By Bruce E. Dale
For me, one of the strong evidences that Joseph Smith was a true prophet is that the scriptures given through him and the church restored through him make very hard, very challenging demands on me. These demands and requirements are just as specific, detailed and difficult as those Jesus has always asked of his followers.
For example, after teaching his disciples in a parable that foreshadowed the Last Supper and the Sacrament (John 6: 48-59) we find many of his disciples responding: “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” Jesus then asks if they are offended, and, instead of toning down his message, he gives them yet another difficult teaching regarding the resurrection.
Their response? “And from that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.” Christ makes no concessions, doesn’t sugar coat the message and doesn’t run after them, pleading with them to come back and he will make it easier on them. He gives them hard things to do and hard things to believe.
Well, these are precisely the things required of me if I wish to live where God and Christ are. If I want to be with them, to do what they do, to have eternal life, I must become much more like them than I am now. Christ expects a lot of those who follow Him. He hasn’t changed—but I surely need to. This blog discusses one way in which most of us probably need to change—both in our behavior and in our minds.
In almost every Sacrament meeting, and during our General and Stake Conferences, we are asked to raise our hands to show that we are willing to “sustain” particular individuals in the callings which they have received. It is the established practice of the church that that word and that word only should be used at such times.
We sustain our church leaders, from the local level through the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. And our leaders promise to sustain us. In fact, we all promise to sustain each other throughout the Church, regardless of our callings. Temple-attending Latter-day Saints should also be alert for the presence of the word “sustain” in our Temple ordinances, especially as it regards the Church, which is the Kingdom of God on the earth—and therefore the people who comprise the Church. I promise them an enlightening experience if they do.
So, without really thinking about it, we often go through the motions and lift our hands to “sustain” other members and church leaders. But lifting our arms to sustain signifies a solemn promise made to God. It is serious, serious stuff. We are making covenants. So just exactly what have we promised God when we promise to “sustain” someone or to sustain the Church?
Here is the answer from Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language:
SUSTA’IN, verb transitive [Latin sustineo; sub and teneo, to hold under.]
To bear; to uphold; to support; as, a foundation sustains the superstructure; pillars sustain an edifice; a beast sustains a load.
To hold; to keep from falling; as, a rope sustains a weight.
To support; to keep from sinking in despondence. The hope of a better life sustains the afflicted amidst all their sorrows.
To maintain; to keep alive; to support; to subsist; as provisions to sustain a family or an army.
To support in any condition by aid; to assist or relieve.
To bear; to endure without failing or yielding. The mind stands collected and sustains the shock.
To suffer; to bear; to undergo. You shall sustain more new disgraces.
To maintain; to support; not to dismiss or abate. Notwithstanding the plea in bar or in abatement, the court sustained the action or suit.
To maintain as a sufficient ground. The testimony or the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the action, the accusation, the charges, or the impeachment.
In music, to continue, as the sound of notes through their whole length.
For those who may want to explore more deeply the meaning of the word “sustain”, I have added Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition at the end of this post. If you do a deeper dive and study the OED definition, I think you will gain even more insights about how significant it is that God has chosen that specific word to describe the relation He wants us to have with other church members and with our church leaders.
So, regarding our leaders, we are not asked to obey them, to venerate them, to hero worship them, to try to hide their weaknesses, or to think they are more than weak, foolish mortals…just like you and me. And the same thing applies to other church members. Instead, we are asked to “sustain” them. We covenant to do so. And they are also under covenant to sustain us.
I want to focus on three specific meanings of the word “sustain” from Webster’s and the OED. These meanings are:
- To support or uphold
- To nourish or feed
- To suffer or endure
First: To support or uphold I am indeed expected to support and uphold my brothers and sisters in their callings and responsibilities. I will probably not agree with everything they choose to do, but I owe them my love and support. They probably will not agree with everything I choose to do, but they in turn owe me their love and support. I do not have their callings, and they do not have mine. We are to support and uphold each other.
I think we often get in trouble in the church when we start criticizing (grumbling to ourselves or to others) about how other members are performing their callings. If I preside over someone, as the Bishop presides over the ward, then I may be justified in asking that person to account to me for his or her stewardship. But if not, it is not my business to decide how well or how poorly someone is performing in their calling.
I do not judge them, criticize them, gossip about them, undermine them, belittle them or resent them. Instead, I have promised to sustain other church members, and they have promised to do the same for me. As we consider additional meanings of “sustain”, the significance of that promise will become more apparent and more meaningful (literally, “full of meaning”).
But what if a church member sins or offends against me, or I become aware of sins committed by church members? What should I do then? Do I still “sustain” them? The Lord has given very specific instructions in such cases. His instructions are found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 which the Prophet described as “embracing the law of the Church”. The relevant verses are 72-93. If we observe violations of human law, we are to report those violations to civil authorities. The Lord renders unto Caesar those things that belong to Caesar. If there are violations of divine law, those violations are to be reported to those with authority to deal with iniquity in the Church, the Bishop or the Stake President, and no one else.
If offenses (not necessarily sins) have been committed against us, we are to first talk privately with those who have offended us, and no one else. The procedures are given in D&C 42: 88-93. If they confess, we are commanded to be reconciled with them. “Thou shalt” means what it says; it is the language in which God gives his commands—as in the Ten Commandments.
