Timeless Counsel


President SamuelsonDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

January 29, 2008
Elder Cecil O. Samuelson
First Quorum of the Seventy,
President of Brigham Young University

Brothers and sisters, Aloha. It is always a privilege to be with you on this beautiful campus, one of the beautiful campuses of the Lord's great universities. We're especially delighted to be here with President and Sister Wheelwright, as President Wheelwright mentioned, our friends from our own undergraduate and missionary days. When their appointment to BYU-Hawaii was announced, we could not have been more delighted, not only for you, but also for us because the association between the leaders of Church Education System institutions is a close and a very special one.

We are also grateful that you students, staff and faculty are here at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and hope you understand that it is not a chance occurrence that you're here. When there are so many who would like to come and so few who actually can attend BYU-Hawaii, it is important to remember to express our gratitude for these special privileges.

In preparing for today, I have sought both to follow the instructions of your good president and the inspiration of Heaven. I invite your prayers in my behalf that I might accomplish what I should and also prayers in your behalf that you will find important answers or insights to your own questions, challenges and progress.

I have always enjoyed my various teaching opportunities but am constantly reminded in the face of my multiple deficiencies that in the last analysis, the really important teaching of significant things tends to be done by the Holy Ghost when we place ourselves in an appropriate environment and also in an appropriate frame of heart and mind to let it be so.

Like all of you, I mourn today for our beloved and so recently departed prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley. We will miss him, but we're all so very grateful for all that he has done for us and for so many around the world. I'm also grateful, as you are, for the sure promises of a glorious resurrection, not only for him, but for all of us and for all of Heavenly Father's children, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As we pray for the Hinckley Family and for the Church, let's also pray for President Thomas S. Monson and the other Brethren as they continue to move the Church forward, always remembering that this is Jesus Christ's Church and He is its leader. I bear testimony of our prophet, seers, and revelators, with great confidence and sure conviction that this work will continue to roll forth as has been prophesied.

In recent months, I have been frequently reminded of an experience that occurred when I was about the age of most of you. I was in the early days of my missionary service in Scotland with Elder Lloyd and some others, and a mission-wide meeting was called because President Henry D. Moyle of the First Presidency and the-then junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, were going to be visiting. My journal entry of that event was very sparse, and I confess that I probably missed much of what was taught and explained. I do remember, however, a couple of things that I will share as I attempt to say something of value to you today.

First, we all felt a clear manifestation of the Spirit in that meeting. I don't know that anyone saw angels or had dramatic manifestations of any sort. I do know that we felt something special in the meeting, a confirmation that what we were being taught was true and that the testimonies born by our leaders were authentic.

Elder Hinckley used as the text for his message the fourth chapter of the book of 1 Timothy. While I do not have a copy of his talk and I think he did not speak from more than a few notes, his message that day was and continues to be a blessing to me. Let me share with you some of the ideas and principles that I believe will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

First Timothy chapter 4 is a relatively short chapter of just sixteen verses. After being released from prison in Rome, the Apostle Paul visited Ephesus with his young associate in the ministry, Timothy. Because Paul was needed elsewhere, he left Timothy to deal with some of the challenges he found in the Church and its members there. Since Paul wasn't sure when he would be able to return to Ephesus, he wrote this letter or epistle to give counsel and encouragement to Timothy in the fulfillment of his duties (see Bible Dictionary, pg. 747).

We can all use counsel and encouragement in the fulfilling of our duties today, and it strikes me that Paul' s counsel to Timothy -timely in his day- is also remarkably current when applied to our own times and situations. I think it was Paul Harvey who once said, "In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these" (Peter' s Quotations, pg. 411). Thus, the understandable instruction of Nephi to "liken all scriptures" to ourselves (see 1 Nephi 19:23). Likewise, we can appreciate the wisdom of our current prophet-leaders as they teach, encourage and correct us.

I hope that you will read this entire fourth chapter of 1 Timothy carefully and perhaps even repeatedly in the hours and days ahead. I promise that if you do so, you will continually find insights and understanding that you did not appreciate on the first or second reading. As your life experiences increase, your appreciation and gratitude for the wisdom and the spirit of Paul' s counsel will be magnified.

In early chapters in this remarkable epistle, Paul cautioned Timothy to teach true doctrine only and to focus on Jesus' role as Savior, Mediator and Advocate for us with the Father. Likely because Timothy may have had a role in the selection and calling of some Church leaders, Paul outlined the qualifications for bishops and other priesthood offices and reasons for modesty in dress and appearance.

