As the Church has emphasized the need to hasten the work of salvation, my thoughts have turned again and again to the scriptures and to the important messages about how this work ought to be done.
I am studying Paul, and I continue to marvel at the way he performs this work, and his determination to do it right!
I think the best handbook on missionary work in the scriptures in the Bible is in 1st Thessalonians, chapters 1 & 2. The descriptions of Paul as a missionary are not as dramatic as those of Ammon and his brethren, but I believe they teach a better collection of missionary attributes. Here are fifteen of them:
1. 1: 2–We give thanks to God always for you all. Missionaries, full-time and members alike are always grateful for the golden contacts, the responsive investigators, and particularly for those whose lives have been changed by faith on the messages of the restored gospel. The word always is important. Paul, in the midst of his continuing tribulations never forgets to give thanks for the privilege of serving, and for the multitude of joys associated therewith.
2. 1:2–Making mention of you in our prayers. This is more than gratitude. Missionaries pray for their investigators and converts, for their ability and willingness to repent, for their continued faithfulness, for their steadiness and diligence in the “kingdom. When investigators are trying to repent and in need of spiritual sustenance, missionaries usually pray harder for them than they pray for themselves, and fast for and with them too. Elder Ballad and others have suggested that we ought to pray for opportunities to teach and for those the missionaries are teaching.
3. 1:5–For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost. Remember that the sons of Mosiah taught with the power and authority of God (Alma 17:3), and that Nephites preaching angered the Nephites, “even because he had greater power than they…” (3 Nephi 7:17,18). Power comes from faith in Christ (Moroni 7:33), and power in preaching comes from the Holy Ghost. Paul and his companions preached the gospel with power. We must seek this power, pleading with the Lord to enlighten us and speak through us to those who need our message.
4. 1:5-–Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. Ammon and his brethren, the record says, “were treated as though they were angels sent from God to save [the Lamanites] from everlasting destruction.” (Alma 27:4) Missionaries stand out. And it is not just the white shirts and ties. People willing to share the gospel really are different, and anyone who gets close enough will notice it. I remember seeing this glow, this uniqueness when I took my son and his companion to lunch in California a few years ago, with the Mission President’s permission. I looked at them in the back seat of my car and I began to cry. They seemed like angels to me.
5. 2:2–We were shamefully entreated at Philippi. At Philippi, Paul and Silas were both beaten and imprisoned. But when they were freed, they immediately travelled to Thessalonica and commenced anew to preach the gospel. This reminds me of the experience of Aaron and his brethren at Middoni. When Ammon and Lamoni arrived to free them from the prison there, they found that they “were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings (Alma 20:29). When “they were delivered by the hand of Lamoni and Ammon . . . they were fed and clothed. And they went forth again to declare the word. . .” (Alma 212:14,15).
The Lord warned the Lamanite missionaries about the possibility of these kinds of experiences when he charged them to be “patient in long-suffering and afflictions that ye may show forth unto them good examples in me” (Alma 17:11).
Likewise, the Lord said of Paul to Ananias, “For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Missionaries must be willing to be shamefully entreated’ in order to spread the word. They must endure the rocks and the spitting and the name-calling; even the beating and the incarcerations, if necessary, to preach the word. And when it is over they must go forth again.
6. 2: 2–We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God. No timidity is allowed. We bear the most important message in the universe and we must present it with power and enthusiasm. And we must share it at every opportunity. Look at Paul’s efforts in Acts. Paul preached by a riverside (16:13), in prison (16:23), in a house (16:32), in many synagogues (for example see Acts 17:17), in all the coasts of Judea (Acts 26:20), on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:22), In the market (Acts 17:17), in a certain man’s house (Acts 18:7), over all the country (Acts 18:23), in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), in a Sacrament Meeting (Acts 20:7), from house to house (Acts 20:20), on the stairs (Acts 21:40), in the castle (Acts 23:1), in the Judgement Hall (Acts 23:35), on a ship (Acts 27:21-26), and in his own house in Rome (Acts 23:30-31).
Alma 26:29 tells us that the Lamanite missionaries taught in the houses, in the streets, on the hills, and in their temples and their synagogues. The opposite of this boldness is referred to by the Lord in D&C 60:2–“But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man.”
7. 2:4–We were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel. When was a greater trust than this ever given? Only one message exists in the universe that can bring the children of God back into his presence, and we all are custodians of that message. There are plenty of other voices about, with messages that will lead in other directions (1 Cor. 14:10), but ours is the only one that will allow the eternal reunion of the family of the Father. And he has entrusted us with that message. The very thought is enough to make the knees wobble and the joints turn to water. Imagine having such a trust and then, on judgement day, meeting those who would have received the message if we had had the willingness and courage to proclaim the gospel when we were with them. Imagine a baby-sitter losing one of the children charged to her care while the parents are away. How would She face the father and mother when they came home, knowing she had failed their trust?
8. 2:4–We speak; not as pleasing men, but God. 2 Tim. 4:3 speaks of a time when men will seek for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear, because they have “itching ears.
