Contention is Not of Me

Stanley A. Peterson

 

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

October 14, 2003

 


My beloved young brothers and sisters, as I look out over this wonderful gathering of the youth of Zion and contemplate the many thousands who are gathered in other locations on campus, I am humbled and excited by your presence. Humbled by the awesome responsibility of sharing the things of my heart with you beloved sons and daughters of God and excited at the potential which exists in this great army of soldiers who are all enlisted in the cause of truth. You have the opportunity to be the leaven in the loaf, the messengers of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and living examples to the world, that you can be doers of the words of our Redeemer and not hearers only. I plead with you to never weary in well-doing and as the Savior said to his apostles at the Last Supper...

 

If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them (John 13:17).


I have pondered and prayed at length as to what I might teach you this day that could be helpful to you as a doer of something which is very important to the Lord. I have found something which the Lord spent a great deal of time and energy teaching and practicing, that I feel can help you to be successful, happy, and very useful in helping to build the Lord’s kingdom.


I am going to introduce the principle with a very old and somewhat light-hearted song I knew as a boy which most of you won’t know and I certainly won’t sing it to you, but the lyrics went something like this:

 

You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don’t mess with mister-in-between.


Now you may wonder about me when I use such a strange little ditty to introduce a very important gospel principle when I could have used a song like “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words To Each Other.” However, I thought, knowing college students as well as I do, the little ditty might stick with you a bit longer and serve as a reminder of what I am going to try and teach you. Now for the principle I want to teach. My concern is that in the world today I’m afraid too many people would change the lyrics of my little song to match the negative, cynical, contentious spirit that seems to occupy so much of our time. I think their lyrics would sound something like this; You’ gotta accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive, let go of the affirmative, and don’t mess with mister-in-between.


It seems that far too many people have become almost obsessed with fault finding, back biting, criticizing, contending one against another, and in general making sure that “an eye for an eye” is never replaced by the golden rule.


The media has become enamored with the idea of what they call “reality programming,” where they take selected groups of people and sequester them in some remote or inaccessible location and let them try to intellectually do each other in through deception, manipulation, contention, or any other contemptible means until there is only one person left standing to claim the large monetary prize.


News broadcasters, talk shows, newspapers and other periodicals seem to spend the majority of their time and space on the negative, the controversial, the contentious, and the sensational. When asked why they give so much attention to these types of stories they respond, “because that is what sells newspapers and TV time and is what the public wants.”


If we don’t think this nation is preoccupied with contention, check out how much we spend for legal fees each year.


When I was a small boy we owned a chicken farm. I remember my father would always council us to watch the chickens in the pens carefully because if we ever saw a chicken with a tiny spot of blood on it we had to catch it and put tar on the blood spot because if we didn’t, in a very short time, all of the other chickens would take the chicken with the small blood spot and pick it to death. I hope we can rise above the mentality of a chicken and when we see a weakness or flaw in our neighbor, we don’t, as a group, set about to destroy them.


Instead of picking on others like a chicken let’s follow the Saviors admonition and pick others up. In Doctrine and Covenants 81:5 the Savior declares

 

...succor the weak, lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.


The other day, I was reading President Hinckley's April 2003 Conference talk. He commented on this. He has such a wonderful way of explaining things. He said:

 

When we look for the worst in anyone we will find it. But if we will concentrate on the best, that element will grow until it sparkles...


Two thousand years ago the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of the world came to this earth with a message of peace, hope, love, forgiveness, and compassion. However, as with my little song, the message of the Savior seems to be changed to different lyrics by too many naysayers to war, despair, hate, revenge,and contention.


On both continents very early in His ministry, the Savior delivered what I call an inaugural address to make a declaration of where He stood on basic issues, some of which were replacing basic beliefs held onto tenaciously by the Jewish hierarchy as well as the people in general. In the Sermon on the Mount He repeatedly stated, “ye have heard that it was said by them of old,” and then would replace portions of the “Law of Moses” with a higher law.


To me there is no replacement of the Law of Moses so plain and probably so controversial as in Matthew 5:38-44. Would you turn to that scripture with me and let’s talk about it a little. Let’s start with verse 38 and read those seven verses.

 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

 

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

 

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have they cloke also.

 

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

 

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

 

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.


This was a hundred and eighty degree turn from what these people had been taught. I’m sure it would have been very difficult to completely change their philosophy of human relationships. However, I have had a personal witness that this doctrine works. Let me share it with you. Many years ago as I was starting my career as a school principal at the ripe old age of 27, the school superintendent took me to the elementary school where I was to be the principal and introduced me to my new faculty of 18 women teachers and 1 man teacher. I think the women teachers were shocked at my young age but at least in the meeting they were polite to me. However, the male teacher, Al, was not at all polite, he merely gave me a cold icy stare and refused to even shake my hand.


After we had left the meeting and had gotten into the superintendent’s car, I said to him, “What was Al’s problem?” He replied, “Al is old enough to be your father. He has been at this school over 20 years waiting for the previous principal to retire or die so he could get his job. Need I say more.” He continued, “Al doesn’t have a problem, you have a problem, it’s Al. Good luck.”


