The Great Measure of Discipleship
Kenneth L. Southwick
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
May 29, 2007
Good afternoon. It is wonderful to be here with you today. You are an amazing sight. I am grateful for the invitation from President Clark. I appreciate having Elder Hammond and Sister Hammond here. In my job in church education, I have had the chance to interact a little bit with Elder Hammond. He has taught me a great deal and is a blessing in my life.
I am so very thankful to be here with Andrea, my wife; and our oldest child Zachary. He is a junior in high school down in Pocatello. He was glad to skip school and join us today. When you look at Andrea and you look at me, you may have the same feeling a lot of people have when they see us together. They wonder, “How did a guy who looks like that get a woman who looks like that?” Brethren I will tell you if you are ready, you ought to write this down: I am very, very wealthy.
Imagine yourself in the post-mortal realm, and the announcement is made that it is time to give a report on the great measure of your discipleship. I know on this campus under President Clark’s direction you have talked a great deal about discipleship. The question might occur to you, “Well, what is the great measure of my discipleship?” If you are taking notes, will you write this sentence: “The great measure of my discipleship is…” Then take twenty seconds to consider how you would fill in that blank.
I think there are a lot of answers, correct answers, possible for that question. You may have written something like, “living by the Spirit, obedience to the commandments, keeping covenants.” I believe all of those are correct. They are truly great measures of our discipleship. For our purposes today, I would like to suggest the following: the great measure of our discipleship is how we view others.
That may come as a bit of a surprise; I would guess that few, if any of you, chose that phrase. Some of you might very well have chosen the phrase, “The great measure of our discipleship is how we treat others.” I would agree with that; That also is a correct answer. What I would invite you to think about today is how we treat others is determined by how we view others. We need to pay particular attention to how we view others.
Let me say it this precisely, our judgments about, our conclusions concerning, and our actions toward others all grow out of how we view them. If this is the case, then the question becomes, “do we see others as a spirit son or daughter of God, as a person, as a human being, as a soul of infinite worth?” Or do we see them as something less? Or do we fail to see them at all?
Some bad things come of our failure to see others for who they really are. Some of the world’s greatest evils can be traced to this failure. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, misogyny, and a whole list of other ills all flow from it. But of course none of us are guilty of those kinds of things, and we are not here today to talk about them.
What I will propose is that (1) the failure to see others properly is widespread. You and I do it all the time. (2) Most of us are not even aware that we do it. And (3) finally, and most importantly, failing to see others for what they truly are makes us less like the Savior.
How does that work? When we see others in the proper way, we cannot help but love and lift them, just as the Savior would. When we fail to see them in the proper way, we almost always devalue and dismiss them, like Christ never would.
Now what do I mean when I say, “We see others as something less then what they are?” I will give you five examples and try to explain myself. This is not an exhaustive list of course. I have to warn you some of these may be a little bit painful because they might hit just a little bit too close to home. You are going to think that I sound like an expert. Sadly that is because I am an expert.
Now for each of these I am going to hold up an object. I do that on purpose because when we see others as less than who they really are we see them as objects.
The first object is a check list—one that you can put on your refrigerator with magnets or that sits on the corner of your desk. Sometimes, instead of seeing another as a person to be served, we see them as a task to be accomplished. That is very easy to do in the work place, and unfortunately I think that it happens often in our church callings. Have you ever approached home teaching, or visiting teaching, or member missionary work, or some other aspect of your church calling in that way?
You may remember this story from Elder Dallin H. Oaks. He shared this in the October 2001 General Conference:
“I was assigned to visit a less-active member. A successful professional many years older than I. Looking back on my actions, I realize that I had very little loving concern for the man I visited. I acted out of duty with the desire to report 100 percent on my home teaching. One evening, close to the end of the month, I phoned to ask if my companion and I could come right over and visit him. His chastening reply taught me an unforgettable lesson, ‘No I don’t believe I want you to come over this evening,’ he said, ‘I’m tired, I’ve already dressed for bed, I am reading, and I am just not willing to be interrupted so that you can report 100 percent on your home teaching this month.’ That reply still stings because I know he had sensed my selfish motivation.”