” This is a prophecy literally fulfilled in our day. People who want to sin can, with little or no effort, find someone who will say that what they want to do is not a sin at all. We have listened to the voices–the LOUD voices–crying for the right to be perverted, sinful, decadent, debased, degenerate. And all of this noise without a shred of embarrassment. Those who want to share the gospel do not tell people what they want to hear. They tell them what they need to hear. Of course, when they find someone for whom those two are the same, then they get to perform baptisms. The Savior exemplifies this quality continuously: notice his challenge to the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19, and his rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23. We sing of this attribute in a hymn: “I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord. . .”
9. 2:5–Neither at any time used we flattering words. This is related to the previous two attributes: speaking boldly, and speaking the words of the Lord.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth; and if a man shall come among you and say this, you will receive him and say that he is a prophet. (Hel. 13:27)
We are not permitted to use language that changes people’s actions without changing their hearts. Variations of the verb flatter are used fifty times in the scriptures. And in all three of those it carries the connotation, as it does in all the rest, of getting someone to do something they should not or do not want to do. 1 Thes. 2:11 tells us that Paul and Silas “exhorted and comforted and charged everyone” of their contacts according to their individual needs.
10. 2: 6–Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others. It is interesting to notice how many times the Savior deferred to his Father, refusing to seek glory for himself, even though he certainly knew that it would come anyway. Look at John 4:34 and Matthew 19:17 for two examples. Those who share the gospel must know that all they offer to the work is their time and their bodies and their minds: things they have covenanted to give anyway. The words are not theirs; the power is not theirs; the glory is not theirs; their talents are not theirs; the converting Spirit is not theirs. It is all a gift. Read Mosiah 2:21-24, which concludes with the question, “therefore of what have ye to boast.“ Benjamin tells us clearly that no matter how long and how much we work, we will still be “unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21).
11. 2:6–We might have been [but were not] burdensome. We had elders in our mission who spent hours every day with members, and who always managed to get invited to lunch. Now I know that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and that those who feed the elders will be blessed, but to contrive to take advantage of the generosity of the members of the church is a sin. Paul refused to be a burden to his investigators and his converts. Members should be expected to keep their covenants and to impart according to the gospel, but they should not be expected to bear missionary burdens.
12. 2:7–We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. “Every man [should lift the warning voice] to his neighbor,” the revelation says, “in meekness and mildness” (D&C 38:41). Sometimes those who share this message, because of their superior knowledge of the gospel, and because of the reverent awe in which they are held by the others, are inclined to be overbearing–to set themselves up as the light, the authority. The correct pattern for this gentleness may be the one demonstrated in John 8:11 when Christ spoke to woman taken in adultery: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin more.” The meaning of the word “nurse” in verse 1 Thess. 2:7 is “one who nurses a child,” In virtually every case, this would be the child’s mother. You can watch in your own neighborhoods the gentleness of a mother with a new baby. Her solicitude and awareness and gentleness are powerful testimonies of her love, as is the gentleness of a missionary for investigators and converts.
13. 2:8–So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear unto us. There are very few pains like the pain that comes when an investigator who has felt the Spirit and shown honest interest in the word suddenly becomes resistant or indifferent. I remember the family who turned us out after all the discussions, and after committing to baptism, while we were in their home filling out the baptismal papers. A strong man and a lovely wife, who knew the work was true and said so, but who were concerned with the response of their families, turned away at the last moment. My companion and I did not leave saying, “That’s a relief. It will free up some time on Sunday so we can get a nap.” We left sobbing, our hearts shattered into a million fragments of biting grief. We had given them more than the word. We had given them our souls. We loved them.
14. 2:9–For ye remember . . . our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Missionaries, recognizing the urgency of their message, and the amount of work yet to be done, work as hard as they can. In fact, they are commanded to do so.
Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day (D&C 4:2).
Joseph and Jacob understood this matter of not being chargeable, of standing blameless. Jacob said:
And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day (Jacob 1:19, emphasis added).
It pleases me that Joseph and Jacob took “upon [them} the responsibility” and answered “the sins of the people upon [their} own heads.” The sense of the words is that they chose to do it. It was not a condition of their service that was forced upon them.
15.2:10–Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.
What a lovely way to summarize this entire collection of attributes: we were holy and just and unblameable.I hope that when our years are done, we will be able to look at our image in the mirror and say the same words, or that our contacts and converts and leaders, when they speak of us, will bear witness of similar qualities in our own missionary service.
It is impossible to be unaware of what the Lord requires of full-time and member missionaries now. It is impossible to be unaware of the divinely delivered obligation to be more serious than most of us have been about our duty to share the messages of salvation with neighbors and friends. It is time now, in a way that it has been time before, open our mouths and bear testimony of what the Lord is doing for his children in these last days.
One week after his baptism, Brigham Young gave his first sermon. He declared, “I wanted to thunder and roar out the Gospel to the nations. It burned in my bones like fire pent up, so I [commeced] to preach . . . Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad in the world, what the Lord was soing in the latter days (JD 1:313).