What follows is a collection of my thoughts as I was preparing for to teach Sunday School today. Basically, I had the class break up into 6 different groups, and each group did one of the “mini-lessons” below, for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, we then switched groups. We did a total of thee lessons (so each class member had a chance to do three of the six lessons).

Joint heirs with Christ

Read Romans 8:14-18

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage?

Discuss the following questions:

  • What difference does it make in our lives to know that we can become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ”?
  • How do our present trials compare with blessings promised by God? 
  • What would we say to someone who asked us if it is worth it to be faithful to the Lord’s commandments?

Jeff’s thoughts: As Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are children of God, and that this parent-child relationship was established in the premortal realm long before we were born. We sometimes use Romans 8:14-18 as evidence of this parent-child relationship, but this might be an act of eisegesis, which refers to “the process of interpreting text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions,” or in other words, reading into the text what we already believe. Other translations make clear that, in this particular context, Paul is teaching we become children of God by being led by His Spirit. (See, for example, Dr. Thomas A. Wayment’s new translation of the New Testament, co-published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book.) 

In Hebrew thought — the primary worldview that informs the Old and New Testament — being a child is not some inherent, unchanging status; it’s a verb, and it describes something we do. We become children of our parents by drawing strength from them, by being led by them, by bringing honor to them.

Consider, for example, what King Benjamin taught: “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). As we take strength from Christ, take upon ourselves His name, are led by Him, are changed by him, bring honor to Him, we become His children. King Benjamin was not introducing some radical, new concept — he was simply reiterating how ancient Hebrews understood what it means to be children

King Benjamin articulates this idea just moments before: “For the natural man is an enemy to God .. unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit … and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, 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). These were not just characteristics that children happen to have; they are, in his worldview, what it means to be someone’s child. Again, compare this to Paul: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God” (Romans 8:14, Wayment translation). 

Paul is teaching that our allegiance to God is not merely like that of a slave to his master. It’s a relationship in which we draw strength from God, and are led by Him, like a child draws strength from and is led by His parents — and this is what makes us children of God. As Latter-day Saints, we can think of it this way: by making and keeping covenants with God, we can take up our role as the children of God (as something we do, rather than something we merely are).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Read Romans 8:18, 28, 31–39

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage?

Share experiences you have had in which you have found God in the midst of a trial in your life, or in which the love of Christ has helped you through a difficult time.

Jeff’s thoughts: I am firmly of the belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not insulate us from trials and hardships. It’s not meant to. Because both holy scriptures and modern prophets teach that joy are the object of our existence, many Latter-day Saints inadvertently assume that (1) joy and happiness are defined by positive emotions and that (2) the pursuit of these positive emotions is our purpose in life. 

My opinion is that the joy spoken of in scriptures is not the same thing as “positive emotions all the time.” I believe that the “happiness” spoken of in scriptures is a closer cousin to the word holiness. The purpose of the Gospel is not to make us happy (as the world defines it, e.g., positive emotions), but to make us holy. And this holiness is what divine Joy looks like. 

We believe that God Himself is living in a kingdom of transcendent glory, and lives a life of abiding joy — and yet Enoch records that he saw God weeping. From this, we learn that in the joyful eternities of the next life, we will find plenty of occasion for heartache and sorrow. Perhaps even more so than now, for our love will then be perfect. And the greater our capacity for love, the greater our capacity for pain and heartache on behalf of those we love.

The scriptures teach that as we walk with Christ, as we take upon ourselves His name, we may find ourselves sharing in His sufferings. Paul teaches over and over, here and elsewhere, that we will be persecuted for Christ’s sake, that our lives might actually be harder in some ways for having joined this community of Saints. And as we grow in our faith, we “level up,” and will often find ourselves facing steeper trails and fiercer spiritual enemies. 

But all these tribulations do not separate us from God — they bring us closer to Him. They are, in fact, what make us more like Him. God does not live a life of ease. The burdens He carries in His heart are heavier than anything we could possibly bear. But as we become more like Him, He begins to share some of those with us. He shows us how to love as He loves, and in so doing He shows us how to sorrow and suffer as He sorrows and suffers.

In short, our trials do not separate us from the love of God. Rather, they are often an introduction to the love of God. And it’s His love that carries us through these trials and tribulations. The way I see it, misery is pain that is embittered with resentment and fueled by selfishness. Suffering is pain that is sweetened with forgiveness and empowered by love. In this world (and in the next) there will be pain and hardship. But the Love of God can transform that pain from misery to suffering, by making us whole in our hearts and holy in our souls.