Have you ever viewed someone as a task to be accomplished? Have you ever felt like someone was viewing you in that way?
The next object is a bunch of grapes. Sometimes we see others not as an individual, but only as a member of some group. We are unable to distinguish them as an individual person. This is very easy to do when someone has a different skin color than we do, and we succumb to racial stereotypes and prejudices. This also happens frequently when that other person subscribes to a different ideology or worldview than we do. We cannot separate them from the group they belong to, or the ideas they subscribe to.
The third object is a can of mosquito spray. Sometimes we see others not as a person but as a pest or a nuisance, an annoyance to be dealt with, postponed, simply endured, or avoided altogether. Now you are probably thinking to yourself, “Brother Southwick I don’t ever do that.” Have you ever looked at the caller ID and saw who was calling and thought, “Oh I don’t want to talk to them right now.” Have you ever been walking on campus by yourself or with friends and changed your route because you saw someone up ahead that you did not want to talk to? I told you some of these were painful. That is viewing someone like a pest or a nuisance.
The next one is a TV remote. I had a hard time coming up with the label for this particular category. But I will tell you the experience that caused me to think of this. Not too long ago, I had come home from work after a rather strenuous day. I had taken my shoes off and loosened my tie and was lying on my bed watching the evening news. My ten-year-old son came into the bedroom with his basketball under his arm and said, “Hey, Dad, you want to shoot some hoops?” I am ashamed to say that sometimes—and I was guilty of it on this occasion—we view others as an interruption. So I paused the news I was watching long enough to go out and play basketball with my son.
This last one really hurts. The last object is a mirror. Sometimes we see others as a mirror. When we do this, what we are most interested in is what is reflected back about us. We treat that person a certain way not because they deserve to be treated that way, but because we want to be known as a person who treats people that way. We are more interested in the other person’s opinion of us than we are the other person. Now this one is particularly hazardous because generally we are doing well, our conduct toward them is right and proper, but our motives are all wrong. In addition, there can become a certain hollowness about our actions that often times can be sensed by that other person.
Well there are five possibilities. I wish we were in a classroom and there were only twenty or thirty of you. I would now ask you to share some other ways that we have of viewing others, and we would come up with some objects together. This list, even a partial list, is kind of disheartening. But at the same time, it presents us with an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow, and to become more like the Savior.
It also helps in keeping the commandments. I am going to read to you a list of commandments that deal with interpersonal relationships. Don’t bother looking these up. I will give you the reference, and you look them up and ponder them later. Listen to these commandments and imagine how your ability to live these commandments would be impacted if you consistently sought to view others in the appropriate way.
The first is John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
JST Matthew 7:2: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged. But judge righteous judgment.
3 Nephi 12:44: “But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Doctrine and Covenants 64:10, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
Doctrine and Covenants 63:16: “And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.”
Doctrine and Covenants 20:54: “And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.”
And finally, Mosiah 4:16, “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.”
Again brothers and sisters, ponder how our ability to keep those commandments at the level the Savior desires us to keep them would be enhanced if we seek always to view others in the right way.
Once we have identified this particular flaw, this failure to see others appropriately all the time, what do we do? How do we change? Well I wish I knew the answer to that. I am a much greater expert on the behaviors themselves than on how to correct the behaviors. But here are some ideas.
One, just simply being aware that we do it helps a lot. Any physician will tell you that the first step in treatment is a correct diagnosis of the illness.
A second thing is to pay attention to when we are most likely to see others for less than what they are. For me, I have identified three times when I do it the most: One is when I am in a real hurry and I am pushing against some deadline or another. Another is when I am frustrated or angry. And a third is when I am distracted or when I have something on my mind.
The third thing we can do to take corrective action is to adapt the counsel found in Moroni 7:45 “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” that He will help us see others as we should.
