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Persecution is running rampant. Apostasy of major leaders in the church is a huge problem. The church has an immense amount of debt, and the Saints are driven from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri.
These are the circumstances surrounding this week’s sections.
It is in these circumstances that Joseph receives Section 117. This section holds messages given directly to Newel K. Whitney, William Marks, and Oliver Granger. Newel K. Whitney and William Marks receive the same message; Oliver Granger receives a different one. However, despite the drastically different practical counsel these men receive, there is an overarching theme of the section that remains consistent.
Newel and William
Newel K. Whitney and William Marks remained in Kirtland after a majority of the Saints had left. Newel K. Whitney owned a store, ashery, and other businesses in Kirtland. There is less information available about William, but the message to both of them was clear.
Doctrine and Covenants 117:2-5
2 Let them awake, and arise, and come forth, and not tarry, for I, the Lord, command it.
3 Therefore, if they tarry it shall not be well with them.
4 Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me? saith the Lord.
5 Let the properties of Kirtland be turned out for debts, saith the Lord. Let them go, saith the Lord, and whatsoever remaineth, let it remain in your hands, saith the Lord.
So wake up, forget about your property, and join everyone else in Missouri. The Lord doesn’t want His people to feel attached to anything worldly. This is not meant to sound severe. We are allowed to have nice things and to find enjoyment in them, but if we allow worldly things to rise out of their proper circle, it shall not be well with us. I don’t believe the Lord was warning Newel and William that He would curse them if they stayed. I believe the Lord was warning them of natural consequences that He could see in the future should they continue on the path they had chosen. Perhaps He saw the mobs coming after them for not leaving Kirtland, or perhaps He simply saw what happens when you choose money over “weighty matters.”
And it’s it’s really easy to say that. It’s really easy to say that we should love the Lord more than we love money, but part of loving the Lord more than we love money is trusting the Lord more than we trust money. Think about the circumstances these men found themselves in. The church was in immense, overwhelming debt, and many Saints were poverty-stricken and homeless. Joseph helped start the Kirtland Safety Society which failed, and people lost a whole lot of money when it went down.
I’m not going to pretend I wouldn’t have tried to stay for a little while if I had been William or Newel. I would have planned on joining the Saints because I still believed in the church, but I would have wanted to wait if I was still making money. I would have wanted to try and squeeze out every last cent before I left. And there are times when that’s appropriate. There are many times when the Lord wants us to “stay” and take care of practical matters. However, because this section was a rebuke, I have a feeling that these men (just like the rest of us) were placing too much of their love and trust in money.
This is an extremely difficult balance to keep. Money is essential in today’s society. A grand majority of us need to make money, and so when does making money become a problem?
The Lord warns and teaches before He rebukes. It would be kind of silly to rebuke someone who hadn’t been told or taught. Because this was a rebuke, I have a feeling that the Lord had been trying to tell them it was time to leave Kirtland long before this revelation had been dictated.
So how do we know when we’ve taken money (or anything else) too far? We listen to promptings, the same kind of promptings that I assume Newel and William had felt.
We don’t get individual revelations from a prophet of God like a lot of these Saints did. However, we do have the Spirit. I can’t say for sure, but I believe Newel and William had gotten promptings they were putting off (just like we all do at times). We can’t afford to ignore those small tuggings from the Spirit, guiding us where we should go. There will be no letter from President Nelson, giving us a direct revelation from God and calling us out. We have to listen before the Spirit stops trying to tell us.
The Lord can help us know when we’ve taken money too far, and He can help us know about any specific circumstances in our lives. It was time for Newel and William to leave, and He told them. He also told Oliver the complete opposite.
Now Oliver received a very different job than Newel and William. Oliver Granger was asked to stay in Kirtland and sell as much of the Saints’ land and belongings as he could. It was a job he “failed” at. People around Kirtland weren’t dumb. They knew the Saints had fled, and they knew the second Oliver was gone, they could come in and take whatever they wanted. There was no reason to buy any of it.
Oliver was given a responsibility that was near impossible to do “well” by earthly standards. However, proper sacrifice always brings blessings even if you can’t see them directly.
This actually reminds me of an experience we had during COVID. I have a calling in primary, and I’ve had this calling throughout the pandemic. When we first started staying home from church, the primary president asked us to make videos to send out to the kids on Facebook and through email. These videos were small messages (usually only a couple minutes long) that were meant to help the kids. I’m going to be totally honest…I struggled with this at first. I loved doing church at home with my family. I loved planning my own lessons for my kids. I could have done home church for forever; it made me super happy.
I wondered why we should do the videos. The prophet had asked us to teach the gospel in our homes before the pandemic started. Why did we need to send something out every week? Why couldn’t we let the parents teach their own kids?
The Lord lovingly chastised me and reminded me that not all kids had enough support at home. Some of them were not receiving any gospel learning when church was not in session.
But this was not the end of my struggle. I was the one who posted the videos, and I was the one who saw that very few people (maybe two or three) would watch the videos. Some wouldn’t make it through the entire video despite how short they were. This is the point in the story where I found myself in similar shoes to Oliver Granger.
The primary presidency was given a responsibility to take care of these kids, and that responsibility was not rescinded with the start of the pandemic. We couldn’t go into their homes because of COVID, and sometimes even dropping things off was questionable. Reaching out virtually was really all we had, and it wasn’t working. So why was the Lord asking us to do it?
Upon asking this question, I received a message similar to what Oliver was told.
Doctrine and Covenants 117:13 Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.
His sacrifice shall be more sacred than his increase. The Lord opened my eyes and made me realize that the videos would bless the kids even if the kids didn’t watch them. The sacrifices made by the teachers to do the videos would call down blessings upon those they served even if it was indirect.
Oliver did not succeed in making money for the church by selling properties, but his sacrifice was set apart as sacred, and it blessed him as well as the church.
And I find it so interesting that the sacrifices that were asked of Oliver, Newel, and William were opposites. It was hard for Newel and William to leave, and it was hard for Oliver to stay.
But that’s exactly the point. We have to be ready to sacrifice everything to put the Lord first because He is the only one with the power to bring about our ultimate happiness. We all love different things, and so the Lord is going to ask us to sacrifice our love for that thing. We may not be called upon to leave our homes or to fulfill a responsibility away from our families, but the Lord expects the same result. He wants us to love Him more than we love anything else. He wants us to trust His wisdom more than we trust ourselves or anything else in the world.
And as we sacrifice (whether it’s time, money, effort, talents, relationships, anything), the Lord will hold those sacrifices sacred and call down blessings.
I’m grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior. I’m grateful for the blessings He rained down on us because of His sacrifice. I’m grateful that He calls for sacrifice so that I can learn what to expect from eternity. I’m grateful He asks me to sacrifice so that I can find real happiness in eternal things.