As he began the fourth chapter, he then made some prophetic statements about the apostasy and certain varieties of wickedness which would occur in later times as well as in our day. From our perspective, he really got it right in terms of the direction the majority of the people of the world have taken. Paul assured Timothy of the worth of every soul he would meet and the need for deep gratitude to God for that fact.

Of all the verses in this chapter which have become personal favorites and which I will share in our time together today, the last verse is both a summary of what Paul taught Timothy and also clear instruction for how all of us must think and behave.

"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16).

Timothy was a young leader in the Kingdom and you, by virtue of your admission to Brigham Young University-Hawaii, are also facing the same expectations both while you attend here and after you leave and return to your homes. We know the scriptures teach that "where much is given, much is required" (see Doctrine and Covenants 82:3, Luke 12:48), and by being admitted to BYU-Hawaii you have been given very, very much. Therefore, it is not only fair but also prudent for you to consider yourselves much like Timothy because of the counsel and opportunities you are being given by inspired leaders and teachers on this campus.

What does it mean to "take heed unto thyself"? Synonyms of the word "heed" are "notice" and "attention." In other words, we need to pay close attention to make sure that we are what we think we are and what we claim to be. Remember the sad description of Morianton, the Jaredite king, who did many good things for his people but came up short because of his own transgressions. Listen to this editorial comment by Moroni about King Morianton.

"And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Ether 10:11).

For most of us who would go out and change the world, we have a much bigger task to accomplish first and at home: we must become what it is we expect others to be. Without wishing to dwell on the negative or ugly, let me suggest there are more than a few-even in this wonderful, almost idyllic learning community-who are afflicted with the scourge of pornography. Like Morianton, we are grateful for the good they do for others, but mourn when we see those in our midst who do not do justice to themselves because of their transgressions, including moral lapses with pornography and other behavior that deprives them of the Holy Spirit.

We often talk, as we should, about getting enough rest and exercise, eating properly, driving with our seat belts on, wearing a helmet on bicycles and scooters, not swimming alone or from dangerous beaches and so forth. Likewise, we need to "take heed" with respect to our prayers, our scripture study, our service in the Church and certainly to our academic studies. You will be able to add to my already long list, but the key point is that we are strongly counseled to "take heed" of ourselves. This does not mean that we should become self-centered, because we should not. It does mean that we cannot have higher standards for others than we have for ourselves.

What does it mean to "take heed" unto the doctrine? Almost all here today know the basic doctrines of the Restored Church, of God the Father and of the Savior. While we can take appropriate comfort in what we know, we are also reminded by the scripture that "the devils [themselves] also believe" (James 1:19) and even on occasion testify of Jesus in His role as Savior and Redeemer (see Matthew 8:28-34).

Just as we are expected to take care of ourselves and use good judgment in our personal activities, so are we commanded to be sure that our behavior is consistent with the doctrine. During a recent commencement address at Duke University now several years old, newscaster Ted Koppel concluded his remarks by reminding the students that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he brought the Ten Commandments, not the "ten suggestions."

Thus, the implications for us are that we must not only know the truths of the Lord as taught by His servants, but we must live our lives in accordance with these truths. I hope that all of you know our wonderful hymn, "I am a Child of God" (Hymns, #301). While originally composed for Primary children, it applies equally well to children of three and ten as well as to adults of twenty and ninety. When Sister Naomi Randall first composed the text to this special and beloved hymn, President Spencer W. Kimball made a small but significant suggestion to Sister Randall.

Initially, as I understand the account, the final line of the chorus that followed each verse was written as, "Teach me all that I must know to live with Him someday." President Kimball' s inspired counsel was to change just one word so that we would all sing, as we do today, "Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday."

The prophet understood, as we must also, that there is a big difference between just knowing and in actually doing. When you applied to BYU-Hawaii, you were seriously considered and finally admitted with the understanding that you had already accomplished significant things that would qualify you to enter the university. While we often focus on the necessity of an adequate working knowledge of the English language, test scores and high school or equivalent grades, you also received an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Although your academic qualifications are evaluated much like they are at virtually any other university, your ecclesiastical endorsement is unique to the institutions of higher education sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It, together with the Honor Code, is much more than just a promise of what your behavior and conduct will be in the future, although it is certainly that. Your ecclesiastical endorsement on coming to BYU-Hawaii, and which is regularly renewed while you are here, might be called performance-based. That is, you are not evaluated on the basis of a willingness to attend Church meetings. You are assessed on whether or not you actually attend and participate. Your opinion is not sought, if you are a member of the sponsoring Church, as to whether or not you think tithing is a good idea, but rather on the evidence that you actually pay a full and honest tithe. Being morally clean is not just a good idea; it is an essential standard for anyone deserving a place on this campus. I could go on, but I think you get the idea of what the doctrine of the Church and the university is and what it means to "take heed" of it.