The final thing I think we can do once we have seen this in ourselves and are attempting to change is to study closely the mortal ministry of the Savior. I have been very impressed this year in Sunday School to re-read and study the Savior’s life. It has been amazing to me to see how He never does this and how the people around him, even His disciples did on occasion, fail to see others as they should. Let’s dig into the scriptures together and look at a few of these examples.
Go first with me to Mark chapter 10. We will look at a couple of verses that were not on your list. Mark chapter 10 in verse 13:
“And they brought young children to him, that he should touch (or bless them): and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.”
Now why would a disciple of Christ rebuke someone who is bringing a child to be blessed by the Savior? Could it be that they viewed this child as an interruption, or his parents as a nuisance or a bother? Now note the reaction of the Savior:
“But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
There is a very small example of where the Savior saw people differently than his disciples did. And because he saw them differently, His response and His reaction to them was different.
Now go with me to John chapter 4. I believe this one was on your list: a famous and wonderful story in the New Testament about the woman at the well. Jesus is traveling from Judea to Galilee, and He is passing through Samaria, which, if I understand it correctly, He did not have to do; there were other routes. So He’s there on purpose. Now picking up the story in verse 6:
“Now Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.”
And then this very curious statement in parenthesis in verse 8:
“For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.”
Why is that statement there?
Well we get a clue if we go to the end of the story at verse 27. When the disciples are coming back, Jesus is talking with this woman and has been for several minutes now.
“And upon this came His disciples, and marveled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?”
Here again his disciples would not have talked to her. In fact they probably would have run interference, so to speak, so that He did not have to talk to her. It is quite possible that Jesus sends His disciples ahead into the city to buy meat in order to create an opportunity to speak with the woman without them around. Now go back to verse 9:
“Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?”
Isn’t it amazing? This woman has started to see herself not as a woman, not as an individual with great worth, not as a daughter of God, but as a Samaritan. That is one of the hazards that comes when we fail to see others properly. Sometimes they even start to buy into it. She herself sees herself as a Samaritan. Well then begins this exchange. You have seen this before I am sure. But what is also interesting about this passage is the way she sees the Savior changes because of the way He speaks to her and treats her. Notice in verse 11 she addresses Him as, “sir.” Then again in verse 15 the same thing. Then again in verse 19, same thing “sir,” but notice, “I perceive that thou art a prophet.” Then finally, after she has left Him to go back to the city and He has identified Himself to her in verse 29, she sees Him as the Christ.
There are lots of very subtle but powerful lessons in this story. One in the context of what we are talking about is this: when you see others properly (as Jesus saw the woman at the well) and you treat them accordingly, how they feel about you and about the Savior will change, because you are, after all, His disciple.
Turn with me now to Luke chapter 7, another great story, starting in verse 36. This time the Savior has been invited to dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house. They come in, they sit down and the meal commences. You know this well also. Pick up the story with me in verse 37. Luke 7 verse 37:
And, behold, a woman in the city, [now notice this, even the gospel writer sees her in a certain way] a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him.
Now notice again the label. Simon does not see her as a woman, as a person, as a human being, as a daughter of God, as a soul of infinite worth. “For she is a sinner.”
It seems that everyone that knew her saw her in that way. Jesus then goes on to give the wonderful parable about the two debtors and who would love more. Turn with me to the tail end of the story. In verse 44 He begins to talk to Simon about the woman and builds her up. Then He says in verse 47, and this phrase is key in my mind: “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” Now, brothers and sisters, Christ acknowledges that this woman has committed many sins. But here is the powerful thing about this exchange: He did not define her by her sins. Everybody else did. The gospel writer, Simon, and probably everybody in the city who knew of her defined her by her sins. She was a sinner. But Christ did not. He lifts her, and builds her. Can you imagine what she must have felt at the conclusion of this when He says, “thy sins, which are many,” remember, “are forgiven.”
