 ¶And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
 13 And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. (Luke 5)

Sometimes, though, it means giving before being asked.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. (John 5)

Sometimes it means saying no.
Jesus refused to do great miracles in Nazareth.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
 23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
 24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.Sometimes it means giving a swift kick to the pants of the asker. (Luke 4)

Sometimes love means giving the asker a swift kick in the pants.
15 ¶Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto C├Žsar, or not?
 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
(Matthew 22)

Jesus did all four of these things. Surprisingly, he did the last most of all.

Do not judge by your mortal wisdom, or by what someone tells you. Judge righteous judgment.