Spiritual stumbling blocks

Read Romans 14

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage

Paul urges people to provide space for those who are more scrupulous or meticulous in their Gospel living than we are (and vice versa). What are some modern examples where this is relevant today?

Jeff’s thoughts: Some context on this chapter — some of the Roman Saints disputed with each other about different eating habits, holiday observances, and other cultural practices. Clearly, these issues were not something the Church at the time had strict positions on, and while Paul himself had his own opinions, he was careful not to resolve these disputes. Instead, he instructed them to avoid contention and not be stumbling blocks to each other.

In the modern Church, we have a host of similar “lower” controversies. (I use “lower” controversy to refer to disagreements that are not matters of essential or core doctrine.) For example:

  • Is it OK to drink caffeine or use energy drinks (is that violating the spirit of the Word of Wisdom)? 
  • Is it OK to use Vidangel to watch edited R-rated movies (does this put money in the hands of unscrupulous moviemakers)? 
  • Should we be using preferred gender pronouns (does this violate our belief in gender essentialism)? 
  • Is it OK to attend a same-sex wedding ceremony (does this signal support for a sinful lifestyle)?

My suspicion is that Church leaders are not ever going to resolve these disputes for us. Nor do they intend to. They strive to follow Joseph Smith’s example, who said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” It’s not the job of apostles and prophets to resolve every controversy or mediate every dispute. This does not mean that there’s no right or wrong answers to these questions — rather, it means that we may not have any authoritative answers from Church leaders.

And in the absence of such authoritative answers, we should follow our conscience, and allow others to do the same. And if these “lower controversies” are causing needless contention, or causing people to harden their hearts against each other or the Church, we should soften our hearts towards those who disagree. As Paul says, “Let us pursue the things that bring peace and the things that build one another up. Do not destroy the work of God for the issue of food,” or caffeine, edited movies, gender pronouns, or <insert any “lower” controversy here>.

Even if we think there is no harm in using caffeine, there is harm for someone to drink caffeine who feels wrong about it. We should not push people to violate their sacred conscience, even on matters we find trivial — nor should we judge them for being more scrupulous than we are. And the converse is also true: unless something is a matter of core teaching or doctrine, we should be generous towards those who take a slightly different approach than we do, who aren’t quite as scrupulous as we are on matters of less importance.

Seeking the wisdom of God

Read 1 Corinthians 1:17–31 and 1 Corinthians 3:18–20

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage?

Discuss the following questions:

  • What do these verses teach us about being wise in the Lord’s work?
  • What are things about the gospel that might seem foolish to some people? How do these things demonstrate the wisdom of God?
  • Do you have experiences in which you trusted in God’s wisdom, rather than your own, to accomplish His work? Share those experiences with your classmates. 

Jeff’s thoughts: The first lesson here is that we should not hesitate to step into the work to which we’ve been called, even if we feel inadequate or unprepared. God calls the “weak and simple” things of the world — that is, you and me — to do a marvelous work, so “that no human can boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:29, Wayment translation). We aren’t called because we are skilled, clever, or even competent. We are called so that God can show forth His power through us.

Our work in the church — our purpose in everything we do — is to reveal God’s hand to those we serve. In many cases, we are God’s hands, working miracles in the lives we serve. So when you have been given a spiritual stewardship, do not let your inadequacies hold you back from giving your calling your heart, soul, and mind. Our primary goal should be to point people to Christ. But to serve this purpose, we cannot rely solely on our own learning and wisdom. 

The second lesson is that the wisdom of man is often foolishness to God. In today’s world, the wisdom of man has embraced a philosophical worldview that many call expressive individualism, which offers us narratives of liberation, where we learn to be true to ourselves by relinquishing the chains of tradition and superstition through self-affirmation and self-actualization. In contrast, the wisdom of God offers us narratives of redemption, where we recognize our fallenness before God, and become new creatures through discipleship and the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The wisdom of man has embraced an understanding of love where we adopt a stance of affirmation, or at the very least indifference, towards actions of those we love, where we give up entirely the notion that their choices might put them in spiritual peril. In contrast, the wisdom of God shows us a world where an all-loving God grieves when His children alienate themselves from Him, and where loving parents wet their pillows with tears for their wayward children.

The wisdom of man teaches that gender is an arbitrary social construct. The wisdom of God, revealed through prophets, teaches that gender is an essential part of our eternal identity as His sons and daughters. The wisdom of man teaches that violence and explicit imagery in our media have no effect on our souls; the wisdom of God teaches us to be cautious about the kinds of entertainment we indulge in. 