Time proved the superintendent correct. I did have a very difficult problem. Al obviously hated me. I had taken his job and it seemed that no matter what I did to be his friend, he threw up a road block to stop it. I really felt that someday we were going to have a major confrontation which I wanted to avoid if at all possible. I prayed that I might be wise and Christ-like in my dealings with Al. I knew all of the faculty knew I was a Latter Day Saint and a bishop and I didn’t want to do anything that would reflect negatively on the church and I sincerely wanted to be the kind of person the Savior would have me be. This problem with Al caused me to have nightmares. I remember one night I dreamed we were having a faculty meeting and Al and I got into a fight and were rolling around on the floor while the lady teachers all stood around screaming.


Fortunately that dream never came true but the confrontation did come. Toward the end of the school year it was time for teacher evaluation. It was my job as principal to evaluate each of the teachers. In each category I had to rate the teachers with one of three options. The highest option was “Above District Standards, middle option was “Meets District Standards” and the lowest category was Below District Standards. No one, of course, wanted to be evaluated “Below District Standards” but I had agonized over one category for Al. He was constantly in confrontations with all of the other teachers. He couldn’t get along with others and I’m sure that is one of the reasons why he was not made the principal.


The wording in the evaluation category I had struggled over said “Rate this individuals ability to relate well with fellow teachers.” To rate Al at any level but Below District Standards would have been a lie so I bit the bullet and rated him accordingly. When he came into my office and I handed him his evaluation sheet and he spotted the check mark in “Below District Standards” that lit the fuse and the explosion began.


He stood over me and began to shout obscenities. By the way, I need to tell you he had been a Navy Captain and his language reflected his acquaintance with obscene language.. He began by attacking the University I attended, BYU-Provo, my church, my family, my youthful age, my philosophy of teaching, etc. etc. etc. To be honest with you, I was amazed at how much he knew about me. For about 15 minutes he screamed every filthy, negative and cutting remark about everything he thought would be hurtful to me. I’m sure he had rehearsed in his mind that speech for months and had waited for the right time to launch it. Then he just stopped and the room was silent. For one thing, I think he was exhausted from screaming at the top of his voice for so long and for another thing, I think he now wanted me to give a response so he could give his rebuttal to whatever I might fire back at him.


I have to confess that there were many things that went through my mind that I would have liked to say in response, but none of them would have been appropriate in light of my knowledge of Matthew chapter 5:6 and 7. So for about two minutes I sat silently saying a mental prayer that I would be guided to give the appropriate response.


Finally I broke the long silence, and in a very quiet voice I said, “Al, “whatever I have done to you to make you hate me so badly, I apologize to you for offending you. I am very sorry. But I want you to know something, I love you as my brother and I would like to be your friend.” Then I said nothing more. The room was very quiet. I think Al was ready for almost any response I might have given except for “I’m sorry if I have offended you, I love you, and I want to be your friend.


We sat in silence for a few minutes and then Al did something I wasn’t prepared for. He began to cry. He finally gained his composure and said these few words. “No one has ever told me they loved me in my entire life. Not even my mother or father,” and with that he left the room.


In the months that followed Al and I became good friends and when I left that school to take another assignment, Al came up to me, put his arms around me and began to cry. Finally he said, “I don’t want you to leave, you are the best friend I have ever had.”


Let’s go back to Matthew. I had that sweet experience with Al because I was smart enough to follow the admonition of the Savior wherein he declares in Matthew 5:43-44:

 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

 

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;


Do we have the courage to follow the Savior’s admonition? It must be frustrating to the Savior that almost two thousand years after he delivered this masterful discourse replacing the law of Moses with a higher low of love, so many still practice the law of retribution, an eye for an eye.


I would like to make another observation about the Sermon on the Mount. He begins that talk by giving the people the beatitudes. One of them particularly has meaning in our discussion today in Matthew 5:9. The Savior declares,

 

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.


In that statement, it seems almost as if the Savior is saying, “I want the peacemakers to be in my family. I’ll claim them.” Now, I don’t want to be presumptuous and try to interpret what the Savior was thinking, but I can speak as a father of 6 children that it is a wonderful blessing to have peacemakers in the family unit. On the other hand, I can testify that it only takes one contentious person in an apartment of roommates, a family unit, a marriage, a ward, a community gathering, or any other place where a group of people are working closely together to accomplish a task or are just socially enjoying time together, to spoil the spirit of the occasion. With one contenious person, very quickly dissension and ill will can replace the spirit of joy, cooperation, and good will. When the spirit of contention enters a gathering it is amazing how quickly productivity and good will can stop and an uncomfortable feeling can permeate the entire gathering.


Have you ever wondered why that is so? The Savior explained the reason very clearly in 3 Nephi 11:29-30:

 

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

 

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.


