The Higher Law and the Holier Way

Jesus teaching

Nearly a year ago, during the April 2018 general conference sessions, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a restructuring of Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and the retirement of home teaching and visiting teaching with a new ministering approach. In his concluding remarks, President Nelson summed up the impact of these changes, saying, “Sisters and brothers—old and young—will serve one another in a new, holier way” (“Let Us All Press On,” Ensign, May 2018).

President Nelson

Jesus Christ Taught a Higher Law

As we rapidly approach the initial anniversary of these inspired changes and reflect on how well we have understood (and acted upon) their intent and purpose, I am reminded of another instance when the head of the Church—even Jesus Christ—asked His disciples to live in a higher and holier way: “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on strict adherence to the Law of Moses.

In His Sermon on the Mount, (see Matthew 5  and Luke 6) the Savior expands the letter and spirit of The Ten Commandments. As explained on page 31 of the weekly reading schedule for February 18-24, 2019 of the Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families manual: “Jesus taught a higher law that not only elevates our actions but also the thoughts and feelings that inspire them. This higher law required much more: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Matthew 22:37).”

Jesus teaching

For most Jews there could be no such thing as a law higher than the Law of Moses. Elder Stephen B. Robinson explains, “most Jews of Jesus’ day had come to believe that salvation came only by observance of the Law of Moses as the highest possible expression of God’s will, and in no other way” (“The Law After Christ,” Ensign, Sept. 1983).

Blessed by Living the Law of Christ

In Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-26,the Savior shared the Beatitudes with His disciples, explaining who are the “blessed”: see video “Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes.”


As Elder Robert E. Wells has explained: “These are startling, attention-grabbing contradictions. The Beatitudes are not quiet philosophical stars in a summer night. Rather, they are lightning bolts and thunderclaps of spiritual surprise. … The Beatitudes give us the formula for coming unto Christ. We can use them as a foundation as we seek for a Christ-centered life” (The Beatitudes” Ensign, Dec. 1987).

What do we learn about obtaining lasting happiness from this section of the Sermon on the Mount? We must be teachable and willing to serve others with our whole hearts. In short, we learn that to gain eternal joy we must recognize our dependence upon the Lord. We must strive for the one characteristic the Savior used to describe himself—“for I am meek” (Matthew 11:29).

Jesus with lamb

A Coach’s Prayer

Shortly after I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I had the opportunity to coach high school basketball under a mentor who was a local legend. “Coach” was definitely “old school.” He was incredibly intense and very demanding. He yelled at players but never cursed. Many of his former players stopped by to thank him for the discipline he had instilled in their lives. As times changed, so did players’ attitudes. Many talented athletes quit or refused to join the team, saying that is was not “fun” to play for Coach.

One spring, I was shocked to learn that the principal had dismissed Coach from running the boys’ basketball program. He remained as a teacher, but coaching basketball had been his passion. I shuddered to think how this news was affecting him. When I found Coach between classes, as he was dutifully putting away a rack of balls, I became emotional. All I could say was “Coach, I heard.” I was surprised by his reply. “I’m praying for him,” he said, referring to the principal who had ended his distinguished basketball-coaching career.


How was this highly competitive and passionate man so “easy to be entreated?” (Alma 7:23). How was Coach able to overcome feelings of anger and disappointment, bitterness and resentment? He relied on the Lord’s counsel in Matthew 5:44:  “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We need to follow the Savior’s admonition: “Agree with thine adversary quickly” (Matthew 5:25). Elder Larry E. Dahl explains, “We should even absorb worldly hurt and unfairness when doing so would help advance the cause of righteousness. But surely we are not to compromise truth and righteous purpose to achieve peaceful coexistence with our fellow beings. … Resisting the devil, treasuring the scriptures, seeking and following the promptings of the Spirit, giving heed to the living prophet—these are important things we can “settle” quickly so that we are properly equipped to ‘agree with’—or come to terms with—our adversaries….” (“The Higher Law” Ensign February 1991). The more quickly we can amicably resolve issues with others, the more quickly we can find peace.

two women hugging

Be Like Christ

The Savior has invited us to be “perfect” (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). President Nelson has explained, “It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995)

Perfection is a process. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has likewise advised, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete” (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Ensign, Nov. 2017)

May we all “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).