Go with me back to Mark chapter 10, for just a minute. Go to the end of the chapter this time. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. Just so that you know what is on His mind, look at verses 32, 33, and 34. This is just prior to the crucifixion, and He knows what He is headed for. He tells His disciples in verse 33:
“We go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, they shall mock him, and scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him.”
So that is what is on His mind. Now jump to verse 46. They are walking along, He and a great number of His followers.
And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace.
Why? They saw him as an annoyance, as an interruption. This is remarkable to me. Picture this scene: the Savior with all sorts of people following after Him, with what is going to happen within a matter of a few days on His mind. And look at verse 49: “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.” In the midst of all of that, Jesus has the awareness to not only physically see this man but to spiritually see him in the way we are talking about today.
He calls blind Bartimaeus and brings him over. That seems a little odd doesn’t it? Don’t you think under most circumstances you would walk to the blind man? Why do you suppose He calls Bartimaeus to Him? Could it be that He is sending a message to both blind Bartimaeus and everybody watching? Christ is bringing him in and making him the center of everyone’s attention.
And then in verse 51: “And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” Ponder the significance of that question. Certainly it is clear what Bartimaeus wants. Why does Jesus ask the question? Brothers and sisters, I have to wonder how many times--if ever--someone had asked Bartimaeus, “What can I do for you?” What it must have done for this man, who was a beggar on the fringes of society, to have the Savior, the Son of God ask that question. What it must have done for Bartimaeus—not only to be healed physically, but to be seen by the Savior in this way. He saw in Bartimaeus a son of God, a soul of infinite worth, and a human being with needs.
Now in conclusion, I want to tell you a very quick story. One year in my seminary class I had a young sophomore girl who was struggling in about every way a sophomore girl in high school can struggle. She was not comfortable with her appearance. She was having problems in school as well as problems at home. Her mom and dad were going through a nasty divorce. She was battling clinical depression and was taking medication for that. Everything in life that can go wrong for a fifteen-year-old girl was going wrong. She confided all of these things in me one day. I did what I could to help her and to reach out to her and lift her.
One day we had this experience in my classroom. It was a big afternoon class; and when everybody was there, every desk was filled. On this day there were two desks empty, one at the front of the room and one at the back of the room. Class had started, we were about ten minutes in, and the door to the classroom opens. Everybody turns around to look and it is this young lady. I will call her Lisa. Lisa walks in. She is looking for a seat. At the back of the room there is a young man whose best friend is also in that class but not there that day. So this young man, when he turns around and sees Lisa walk in the door, he grabs his scriptures which are on his desk. He leans across to the empty desk right next to him, and drops his scriptures on the empty desk. What has he done? A very simple thing—just saving a desk for his buddy; Lisa sees that and comes up to the desk in the front of the classroom.
An amazingly simple thing that happened probably seven or eight years ago that has always stuck with me. Why? This young man had no idea what was going on in Lisa’s life, none whatsoever. He was a good young man and a decent person. But what had happened was he did not see her for what she was on that day. I watched it and I knew just one more thing in her life had ground her down. It was painful to watch.
I wondered then and I wonder now: How often do you and I do things like that to one another? When either we do not see each other at all or we see each other as something less than what we should.
Let me share one last verse of scripture, section 76 in the Doctrine and Covenants. There are a lot of powerful verses in section 76. I am quite certain I do not fully understand many of them. Look at verse 94. I have puzzled about this phrase. Speaking of those who are in the celestial kingdom, worthy of celestial glory, “They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn,” and then this great phrase, “and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known.” What might that mean? Could it be that celestial beings see others as they are seen by God; and they know others as they are known by God?
Brothers and sisters, I testify that one of the great measures of our discipleship is and will be how we view others. May we always see them as a spirit son or daughter of God, as a soul of infinite worth, as a human being, as an individual person. And may we treat them accordingly. For to do so is to be a true disciple of Christ and to do as He does. I testify of a loving Heavenly Father who sees us and knows us as individuals and of His son Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.