He doesn’t leave any doubt in my mind where the source of contention comes from. Satan tries so hard to spoil the spirit of love, unity, cooperation, and forgiveness in marriages, homes, wards, and stakes, and in other places where we can lift one another up, support each other in our struggles, and foster a spirit of unity and peace. Let us recognize the source of contention and derision in our lives and as the Savior said, “such things should be done away.” Satan desires that all of us become miserable like unto himself. Everything he does is to create a spirit of hatred, contention, deception, defeat, misery, and despair. Recognize the source of such things whenever they appear in your life and seek to avoid them and replace them with the things of the spirit. Those things that come from the teachings and examples of the Savior.


In the Thirteenth Article of Faith the Prophet Joseph Smith stated,

 

...If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.


Everything the Savior taught and did in his ministry was virtuous, lovely, of good report and praisworthy. He dedicated his ministry to helping us find joy and peace and fulfillment. His concern for us to be kind, loving, forgiving and peacemakers did not seem to me to be a passing comment or an occasional act. It seems that it was a central concern in his teaching and in his actions. If you read the entire sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, his emphasis on our relationships with our fellow beings seems to be a major part of his focus.


When he appeared on this continent, after his crucifiction and resurrection, he was introduced to the people by His Father in 3 Nephi 11:7:

 

Behold My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name- hear ye Him.


The Savior then descended from heaven and declared himself. He showed them the prints of the nails in his hands and feet and allowed them to thrust their hands into his side. Next he acknowledged the Prophet Nephi and gave him, along with others, the power to baptize the people and told them the procedure they should follow in the baptismal ordinance.


The very next thing he did was to correct them about having disputations among themselves concerning their method of baptism and concerning contentions over points of his doctrine as there had previously been. Then comes his declaration in 3 Nephi 11:29 and 30 that I have previously referred to but it will be good for us to hear it again.

 

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

 

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.



I hope this important scripture will be indelibly placed in your mind and that you will remember it often.


In the next chapter he declares the place of the peacemakers as being called the children of God and then gives them His discourse similar to the Sermon On The Mount to the Nephites. Again as in the Holy Land, His teachings transcend the law of Moses with a higher law of love, forgiveness, peace, and good will toward all men.


Is our attitude and treatment toward our fellow beings an important priority to the Savior? Let’s look very briefly at a few events in the Savior’s life.


He began his ministry on both continents by declaring; turn the other cheek, if a man compels you to go a mile with him, go two. If someone sues you and takes your coat, give him your cloak also. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and despitefully use you(Matthew 5). He ends his ministry by washing his apostles feet then telling them to love one another as he has loved them, which will identify them to the world as his disciples (John 13:34-35).


He then retires to the Garden of Gethsemane where he offers His great intercessory prayer and in that prayer pleads with His Father that there may be unity and love among his disciples as He and His Father have been one and have love one for another (John 17:21-26).


Then as he was apprehended by the guards and one of the Savior’s followers smote off the ear of the servant of the high priest, the Savior healed the ear. (Luke 22:50-51) Then reproving his brethren and making an important point about all that was going to happen, he makes this statement:

 

Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26:53-5)


Then, alone, without armies or legions of angels to defend Him, He met his awful fate and was mocked, scourged, spit upon, tortured and hung on a cross to die, not for what He did but for all of mankind. Then He placed the final exclamation mark on all that he had said and exemplified throughout his ministry about avoiding contention, being more loving, patient and forgiving when as he hung on the cross in one of the cruelest possible displays of man’s inhumanity to man, this sinless, lamb of God, the Redeemer of all mankind declared

 

 

...Father forgive them for they know not what they do. And they parted his raimant, and cast

lots (Luke 23:34).


The soldiers gambled for the only worldly possession he had left, his robe.


It is my humble prayer that we will show our love and appreciated to the Prince of Peace for all that he has done for each of us individually by following his admonitions and example and doing away with contention, selfishness, intolerance, hatred, bitterness, and all other unChrist-like behavior toward our fellow beings.


We all know it is much easier to talk about these things than it is to live them. However, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little each day we can endeavor to be a little more like Him.


Maybe we ought to let a few songs go through our mind each day that would serve as reminders of how He wants us to live. For starters how about, “I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus”, or “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let It Begin With Me.”


I like to remind myself often of the little saying,

 

I am only one

But I am one.

I cannot do everything

But I can do something

And that which I can do

By the grace of God I shall do.


May God grant each of us the wisdom to remember who we are and who our examplar is and the courage to go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded us to do and did himself. Remember as he told his apostles,

 

If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them (John 13:17).


I had already written this talk before General Conference but I was extremely interested in President Hinckley’s final remarks at the closing session of the last session. In case you do remember them, let me remind you of what he said.

 

I pray that each of us will be a little more kind, a little more thoughtful, a little more courteous. I pray that we will keep our tongues in check and not let anger prompt words which we would later regret. I pray that we may have the strength and the will to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile in lifting up the feeble knees of those in distress (President Gordon B. Hinckley, October Conference 2003).


As I listened to the Prophet’s council, I thought to myself, it is nice to be in tune with the desires of the Prophet. It was also nice of him to make this statement so I could use it as the capstone for my talk. Now I hope all of us can have the courage to follow the council we have been given by our Prophet.


Of all these things I testify in the Holy name of our loving Savior even Jesus Christ, amen.