Teachings of Nephi
Elder Angel Abrea
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
May 25, 2004
Many attributes adorn the personality of Nephi, making him a very special human being - prophet, teacher, ruler, colonizer, builder, craftsman, writer, poet, military leader, son, husband, brother, and many other traits that made of him “highly favored of the Lord” (1Nephi 1:1). I have a great love for Nephi, and this afternoon I would like to talk about him and extract some of the lessons that I have learned reading of his many spiritual experiences and especially of his testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.
The words of President Marion G. Romney are a testimony of the exemplary life of Nephi:
I believe with all my heart…that if our young people come out of our homes thoroughly acquainted with the life of Nephi, imbued with the spirit of his courage and love of truth, they would choose the right when the choice is placed before them… (Conference Report, April 1980)
Nephi: A Man of Faith
Nephi was a man of faith, a faith that was fixed upon Jesus Christ. He was a vivid example of the equation of faith and power as is explained in Moroni 7:33: “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that equation in this way:
No man since the world was had faith without having something along with it…faith [or power] is found in all degrees and in all quantities. One man has faith [or power] to do one thing, and another has power [or faith] to do something greater (Bruce R. McConkie, Lord, Increase Our Faith, 55-56).
The power that we are talking about, together with Nephi’s fearless attitude resulting of his great faith, is very well exemplified in a statement that he made when he was commanded to build a ship:
If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.
Now, pay attention to the words that conclude Nephi’s reasoning of faith:
And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship? (1 Nephi 17:50-51)
Surely you remember when the Lord spoke to the young Nephi saying “…Blessed art thou Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou has sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart”(1 Nephi 2:19). The Lord will speak to us if we can exercise faith with a similarly “lowliness of heart” as Nephi did. As a result, we will have the strength to face the problems and tests that will meet us in life.
In the first verse that opens the Book of Mormon we read “…having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days…” (1 Nephi 1:1) I am sure that, especially for those people that don’t know or understand that, “ye receive no blessing until after the trial of your faith,” appears to be difficult to comprehend how a person can have “many afflictions” and still feel “highly favored of the Lord.”
When you think that some of the afflictions that Nephi had seen during the course of his days included being nearly murdered on five occasions, living for eight years in the desert, suffering the persecution and ridicule of his own brothers, having to build a ship being a man without any skill for the task, and then sail it to the Promise Land, you must come to the conclusion that Nephi had a great faith and testimony that molded an attitude of good cheer in life even in time of trials and difficulties of all kind. In his clear and direct manner Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
faith and sacrifice go hand in hand. Those who have faith sacrifice freely for the Lord’s work, and their acts of sacrifice increase their faith (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 189).
“The tests and trials of mortality are designed to determine whether men will use their time and talents in worldly or spiritual pursuits (188).
With the inspiring example of Nephi’s faith and the resulting feeling of the work obediently done come to our minds the words of Elder James E. Talmage:
A condition essential to the exercise of a living, growing, sustaining faith in deity is the consciousness on man’s part that he is at least endeavoring to live in accordance with the laws of God as he has learned them… He must feel that the trend of his life’s course is acceptable, that with due allowance for mortal weakness and human frailty he is in some measure approved by the Lord… (Elder James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, 102-103)
Isn’t it significant that the first words that Nephi wrote thirty years after he left Jerusalem, now in the land of Promise, were those that we find in 1 Nephi 1:1: “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,…” No doubt that those tender feelings that animated the words “goodly parents,” were the result of all the Nephi’s memories of a righteous and dedicated father and a prayerful mother touching the heart of a son that had understood and obeyed the words of the Bible, “…keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Proverbs 6:20).
Nephi knew that each of us owes a debt to our parents, a debt of gratitude, a debt of respect and honor. We owe to them a debt for a heritage of truth and dedication to a higher, better way of life, a treasure of faith and testimony. We owe to them a debt for lives that give us the opportunity to come to this world and have the great experience of this probationary state.
