Today we had an interesting question come up in class. A student mentioned that she saw a prominent member of her ward doing something that she did not think was appropriate to do on the Sabbath day. She asked me if what she saw was “alright to do on the Sabbath”. We had quite the discussion around personal application of gospel principles.
We looked at a couple of scriptures that relate to the topic.
And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the asabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. (Luke 14:1-6)
And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they awatched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the asabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they bheld their peace. (Mark 3:1-4)
From these scriptures we can easily see that those that would accuse Jesus were more focused on the rules of the Sabbath than actually having a clue as its purpose. They were ready and willing to kill the very lawgiver who gave the Sabbath to them. Understanding the purpose of the Sabbath day will help us to hone into what we should be personally doing in our lives to be more like the Savior.
I then asked the class if they knew the difference between a doctrine and a principle. There seemed to be some question as to how a doctrine and a principle relate to each other.
What is the difference between a doctrine and a principle? A doctrine is true no matter what the circumstances. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. God the Father has a body of flesh and bones. All mankind must be baptized. The Book of Mormon is true. All of these statements are doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Doctrines also motivate behavior- knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and that He has the desire and power to have influence in my life motivates behavior.
A principle, when properly understood, does the following:
1. It makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. Principles should be applicable to situations, in other words, they are situation specific.
2. It is applicable under a wide variety of circumstances– students will see a principle illustrated under enough circumstances so that it is clearly understood. This is usually accomplished by having different types of circumstances presented to the student so that the principle can be applied with different actions being applied in their various circumstances.
3. It should be compelling– compelling enough so that it will persuade the student to choose correct even when the circumstances are pulling them in an opposite direction. The more compelling the principle appears in the mind of the student, the more power it will have in their lives.
4. It is packaged so that the student will own it. Usually students “get” a principle when they say things like, “I see what you mean”, after which they illustrate the principle in a circumstance that they are currently facing. When a student sees that the scriptures answer problems they are facing in their life, they will have a greater likelihood of going to the scriptures with questions seeking guidance from the Lord.
The purpose of the Sabbath
After briefly outlining how to identify principles I asked if anyone in class could tell me what the Sabbath Day principle might be, or rather, for what purpose does the Sabbath Day exist?
One student shared that he was of the opinion that the Sabbath was for us to come closer to Jesus Christ, gain a greater appreciation for His gospel, and come closer to our families. What a great answer!
From the For the Strength of Youth we read the following: The Lord has given the Sabbath day for your benefit and has commanded you to keep it holy. Observing the Sabbath will bring you closer to the Lord and to your family. It will give you needed rest and rejuvenation. (see: http://bit.ly/zduD3M)
Once we understand the principle relating to the Sabbath, we can then look at various circumstances to see how we might apply the principle. One family may choose to do activities on the Sabbath that others might deem unnecessary. How we apply the principle in our lives is highly personal. For example, I know various families that have different views on how their television viewing is applied on the Sabbath. The way we apply the principle of keeping the Sabbath Day holy is very personal.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:
Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families. Well-taught doctrines and principles have a more powerful influence on behavior than rules. When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives (Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teaching,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78-80).
We came back to the original question raised by the student. I asked, “Do you think that there might be circumstances that you are not aware of that would permit this person to be acting this way on the Sabbath?” This question helped us to see that we do not see the position from every possible angle, but only from our own limited point of view. Perhaps this person was obeying the Sabbath, and it is not for us to judge. This discussion also enabled students to see that we must make our own application in applying the principles of the gospel in our lives.