Learning How to Minister from the Book of Mormon
At the General Conference Leadership Meeting (April 2018), Elder M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, suggested that one way to gain a greater scriptural understanding of what it means “to minister” is to do the following:
I invite you to study Third Nephi by identifying every reference to the word minister in any of its forms and every reference to the phrase one by one. Once you have thoroughly identified these words and phrases, please consider what the Book of Mormon teaches about ministering.
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In Third Nephi, a form of the word minister is used 34 times; the phrase one by one is cited in four instances. (The Third Nephi references to these terms have been italicized as a way of assisting readers to view them more easily.)
The Ministry of the Prophet Nephi
The first five references relate to the Prophet Nephi. It was 31 years since the miraculous signs of the birth of Jesus had occurred, but now Nephi was living again at a time when the people “…did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them.” (3 Nephi 7:14). Nevertheless, Nephi “…had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ,…” (3 Nephi 7:15). He knew that Jesus was in the early stages of His mortal ministry in Israel, so likewise Nephi went among his people and “…began to testify, boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. And he did minister many things unto them; …And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority.” (3 Nephi 7:16-17). His power was greater than those who opposed him, “…for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.” (3 Nephi 7:18). Like Jesus, Nephi performed many miracles: “…he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned…” (3 Nephi 7:19). Many who were healed of their sicknesses “…did show forth signs also and did do some miracles among the people.” (3 Nephi 7:22). As the spreading of the gospel continued for the next three years, Nephi ordained “…men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.” (3 Nephi 7:25). Nephi’s experiences during times of great hardships and trials teach us to minister boldly and serve others as “…wrought upon by the Spirit of God,…” (3 Nephi 7:22).
Jesus Christ Patiently Introduces Himself at the Temple
The next 29 references focus on Christ “Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them; and an account of his ministry…” (3 Nephi 10:19). After Christ’s ascension in Jerusalem, the more righteous Nephites and Lamanites (who had been saved from the cataclysmic destructions that had occurred during and after the crucifixion) heard the voice of the Father proclaiming, “ Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.” (3 Nephi 11:7). After Jesus descended out of heaven and introduced himself, “…the whole multitude fell to the earth;…” (3 Nephi 11:12). Then, Jesus instructed them to stand up and come to him: “And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one…” (3 Nephi 11:15).
The multitude “…were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.” (3 Nephi 17:25). If each person only took five seconds in touching Jesus, these exchanges would have taken at least two and a half hours. Yet, Jesus took whatever time was needed in order for each person to “…know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.” (3 Nephi 11:15). Jesus exemplified that one by one ministering should not be a rushed activity but be patiently personal.
Jesus Teaches Gospel Principles and Doctrines
Once the multitude had gained a testimony of His divinity, Jesus commenced teaching them “…the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me;…” (3 Nephi 11:32). His review of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5; 6; 7) began with a new beatitude: “…Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants;…” (3 Nephi 12:1). Another insight the Book of Mormon clarifies is that the service of these 12 disciples was to involve their total commitment: “…For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body,…” (3 Nephi 13:25). The counsel contained in 3 Nephi 13:25-34 was not directed to the multitude but to His special ministers.
The Literal Gathering of Israel
The next references to ministering relate to Christ’s responsibilities as “…the good shepherd:…” (John 10:11). While in Israel, Jesus had foreshadowed: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice;…” (John 10:16). With His appearance in America, this prophecy was fulfilled. Now Jesus explains, “…I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.” (3 Nephi 16:1). He will go to them, and “…they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd;…” (3 Nephi 16:3). This prophecy is given so that “…my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, …may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, …And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth;…” (3 Nephi 16:4-5). To truly understand Christ’s ministry, we need to assist with the “…literal gathering of Israel…,” faithfully building stakes of Zion throughout the world, and preparing for Christ to “…reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Articles of Faith 1:10).
Jesus Responds to the Abilities and Needs of the People
After prophesying about the restoration of the gospel in the last days, Jesus perceived that the multitude was weak and could not “…understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.” (3 Nephi 17:2). He prepared to depart, telling them that He would return the next day. Then, He looked again and “…beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.” (3 Nephi 17:5). By observing the nonverbal desires of their hearts, Jesus evaluated what the people needed and did the following:
Asked them to bring their sick, afflicted, lame, blind, and dumb, “…and he did heal them every one…” (3 Nephi 17:9),
Allowed the multitude to “…bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Nephi 17:10),
“And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought.” (3 Nephi 17:11),
Knelt with them in prayer (3 Nephi 17:13-18),
Asked them to arise and blessed them (3 Nephi 17:19-20),
Then, “…he wept, …and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” (3 Nephi 17:21),
And after weeping again, the heavens were opened and angels “…came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.” (3 Nephi 17:24).
Again, Jesus took time to bless each child—one by one. He also modelled the importance of blessing and praying for children. And finally, He called upon the assistance of ministering angels. In pondering these actions by Jesus, we should remember that the Aaronic Priesthood “…holds the keys of the ministering of angels,…” (D&C 13:1).
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