The concluding phrases of this verse of advice from Paul to Timothy are also rich in meaning and understanding. Let me quote verse sixteen once again:

"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (I Timothy 4:16).

A vital part of really taking heed is to continue or to persevere consistently in doing what you planned or set out to accomplish. The scriptures talk about the need for us to endure to the end. It is one thing to make New Year' s resolutions and keep them for a day or two. Some of us have already demonstrated that sticking with these resolutions until the end of January is not an easy thing to do.

Sister Samuelson and I like to watch basketball games. We haven' t seen the Seasiders play this season, much to our regret, but we do have a couple of favorite teams that have demonstrated good intent and spectacular success on occasion but also some disappointing losses because they lost concentration in the final stages of the game. In some respects, life is much like these games. Even the best of winning teams have occasional "turnovers" or mistakes, but they do not become the pattern or the norm. Successful teams learn from their mistakes, correct them and then do not repeat them.

Likewise, we all make mistakes in our lives or commit sins but we can repent and get back on the appropriate track. Thankfully, the Savior' s magnificent Atonement makes this possible when we are truly serious, consistent and committed to living as we should. Certainly, we need to be absolutely clear that His grace completely covers our shortcomings, but it is with the understanding that it is "after all we can do" ourselves (see 2 Nephi 25:23). I believe it is a serious mistake to expect the Lord to be more interested in solving our problems for us than we are in doing all we can to overcome them ourselves.

As we return to Paul' s advice to Timothy, think of the implication of the linkage he makes when he says, "For in so doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."

Of course he was making reference to Timothy' s ecclesiastical calling, but it seems to me that there are also likely greater truths, principles and applications that generalize into all facets of our lives.

As evidence for this assertion, let me turn to the teachings of King Benjamin in his great benedictory address to his people. In the three chapters of Mosiah (chapters two, three, and four) that comprise his magnificent message, a number of important points are made by this prophet-king with respect to taking heed both to the doctrine and to his people. I' ll leave it to you to read them and pull them out for your own benefit.

In a concluding verse of this remarkable sermon, we read Benjamin' s testimony of the Savior' s Atonement, our need to care for the poor and needy, and then this clearly significant relationship between these truths:

"And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you-that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God-I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants" (Mosiah 4:26).

It is not enough to be good ourselves, as essential as that is. We need to take care of others both "spiritually and temporally." I think that is also what Paul was teaching Timothy. We need each other, we are responsible for each other and our own success depends on helping others be successful. That is one of the reasons we gather together at this great university at tremendous expense to our families, the tithe payers of the Church, and hopefully ourselves.

Given the fact that the Internet is now available worldwide, some have asked the question, "Why don' t we, as a Church, stop committing such remarkable resources and spending so much of the sacred tithing funds bringing young people to the Church universities? " This question is particularly pertinent because so many of you come from such far places and, as you know, travel is becoming ever more expensive.

While we continue to work on ways to provide educational resources around the world to as many people as possible as close to home as possible, it is also clear to the Lord' s servants that there is important, perhaps vital, merit in bringing us together in communities of believing, faithful students, faculty and staff so that we might learn and teach together and address each other' s needs as we find them.

Are we, as students, too young to make a significant difference in all of this? Some, even some of you, might think this is so. Paul clearly answers that question, very clearly, in the same fourth chapter. Said he,

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

And not only does the Apostle Paul definitively explain that each of you can make such a significant difference, he clearly identifies how it can be done. I hope the words "be thou an example" will ring constantly in your ears as well as in your hearts and your heads.

Before we spend a few moments on some of the specifics Paul mentions, let me make another observation that I believe deserves consideration. When we talk of example, we almost always do so in the context of being positive examples. This is well and proper, but we must never discount the power in destructive ways that negative examples can also have.

Let me share just one brief account of an unintended and unfortunate example that had a significantly negative impact. Just a few years before President Wheelwright became president of the England London Mission, I had some responsibility for all of the missions in that part of the world. A serious concern was raised with me and I had to investigate the situation.

In a neighborhood in the central part of the city there was a little shop near one of the main train stations. Every day people would stop to make small purchases of various sorts and among the somewhat regular customers was a companionship of our missionaries who lived nearby and often bought a candy bar or other treat as they went back and forth in their missionary activities.