Jacob teaches us in the Book of Mormon, “Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. … And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God, [and] seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand” (Jacob 4:8-10). This means that we should not transplant our own judgment for God’s judgment.

Unity within our families and communities

Read 1 Corinthians 1:10–17 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-10.

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage?

What does it mean to be united as a Church and as a ward? What are ways in which we become divided? What blessings come to those who are united?

Jeff’s thoughts: God does not expect us to all agree with each other. He does not expect every Latter-day Saint to view the world in exactly the same way, or to have the same ideological priorities or predispositions. The Restored Gospel has room to spare for Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, conservatives, liberals, and yes, even climate change skeptics and flat earthers. Some members will believe in evolution, and some will embrace young earth creationism. Some members of our ward will be against raising city taxes, and others will be in favor of it. The examples are endless.

Even in matters of Church doctrine, I’m not sure that God expects slavish orthodoxy, in the sense that everyone believes the doctrines of the Church in exactly the same way. Some may believe that there is no such thing as progression between kingdoms of glory, while others may hold out hope for such progression. Different members may have radically different ideas about why the Atonement of Christ was necessary and how it saves us. 

There are a number of core doctrines that we can and should be united on — and these include (among others) the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, the reality of sin, Christ’s death and resurrection, the Restoration of the priesthood, the central importance of marriage, etc. But what ultimately unifies us and makes us one is not that we all think exactly alike, because we don’t, and probably never will. I don’t think that’s God’s vision for us. What unifies us and makes us one is the covenants we have made with God, and our striving to keep those covenants in our day to day lives.

Those who wrote the Old and New Testaments largely embraced a Hebrew view of the world that valued orthopraxy (right conduct) over orthodoxy (right belief). As William Barrett explains: “The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek.” This does not mean Israelites did not care about doctrine at all—rather, Hebrew thinking simply prioritized action over belief. What makes us God’s people is that we act like God’s people, that we live like God’s people, not merely that we believe in some abstract set of doctrines.

In other words, it’s far less important that we all strive to think alike than it is that we all strive to keep the commitments we have to God, commitments that include bearing one another’s burdens, mourning with those that mourn, studying God’s word, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, serving in the temple, living the law of chastity, helping establish norms of righteousness, reverence, and devotion in our families and communities. These are what will unite us as a community of believers and the body of Christ.

Our bodies are sacred

Read 1 Corinthians 6:9–20

What are your first impressions and thoughts as you read this passage?

Discuss the following questions:

  • How does God view our bodies? How is this different from how Satan wants us to think of our bodies? 
  • What does it mean that our bodies are temples? What can we do to treat our bodies as sacred?
  • What do we learn from Paul that can help us explain to others why chastity is so important?

The Come Follow Me manual states, “Your discussion about the sanctity of our bodies could include a conversation about the law of chastity.” Church. The Law of Chastity forbids sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman. But the way I understand it, chastity is more than that — chastity is a way of seeing other people. (FYI, what’s below is written from a male perspective only.)

We can see people as objects, or as people. We can see other people as objects in three different ways: they can be a means to an end, an obstacle in our way, or irrelevant to our interests. When we see others as people, we see their needs, hopes, cares, and fears just as real and legitimate as our own. 

The unchaste man sees women as mere objects, as a means to an end (such his personal pleasure, satisfaction, or fantasy). For such a person, the law of chastity is like a fence that cages him; or he might see it as a set of hoops to jump through before securing his ultimate goal (follow the rules, win the prize). We have all known people who make an affectation of gentleman-ness in order to gratify himself. This means that a man can be unchaste even within marriage, if he sees his wife as a means to an end (for example, if he lives and serves not for her sake but to secure his own gratification). 

In contrast, chastity involves seeing people around us as more than mere objects, as more than a mere means to an end. Chastity involves seeing others as fully formed human persons, and serving them for their sake and not our own. It involves seeing our spouses as partners in a grand, eternal project that extends beyond our own parochial, selfish interests or gratifications. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

May I stress that human intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union, a totality and a union ordained and defined by God. … But such a total union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with solemn promises and the pledge of all they possess—their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams.

That is the problem with pornography: it invites us into a world where women are merely objects of sexual pleasure (or fantasy). Pornography never shows us women as fully-formed human persons with needs, hopes, and cares that warrant our consideration, and which have nothing to do with our sexual satisfaction. In fact, it shows us the opposite: a world populated only by women with needs, hopes, and fears that center on nothing else but our satisfaction. There is no way to quarantine the effects of that — it inevitably seeps into the way we see women generally. It corrupts our thinking and our relationships. Part of keeping our bodies sacred involves ensuring that we avoid all such influences.