Just a quick post today, with a few thoughts I have been having lately (and some I have been stewing on for quite some time)
We talk a lot about commandments in the Church, and outside of the Church as well, I guess. There seem to be a lot of commandments and many people either find that very comforting, with exact instructions on how to live their lives and what they should be doing, or they find it very constrictive, with too many rules telling them what they have to do, not allowing them to do what they want to do. It seems one of the greatest sermons that can be given, then, is on commandments and why they exist, and why it is that God wants us to keep his commandments.
This has been talked about in numerous General Conference addresses, often with a metaphor or reference to commandments as protections against the evil that exists in the world. One of my favorite in recent memory was given by Elder Mervyn B. Arnold of the Seventy in October 2010, What Have You Done with My Name? He describes a time when he was tending after a herd of cows, but one of them broke through the fence and got into the wheat field, and gorged itself until it was bloated and ultimately died. Elder Arnold said,
I thought, ‘You stupid cow! That fence was there to protect you, yet you broke through it and you have eaten so much wheat that your life is in danger.’
As I thought about the role of the fence, I realized that it was a protection, just as the commandments and my parents’ rules were a protection. The commandments and rules were for my own good. I realized that obedience to the commandments could save me from physical and spiritual death. That enlightenment was a pivotal point in my life.”
It is true that many commandments serve as a protection. We are told “Thou shalt not …” in order that we might avoid behaviors or circumstances that will endanger us, either physically or spiritually. But, I think there is a higher reason behind the commandments of God.
When you really think about all of the commandments that have been given by God, through his holy prophets, I think that there is really only one commandment — given by Jesus Christ, himself, when he said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). All other commandments that have been given are given to help us keep that one great commandment.
Think about it — We have the ten commandments, which teach us how to respect our Father (Thou shalt have no other gods before me, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy), and how to interact with each other (Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet). These commandments teach us how to be a little more like our Father in heaven, how to be a little more perfect like he is.
Other commandments as well, teach us what we need to know and do, and help us become what we must become in order to be perfect and sit down with our Father in his kingdom. The law of tithing and the law of the fast, for example, teach us how to go without, how to sacrifice, how to realize what the most important thing in our lives is. By showing God that we are willing to go without our money, and without our food, we show ourselves that we place God above our own desires. We also recognize that all that we have came from him in the first place. This teaches us reliance on him at the same time it teaches us to rely more on the spirit than on the arm of flesh.
We are commanded to pray in order to develop a closer relationship with our Father, that we may come to know him better, that we may be like him. We are commanded to read and study the scriptures and the words of the prophets that we may come to know what God is telling us. We are commanded to care for our families and our friends and even to love our enemies. God is love and God is the father of us all, if we are to be perfect like him, then we need to develop the kind of love that he has for all men.
I am just beginning to consider all of the commandments that we have been given, but I believe that they all will help us draw closer to our Father in heaven and to become more perfect and more like he is. And when viewed in this light, commandments are not harsh or restrictive, but they are a blessing. If our goal really is to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect, then we have no better guidebook than the commandments that our loving Father in heaven has given us.