Like somebody said, “When you drink the water, don’t forget the spring from which it flows.” We need to remember that in order to express our gratitude to our parents, and at the same time truly enjoy the virtues and blessings and opportunities received from them, individually and personally, we must earn those attributes anew. The German philosopher Goethe said: “What from our heritage is lent, earn it anew to really possess it.”
It is a great challenge and a responsibility to become “goodly parents.” You, young people have in you now the seeds of the future. Under normal circumstances and expectations, there will one day be those who call you “father” or “mother” and who will be, in great manner, influenced by the kind of mother and father you are. With that vision and understanding in your minds and hearts you need to learn the importance of good heritage.
Some time ago in a Devotional similar to this I mentioned the following: “Why would God make us spend so many years of our life on the earth raising offspring, rearing our children, rearing his children? One answer might be that man’s growth includes learning to be part of a family-particularly learning to be a parent. God is not raising children; He is raising parents- parents who can someday fulfill the eternal role of parents as God fulfills his.”
In the General Conference of April 1913 Elder Heber J. Grant expressed,
It is indeed a wonderful and a splendid thing to be born of “goodly parents” and it is one of the saddest of all sad things where the son and daughters of “goodly parents” are recreant to the faith of their parents, when they are careless and indifferent, where they fail to honor their fathers and their mothers, and thereby fail to honor their God, where they follow after the things of this world, and allow the ideas of men to blind them (Elder Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1913).
“I will go and do…”
I believe that one of the most commonly used citations from the scriptures, especially among young people, is what Nephi said when his father Lehi asked him and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to the house of Laban and bring the brass plates back into the wilderness with them. Nephi answered:
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1Nephi 3:7).
While this is one of the most often quoted passages of the scriptures, we do not always grasp the full depth of the wisdom therein. If we read in the previous chapter (chapter 2), we find that Nephi relates the important act of making a valuable decision when he said,
And it came to pass that I Nephi,…having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers (1Nephi 2:16).
Nephi had great desires to know the mysteries of God himself, so he prayed and as a result of that action Nephi tells us “He… did soften my heart.” The words of president Brigham Young are applicable here: “Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking on the path that leads to everlasting life” (JD 9:150). The message that Nephi teaches us with these words is that the Spirit manifested unto him that which he wanted to know. It made him understand and see in depth. Alma once described this process as having the soul “illuminated by the light” (Alma 5:7). This spiritual manifestation that Nephi received is what caused him to believe what his father has said. And because of it, what happened next? The Lord then spoke to Nephi saying,“Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou has sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart” (1 Nephi 2:19).
Because of Nephi’s great faith and confidence, he was promised by the Lord that, if he would keep His commandments, he would prosper and be guided to the promised land, and there would become “a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren” (1 Nephi 2:22). Through his faithfulness and efforts, Nephi was blessed with these marvelous spiritual experiences, and at this point, as a result of his experiences, his knowledge and conviction had literally become a part of him. He internalized it. Therefore, we see from this that, when his father approached him, he did not say, “I will go and see what happens,” or “I will go and look over the situation and then decide what to do.” But rather, his words were, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know…” (1Nephi 3:7 emphasis added) Nephi, to his declaration concerning his decision of doing what his father has asked him to do, he added his testimony, saying, “I will go and do it because I know.” Showing the consistency of his acts and thinking, a similar response was given when he said,
If it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide the means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them (1 Nephi 17:3).
Correct decision in life based in correct principles lead to correct actions. And while we are commenting this subject, let me say, young people, that once certain decisions in life are made, it is not necessary to start over with the mental and spiritual processes each time the circumstances arise. This saves effort, time, and problems. This type of decision, once made, constitutes the foundation on which we continue to build throughout life. For example, when you make the decision to live a clean life, once you decide to be chaste, you act accordingly, and you always live a pure life. There are people that suffer of the “yes and no” attitude, that for example they have not decided whether or not they believe that the gospel is true, or whether or not they are going to attend sacrament meeting next Sunday. There are some people who have not decided whether or not they are going to pay tithing, or whether or not they are going on a mission, or whether or not they are going to get married in the House of the Lord. The changing circumstances of life are not important. Once the decision is made, on the basis of correct principles proceeding forth from an unchanging God, then that determines our course of action without the necessity of going through the entire process each time temptation, sin, or tests and difficulties appear. The conclusion is always the same, is the formula prescribed by Nephi: “I will go and do, for I know.”