A young woman in her late teens who worked in the shop had been befriended by an exemplary older woman who was an active Latter-day Saint. Apparently this good sister let the young woman know that she was LDS, but did not try to push her with respect to our teachings. Nevertheless, the young clerk was impressed and became determined to find out something more about the Church and perhaps why this older woman had been so kind to her. One day while the missionaries were in the shop, this young woman realized that they were from the same church. Not wanting to ask what might be embarrassing questions in a store loaded with customers, she arranged to take a break from her duties and followed the elders out on to the street where she might speak with them in some privacy.

As the elders left the shop, she quickly took off her working smock and then ran from the store to catch up with the missionaries. They, of course, were oblivious to what was happening and made their way along the street. This is where the story becomes both more interesting and, frankly, disheartening.

Immediately in front of the missionaries was another young woman who was walking in the same direction as they were and was very provocatively and immodestly dressed. Of course the missionaries had no responsibility for that or control over their immediate environment, but they did have complete agency with respect to their response. As the young lady from the shop almost caught up with them to ask her questions about the Church, she overheard the elders commenting on the inappropriate woman in front of them in the most uncomplimentary and even vulgar terms with laughs of derision and conduct certainly inconsistent with servants of the Lord.

The young woman from the store immediately backed away in great disappointment and returned to her work without asking her questions. This experience was very troubling to her and when her older, LDS friend was again in the shop, she related the experience. This good sister then shared her concerns with her priesthood leaders and you now understand how it was that I got involved.

The details following this event are not germane to my point except to emphasize that these missionaries had no idea that they were being watched and were dismayed that they had been such an effective example of negative missionary work. I mention this account to you because, whether we like it or not, virtually all members of this campus community are well-known as representatives of Brigham Young University-Hawaii and its sponsoring Church all across this island and beyond. All of us need to understand that we are always "on stage," not just when we are trying to create a good impression.

Now in our concluding moments together today, let me return with you to those areas of example the Apostle Paul thought important enough to mention specifically in verse 12 of chapter four. His list may not be exhaustive but it is remarkably comprehensive with respect to the examples true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should set.

How are we examples in word? Do the things that we say and write reflect our discipleship? What do we say when we think we are in private settings? Do the stories and jokes we repeat reflect who we are and what we hope to represent? What about our text and e-mail messages? Do we build up others or tear them down? Do we contribute or only criticize? Our words are really quite dramatic and usually accurate examples of who and what we really are.

How are we examples in conversation? All that we think about with respect to examples in word can also apply to our conversations. Do our conversations, both in person and electronically, help others be better, or do they tend to degrade and pull down? Do our conversations characterize us as peacemakers or troublemakers? Would your conversations be different if you thought that they might be overhead generally or even recorded in heaven?

How are we examples in charity? Hopefully, we can think of many examples extending from everyday acts of common courtesy to sometimes heroic efforts that require significant sacrifice. Do we really contribute a generous fast offering even when we are woefully short of funds? Do we reflexively follow the Golden Rule or is that just a theoretical construct reserved for Sunday School discussions? Remember that Jesus said,

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love [or charity] one to another" (John 13:35).

How are we examples in spirit? I think all of us, particularly those who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, know how it feels when we have the Spirit with us and how empty we may feel we do not have it. It is interesting that many not only recognize when they have the Spirit with them, but also can recognize it in others. Think of how a testimony or a talk shared by someone speaking under inspiration affects you and then you will appreciate the importance of being an example in spirit.

How are we examples in faith? Many of you can answer that question in wonderful ways. Our associates in the Missionary Department of the Church report that it is most common for new members or converts to attribute examples of righteous faith on the part of older Church members as being key in their own conversion process. While we should avoid being sanctimonious or artificial, we also must avoid hiding our faith "under a bushel" because we know our faith is important to us personally and can have a powerful, positive influence on those who experience authentic faith on the part of another.

Lastly, how are we examples in purity? I would be surprised if anyone in this audience was not completely clear about what it means to be morally pure. Some may be more unsure about how far our purity should go. I worry that on occasion there may be more emphasis on specific clinical details of moral cleanliness than on the need to be absolutely pure in every attitude, thought and conduct. Some may believe it is all right to view pornography because they would not physically participate in the activities that they are seeing and thinking about. Unfortunately, this is one of the adversary' s great lies because once the armor of purity is even dented, let alone breached, then the next steps into transgression become so much easier and predictable.

As with all of Paul' s counsel to Timothy so many years ago, so would be my counsel to you today:

"Let no man despise thy youth: but be an example of the believers . . ."

"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:12, 16).

Not only do I agree with Paul' s counsel and testimony, but I add my own witness to you that what he taught and what we have discussed today is true. God our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ do live and direct this work, including the direction that comes to those who preside over this Church and lead the Board of Trustees of this remarkable university. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.