(NOTE: This article is the first of two articles adapted from The Three Pillars of Zion. You can download a free sample of this new Zion series at www.PillarsOfZion.com.)
In the vocabulary of consecration, an agent is a steward.[i] The trust extended to a steward is a stewardship, which, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, is a “responsibility given through the Lord to act in behalf of others.” The concept of stewardship reminds us of the principle that “all things ultimately belong to the Lord, whether property, time, talents, families, or capacity for service within the Church organization. An individual acts in a Church calling as a trustee for the Lord, not out of personal ownership or privilege.”
When we receive a stewardship, whether as a calling, a trust, or an inheritance, we are “expected to sacrifice time and talent in the service of others,” which builds “a sense of community. When all serve, all may partake of the blessings of service. The ideal attitude toward stewardship suggests that it is not the position held but how well the work is done that counts.”[ii] One can readily see why stewardship is central to Zion and the law of consecration.
The Riches of the Earth Are the Lord’s
When a Zion person exercises his agency to live the law of consecration, he makes a conscious choice to become a steward of the Lord’s property. His approach to ownership is that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.”[iii]
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Underlying this principle of stewardship is the eternal gospel truth that all things belong to the Lord. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. . . . Behold, all these properties are mine. . . . And if the properties are mine, then ye are stewards; otherwise ye are no stewards.'”[iv] There can be no mistake about who owns what; the Lord states emphatically, “the riches of the earth are mine.”[v]
Even in a telestial setting, we encounter the concept of stewardship constantly. For example, a business owner will enter into an agreement to hand over the management of his company to a trusted employee, provided the employee gives his best effort, pursues the mission of the company, is committed to increasing the company’s profitability, and is accountable to his employer. In return, the employer pays the employee a fair wage, with which the employee takes care of his family. The employee has no right to divide his attention with another interest, change the purpose of the company, use its resources outside his employer’s desire, or take the profits for himself.
We might ask ourselves, If we understand these principles on a telestial level, why can we not apply them to a celestial situation?
Let us examine the law of consecration in this light. By agreeing to take upon us this covenant, we agree that everything belongs to the Lord and we are stewards. From that point forward, we cease to lay claim to our time, talents, and possessions. Rather, we essentially enter into a management agreement with the Lord, in which we agree to give him our best and undivided effort as we administer the affairs of the stewardship that he places in our hands. We agree to pursue the ordained purpose of that stewardship, the core issue of which is always to assist in bringing to pass the immortality (the quality of immortality, i.e. telestial, terrestrial or celestial) and the eternal life of man.[vi]
Moreover, we agree to use and disseminate the stewardship’s resources as the stewardship’s Owner directs. We agree to magnify the stewardship, to take no more of the surplus than we are entitled to, and to be accountable to the Owner for our management of his resources. For the Lord’s part, he agrees to allow us our agency in managing his resources, and he agrees to take care of us and keep us safe while we are on his errand.
In no uncertain terms, we are expressly forbidden to hoard the Lord’s property or claim it as our own. Martin Harris learned this lesson: “I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.”[vii] At another time, the Lord commanded William E. McLellin to focus on proclaiming the gospel and to “think not of thy property.”[viii] Clearly, a Zion person’s claim to his property is subordinate to the Lord’s claim. But if we view our property as our own and not as a stewardship, we break the law of consecration and step into sin: “Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me?”[ix]
Who can lay claim to property or tempt the Lord with it, especially when we know that everything belongs to him in the first place? We recall that Satan tried to entice Jesus with property and was soundly condemned: “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan.”[x]
On the other hand, as Martin Harris and William E. McLellin learned, our property is a stewardship that must be consecrated for the building up of the kingdom of God and the establishment of Zion. The law of consecration provides that no poor should exist among us. Ultimately we will be held accountable for the diligence we pay to living this law and for the discharge of our stewardships.[xi]
God Becomes Our Paymaster
An early attempt to implement the law of consecration required members to deed over their property to the Church.[xii] Today, we are asked to figuratively deed over our hearts. We recognize that ultimately our time, talents, and property belong to the Lord, and we are stewards assigned to manage his resources under his direction. To appropriately fulfill our assignment, we agree to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”[xiii] Furthermore, we agree to become “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,” and “willing to submit” to the Lord.[xiv]
Then a remarkable thing happens: God helps us to depart from Babylon, and he becomes our Paymaster in Zion. Of course, this miracle is individualized for each person, but it occurs nevertheless.
The Lord takes care of those in his household; he supports the stewards in his employ, and “the laborer is worthy of his hire.
“[xv] What the Lord said to Warren A. Cowdery could be said to every steward in Zion: “[My steward shall] devote his whole time to this high and holy calling, which I now give unto him, seeking diligently the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all things necessary shall be added thereunto.”[xvi]
Now that the steward has been extracted and insulated from Babylon, he resides in the safety of his Lord, allowing him to devote his entire effort to his stewardships. In the transition, he ceases to labor for the cause of money and he begins to labor for the cause of Zion: “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.”[xvii] This does not mean that the steward does not need money or to receive monetary compensation for his labor; rather, it means that the cause of Zion and managing his stewardship are his focus.
The moment he views the stewardship as his own or attempts to accumulate the resources of the stewardship to himself, he is in conflict with the interests of his Paymaster. Even in Babylon, such an employee would be considered dishonest and an extortionist; he would be summarily dismissed and cast out. Any employee knows that the surpluses derived from his labor belong to the owner to do with as he pleases. The employee errs when he judges the employer’s use and distribution of profits.