Nephi – The leader
When we think of Nephi as a leader, come to our minds the words of Lehi talking to his sons: “Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 3:2). To go back to Jerusalem, a twelve to fifteen day one-way trip through hot, barren country was not an easy task that Lehi asked to his sons. To understand this challenge gives an added meaning to the words of Nephi “I will go and do…for I know.”At the same time those words mark and show one on the many differences of Nephi’s behavior from that of Laman and Lemuel. What is that makes him different? Nephi’s attitude is the determining factor in his behavior. While the attitude of Nephi was positive and decisive, well manifested in his words: “I will go and do . . .” his brothers represented the negative and indecisive attitude exemplified in the words of Lehi “behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them…
Elder Sterling W. Sill, is the author of the following comments about the importance of one’s attitude:
If we are going to call ourselves servants of the Master, we ought to act like servants of the Master. We should remember who we are, that we are the children of God. If we are ever going to be like God, why should we put off getting started to act that way? Certainly God is not weak nor poor nor sinful nor incapable. If we want to be like him, we had better get started…God is an all-knowing, all powerful, glorified personage. He is literally the father of our spirits, and according to the laws of heredity we may become like our Father. In possibility we are already like him. We posses every potential power. Therefore we should act the part. Why should we continually think of weakness and failure? We should stop apologizing, criticizing, procrastinating and offering excuses. We should stop forcing someone to remind us of our duty as though we were incompetents or cripples or children. We should cease our falseness and sins. If we keep acting like the devil, that is what we will become (Sterling W. Sill, Leadership, p 36).
The mentioned difference in their attitudes has been a constant in the life of Nephi and that of Laman and Lemuel.What was the reaction of Nephi’s brothers when Laman failed in the first intent to obtain the records? In the words of Nephi we have the answer, “…my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 3:14). Again a negative attitude. On the other hand what is that Nephi has to say? “As the Lord liveth and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the things which the Lord has commanded us. Wherefore let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord…” (1Nephi 3:14,15)
Now, after they failed the second time in the purpose of obtaining the records from Laban, Nephi wrote: “…Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel...Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod” (1 Nephi 3:28). Once more Laman and Lemuel’s behavior is consistent with their attitude. But in the course of the events an extraordinary experience took place. You know several times divine intervention became necessary to preserve Nephi from his brothers’ hatred, but even direct evidence of God’s power was not enough to change the hardness of their hearts. Imagine the marvelous spiritual experience of an angel of the Lord, speaking to them in these words-
…Why do you smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord has chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands (1 Nephi 3:29).
And then, again try to imagine after the departure of the divine messenger, Laman and Lemuel begin complaining another time and saying: “…How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? He is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” (1 Nephi 3:31) This is the typical reasoning and reaction of those people that are disobedient and weak in their faith. I can imagine that for them a logical reasoning maybe was, “if Laban can slay fifty why not fifty-four?” I think that I can answer that question with another one, “ but is it not the way of thinking of the unbelievers?” Maybe they were also asking themselves, “We have been in Jerusalem twice - why didn’t the angel come with this message and promise the first time?” I think that to answer that question we can go to Ether chapter 12 Verse 6 where Moroni says: “…faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because you see not, for you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” The following statements from President Brigham Young give even more light to the point: “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation” (JD, 8:150), and “Every vicissitude we pass through is necessary for experience and example, and for preparation to enjoy that reward which is for the faithful” (JD, 9:292).
We have analyzed the reaction of Laman and Lemuel to the assignment received; now let us consider Nephi’s position in response of the angel’s assignment. This is what he said to his brothers:
…Let us go up again unto Jerusalem; and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands. Therefore let us go up…” (1Nephi 4:1-2).
