Someone said to me the other day, “Why is it that people who know what they should do and seem to have a testimony of the gospel are not prepared to live it and haven’t the courage and strength to stand up against opposition?” My reply was, “There are many reasons, it seems to me, that cause people to favor and to do things which are contrary to their teachings and contrary to their beliefs.” Then I referred him to two or three scriptures.His first two were "their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men" (D&C 121:#5), and the long list from 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Then he added John 12:42-43:
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42–43.)At this point his tells a story about an individual who resisted temptation when placed in a situation where it would have been very easy to go along.
It is this last passage with which I should like to deal this evening.
I wonder how many of us are guilty of this or any of these, and if so, are we ready tonight to change our ways, and repent, and try to be worthy of the praise of God and his blessings rather than forget who we are and try to be popular? How important it is that we remember who we are, servants of the Lord, and then act accordingly.
As I said before, we just cannot imagine or calculate in any way what a great influence for good we would have in the world if every holder of the priesthood would magnify his calling, and how much happier and more successful each individual would be if he would always choose the right. How sad it is to see one who would rather be popular than do what he knows is right. I have in mind and remember so well a good member of the Church who was elected to the legislature but who wanted to be a good fellow, popular with everyone. He, wanting to be popular, let down his standards and took one drink at a social and then another. It happened again and again. He began drinking with the fellows at lunch and at dinner. And then, unintentionally I am sure, and contrary to his greatest desire, he became an alcoholic and lost the support of his constituency and the respect of his friends and family who loved him and sorrowed for him. He died an early death as an alcoholic. What a sad situation—all because he sought the praise of men more than the praise of God.
This is not a single case. We have examples of congressmen and senators who have lost their positions and self-respect and the respect of others because they wanted to be popular or didn’t have the strength to resist the temptations. We have the promise of the Lord that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be added unto us, meaning, of course, the things that are for our good.
Let us always remember that people expect us to live up to our standards and respect us much more when we do, even though they may entice us to do otherwise.
I want to bear my testimony that I was never embarrassed in any way, when in the government, or industry, or in my private life, by trying to live up to the teachings of the gospel. Nor was I impeded in any way in my progress. On the contrary, I feel that I was respected and I was blessed by the Lord, and always felt free to call upon him for strength and guidance, which I often received.
My observation is that the Lord keeps his promise to all those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
It is most important that we be on guard all the time and never abandon our standards in order to be popular or to enjoy the praise of men.
As I told this story to a young man one day, his response was, “That action surely took guts, didn’t it!” I have thought since how true it is that to do right under similar circumstances does take guts or backbone or willpower, while to succumb shows weakness. Even the strongest must always be on guard.He gives some other scriptures that are relevant.
It is at times like this that our decisions and actions often determine the course of our lives. Young men and some adults have trials or tests of this nature. There are different kinds of temptations where their loyalty and strength of character are really tested. If we will always remember who we are and that God is watching over us, we will be able to shun, or avoid and withstand such temptations. Always remember that you cannot play with fire without danger of being burned.
Though it is important that we make a living for our families, and as good citizens participate in community affairs, we must not become so involved in the things of the world that we forget or neglect our duty and responsibility as called and chosen children of God and holders of his priesthood. Unless we are continually on guard we will find ourselves gradually off the straight and narrow path until we have completely gone astray, becoming a great disappointment to ourselves, our families, and the Lord, and certainly not what we had anticipated or intended or wanted to be.
We find examples of this so often where a person, forgetting who he is, wants to be popular with his peers and wants their praise. So often athletes get so carried away with their success and desire for praise that they forget their duty to God and the importance of his approval and as a result lose their way. This applies equally to politicians, members of fraternal organizations, professions, and business. This craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as they succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow.
Someone said to me the other day when we were talking about this that those who constantly love the praise of men more than the praise of God are faint reflections of another—meaning Satan, of course—who in the preexistence wanted to save all mankind, but with one condition attached—that the honor and glory go to him, not to God. He was more concerned with credit than with results; glory and praise were the end in themselves. My friend went on to say that on the crucial issues, if individuals are more concerned with pleasing men than pleasing God, then they suffer from the same virus Satan had, for there are many situations where seeking the praise of men will clearly result in their hurting, not helping, mankind for they will do expedient and temporary things instead of those which are lasting and beneficial.
How much more satisfying it is when we receive the praise of God, knowing that it is fully justified and that his love and respect for us will persist, when usually the praise of men is fleeting and most disappointing.
It is shocking and appalling indeed to those who believe in the teachings of Christ to see how people in high places, in order to enjoy the praise of those who are so vocal in encouraging and promoting immorality, do not take a stand against these evils and promote the teachings of Christ which are so clearly stated in these words in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Ex. 20:14.)
We also find legislation having been passed and being passed legalizing these very things contrary to the will of the Lord. It is permissive legislation of the worst kind. Brethren, the Lord expects us as his priesthood holders to take a stand for right and do all in our power to oppose and discourage such action and to encourage our people to live according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.(I am unaware of this quote being published elsewhere. Elder Maxwell recognized that we are not necessarily kind to people by telling them the things that they want to hear, doing so can actually be cruel. We are kind when we tell them things that are true and need to be said even if they are hard to bear.)
I quote from Elder Neal Maxwell:
“The leader who is willing to say things that are hard to bear, but which are true and which need to be said, is the leader who truly loves his people and who is kind to them. Nothing is more cruel than that leader who, in order to have the praise and plaudits of his followers, entices them from safety into the swamp out of which some may never return. The straight and narrow way is just that—straight and narrow. It is an arduous up-hill journey. The way to hell is broad and wide and slopes ever so gently, and those who walk that path scarcely notice the descent; sometimes they don’t notice the descent because praise of men distracts them and they do not see the warning signs! The choice is still between the golden calf and the Ten Commandments.” (Unpublished letter dated Aug. 12, 1975, “Some Thoughts,” from Neal A. Maxwell to President Tanner.)
My experience has been that President Tanner had it exactly right.
Lehi presents an even starker picture. Nephi describes how Lehi "also saw other multitudes pressing their way towards that great and specious building. . . . And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away." (1 Nephi 8:31-34) My experience is that the worst persecution comes from Church members who want the praise of the great and spacious building.