The righteous steward discovers that his Lord is a very generous Paymaster. What Elder Carlos E. Asay said of missionaries’ meriting blessings for their labor could be said of any steward:
The word merit is defined as “reward . . . just deserts” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). Such a definition often turns our minds to temporal gains received for service rendered. It also suggests a dollar return on a dollar invested and nothing more. Another definition, however, refers to merit as “spiritual credit or stored moral surplusage regarded as earned by performance of righteous acts and as ensuring future benefits” (ibid.). This latter definition appeals to me and seems to apply to missionary service because the process of sharing the gospel with others is centered in “righteous acts” and carries “future benefits” for both the giver and the receiver. In fact, the list of spiritual credits or by-products received by those who seek to save souls is endless. Those who engage in missionary service soon learn that God is a very generous paymaster. We can never place him in our debt (see Mosiah 2:22-24).[xviii]
Righteous stewards earn temporal and spiritual credits, which may be redeemed in the storehouse of their most generous Paymaster for many times their original value.
Never Turn Back
We must become a righteous steward. Once the Lord has separated us from Babylon, as is exemplified in the temple initiatory ordinances, and when he has placed within our care a stewardship in his kingdom, we must discharge our duty faithfully and never turn back.
Peter taught, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”[xix]
The implications are sobering. If we have cried unto the Lord to help us escape Babylon, and then he rescues us and gives us a stewardship and employment in his kingdom-if, after all that, we weaken and return to Babylon and again become entangled in its charms, our situation will be worse than the first. We will find ourselves left alone with no further claim on the Lord’s resources or on him as our Paymaster.
Nephi explained that the journey from Babylon to Zion is the most significant journey in time or eternity. Nothing could be more important than arriving at the tree of life and partaking of its fruit, both of which are symbolic of the love of God.[xx] When we finally reach our destination, we must stay. Otherwise, according to Nephi, every person who arrived at the tree and thereafter gave heed to Babylon “had fallen away.”[xxi] Here, then, is the safety and the condemnation of the law of stewardship.
The Law of Stewardship and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
When righteous men (and later righteous men and women at the time of temple marriage) take upon them the oath and covenant of the priesthood, they agree to receive the blessings and obligations of the priesthood “for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the world.”[xxii] That is, we are under covenant to exercise the priesthood to gain our salvation by helping to save others.
Therefore, to fulfill this part of the priesthood covenant, we approach our stewardships with the attitude of caring for our families, caring for others, and caring for the Lord’s purposes. Consider the Lord’s admonition to the elders, who had taken upon them the oath and covenant of the priesthood:
And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them. . . . And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; . . . every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family. And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, . . . that my covenant people may be gathered in one in that day when I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people. . . . For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me. For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel.[xxiii]
Stewardship and Equality
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The law of stewardship is the law upon which Zion’s equality is achieved. As we have mentioned, equality is defined as having equal access.[xxiv] In Zion, each person must have equal opportunity to receive a stewardship, to develop it, and to have equal access to the Lord and the Lord’s resources. To qualify for the celestial kingdom, we must live the foundational law of stewardship,[xxv] which stipulates that “every man [must be made] equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.”[xxvi]
Inequality is wholly telestial in nature; inequality cannot exist in a celestial atmosphere. As we recall, the Lord has stated emphatically that we must become “equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; for if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”[xxvii]
Failing to live the law of stewardship and turning a blind eye to inequality are classified as sins: “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.”[xxviii] We need only look at the world condition to see the consequences of selfishness, greed, and using the resources entrusted to us without accountability to God: “And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.”
How can we escape this darkness and bondage? The answer separates righteous Zion people from the wicked people of Babylon: “And by this you may know they [the people of Babylon] are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me. For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin. And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me. And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.”[xxix]
We might ask ourselves this question: Could it be possible to make the covenant of consecration, then ignore the law of stewardship with its injunction to equalize people-and still claim that we are acquainted with the voice of the Lord and that we have come unto him?
Zion people come unto Christ and hearken to his voice by seeking to purify their hearts; by seeking to equalize the condition of the Lord’s children through the giving of their means; by striving to heal the Lord’s children, bolster their faith, and love them. The pure in heart view themselves as stewards rather than owners, and they seek to bless the Lord’s children with their stewardships, which is the sum of everything that they have and are.
This article was adapted from my Pillars of Zion series. CLICK HERE to receive a free copy of Portrait of a Zion Person. Follow our Internet missionary project: www.gospelideals.org. And LIKE us on www.facebook.com/gospelideals.
[xxviii] D&C 49:20.
[xxix] D&C 84:50-53.
Maureen OlsonJanuary 25, 2014
Thank you Br. Barkdall for this absolutely wonderful reflection on stewardship and consecration. It has helped me renew and sharpen my focus on this most important of all doctrines related to our salvation and fulfillment of our baptismal covenant. Thank you! I do enjoy your writings! Maureen Olson
Shauna MayJanuary 22, 2014
Thank you Brother Barkdall for this article. I am grateful for those, such as yourself, who have been my examples in honoring temple covenants and striving to become the Lord's faithful Stewards regardless of the "difficulties of the way." I am certain that Fathers tender mercies will continue to be poured out upon those who love Him and keep His commandments. Thank you for the timely reminder of these true principles. I appreciate you!