It is amazing how on those few words Nephi shows his attributes of a teacher and a leader and how at the same time they are a reflection of his faith, obedience testimony, decision and positive attitude. When Nephi expresses that the Lord “is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty,” that testimony, a result of his faith and obedience, is an inspiration for us, demonstrating that Nephi knew God. He knew that the Lord is omnipotent. He knew that the attributes of God are not only to recite them but also, and principally, to make them part of ourselves and then act in life in consequence. That is why his decision, the decision of a leader that is showing the way, was “let us go up; let us be strong,” the Lord is with us.
Another example that shows the knowledge, the testimony of God that Nephi had and how that testimony was the determining factor of his behavior is found in his experience after hearing from Lehi the vision of the tree of life. Please pay attention to the sequence of the different steps, that with the ability of a great teacher, Nephi explains:
…I, Nephi having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God – and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come – I, Nephi was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of this by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in times that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday to-day, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be, that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in the times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round (1 Nephi 10:17-19).
We can summarize the different steps mentioned by Nephi in the process to obtain the desired knowledge and testimony about the tree of life, as follows:
First, Nephi hears all the words of his father about the vision.
Second, Nephi knows that his father spoke by the power of the Holy Ghost, power that was received by faith on the Son of God.
Third, Nephi desires to have the same experience that his father had.
Fourth, Nephi knows that the Holy Ghost is a gift of God unto all of those who are faithful and this is the same process in all times.
Fifth, Nephi knows that God is the same in all times or unchangeable, that is one of the attributes of God.
Sixth, Nephi knows that because God is unchangeable or eternal, His commandments and promises don’t change, accordingly “the mysteries of God shall be unfolded to him” if like the scriptures say, he repents and comes unto Him.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in October of 1971, talking about the relationship about life eternal and knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” said:
It is one thing to know about God and another to know Him. We know about Him when we learn that He is a personal being in whose image man is created; when we learn that the Son is in the express image of his Father’s person, when we learn that both the Father and the Son possess certain specified attributes and powers. But we know them, in the sense of gaining eternal life, when we enjoy and experience the same things they do. To know God is to think what He thinks, to feel what He feels, to have the power that He possesses, to comprehend the truths He understands, and to do what He does. Those who know God become like Him, and have His kind of life, which is eternal life (Conference Report, Oct 1971).
Nephi: His Testimony of Jesus Christ
Nephi was one of the four major writers of the Book of Mormon who had the privilege to see the Savior. His testimony of this experience is recorded in the Book of Mormon. We already mentioned the instance when he prayed expressing his “great desires to know of the mysteries of God,” Nephi says, “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart…” (1 Nephi 2:16) In chapter 11 of 2 Nephi, in addition of giving testimony of seeing the Savior, in a messianic way Nephi introduces “some of the words of Isaiah” providing an important insight into the passages that he chooses to quote. In verses two, three and four we find:
And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word…Behold, my soul delighted in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ… (2 Nephi 11:2-4 emphasis added)
Elder Russell M. Nelson has written
Those personal encounters with the premortal Savior have given us the advantage of knowledge otherwise unattainable. Nephi taught that the Atonement makes available to all who have faith in Christ a liberation from sin and a spiritual redemption from the adversary. Hence, all men and women who follow the example of Christ and enter into His way through repentance and baptism will be blessed with a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost – which brings a remission of sin and individual guidance – so that they might endure to the end in faith and receive eternal life (Elder Russell M. Nelson, ‘Heroes from the Book of Mormon’ 13).
It certainly is a highly spiritual experience to go through the words of Nephi, and read the “things of his soul.” Nephi’s strong testimony and declaration made almost 600 years before the coming of the Savior is still the message that thousands of missionaries and members are taking to the world, because there are many that don’t know that “according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of the Lord, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (2 Nephi 25:19). For that reason, with Nephi,
...we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do...And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.…for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not (2 Nephi 25:23,26,28)
To conclude by way of testimony, we can use the words of Nephi when he speaks to us plainly, without metaphor or symbol, testifying boldly of Jesus Christ: “As the Lord liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ of which I have spoken whereby man can be saved” (2 Nephi 25:20).
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