If they do not confess, we are to refer the matter to the “elders”, or the presiding authorities of the church (again, the Bishop and Stake President). And then we sustain the decisions and actions of those authorities, as we have promised God we would do.
We let it go.
We don’t gossip about or broadcast the offense.
We don’t go to our “support group” (the modern word for a circle of friends) to complain about or condemn the offenders, or to find fault with the decision of the men God has called.
We can and should be sustained by our various support groups during our trials. That is part of the baptismal covenant we have made “to bear one another’s burdens”—but we must never allow “sustaining” to become complaining and gossiping and fault-finding. Those are sins; they are not “sustaining”.
The unrepentant sinner will pay in full for all of his or her offenses. We can be sure of that. God’s servants will answer to Him, completely and fully, for the discharge of their duties. We can be sure of that. They do not answer to us.
We just let it go.
I have been an active church member for almost 50 years. I don’t remember having ever heard a sermon teaching clearly and plainly the principles taught in D&C 42: 88-93. I think we need to be taught those principles. We suffer so much from contention and gossiping and fault-finding in the Church. Perhaps we would have less of those divisive activities if we knew what we were promising when we promise to sustain.
Next we consider another challenging meaning of sustain: “To nourish or feed.”
Sustain also means to nourish or to feed, both physically and emotionally, see definitions 3-5 above. The Latter-day Saints are to make sure that there are no hungry and no needy among us. We have a monthly fast and a wonderful welfare system to provide for the physical requirements of needy Saints. The next time you fast and give your fast offering to the Bishop or Branch President, you can know that you are sustaining your brothers and sisters.
However, the most all-encompassing means of sustaining one another is when we live the Law of Consecration. That Law is given clearly and fully in the Temple. No one can mistake or have any doubts about what is required of us under that covenant. It is, in fact, the culminating, the highest, and the most powerful individual covenant we make in the Temple.
The observance of that Law by a community makes them a Zion community. There are no Zion individuals, there are only Zion communities. Such communities achieve the status of Enoch’s people as described in Moses 7:18 “And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”
This Law was given in outline form by Jesus to the rich young man in Matthew 19: 16-22. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
Like this rich young man, I am afraid we as an entire Church have not yet fully embraced the Law of Consecration. Like the rich young man, we “go away sorrowful”; we turn away from fully accepting and living that Law. However, as we grow in faith, I hope to live to see the day when the Latter-day Saints observe the Law of Consecration completely. Then we will be a Zion community, the only kind of community in which God can dwell. I want to live in such a community.
Nourishing or “sustaining” each other physically cannot be separated from nourishing each other spiritually. We are obligated to nourish each other by the good word of God, as taught in Moroni 6: 3-5:
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
The responsibility to nourish spiritually includes nourishing ourselves, and, once again, is reinforced in the Holy Temple. Think about your temple experience, and remember. Alma teaches this principle as follows. Alma 33: 23, 41-43:
And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen….But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.
So, to sustain each other also means to provide the necessary physical and spiritual food to ourselves and to others. I will not be able to nourish others unless I myself am nourished. I cannot give others a gift I do not possess. And all this must be done in “long-suffering”, which fits well with the last of the three major meanings of sustain that I will consider in this blog. I find this third meaning both the most liberating and also the most challenging of all the meanings of the word “sustain”. Let me explain why.
Suffer: “To suffer or endure.” Sustain also means to suffer, to endure, to undergo an affliction—but without yielding. For example, as in: “He sustained a hard blow to his head but came back and finished his work.” Committing ourselves to sustain each other means that we are agreeing and covenanting in advance to suffer or endure whatever suffering or afflictions we may be in line for when we are trying to work with another Church member to build the Kingdom of God. Obviously, we are not obligated to sustain them in sin, or to do anything dangerous or foolhardy. Nope…we will have plenty of enduring to do in the ordinary course of working and associating with other imperfect individuals.
Why on earth would anyone agree to do something like that? It is very clear from the Scriptures that God will treat us with exactly the same level of mercy, generosity and compassion with which we have treated others. (See, for example, the parable of the unrighteous servant in Matthew 18.) If I want God to forgive me, I must forgive others. If I want God to have compassion on me, I must have compassion on others. And if I want God to suffer me, I had better learn how to suffer others.
So how long do I have to suffer others? When have I done enough?
Here is the answer from Scripture.
Moroni 9: 25 My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.
Alma 9:11 Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe.
Alma 26:16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.
Mormon 2:12 And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people.
Alma 42:30 O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.
1 Nephi 19: 9 And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.
There are more such Scriptures with the same message, but these should be enough to make the point. It is not a very subtle point. If I want to learn to be like God, I must learn to suffer however long it takes. That is one reason why “enduring to the end” is such a meaningful phrase for someone who wishes to be a true Latter-day Saint.
It is very significant that “long-suffering” is one of the key personal characteristics that priesthood holders must cultivate in order to enjoy actual power in the priesthood, as contrasted with simply holding the authority of the priesthood. Doctrine and Covenants 121:41 “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”
One last quotation, this time from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as delivered to the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois June 9, 1842. Joseph taught: “How oft have wise men and women sought to dictate Brother Joseph by saying, “O, if I were Brother Joseph I would do this and that”; but if they were in Brother Joseph’s shoes they would find that men or women could not be compelled into the kingdom of God, but must be dealt with in long-suffering, and at last we shall save them.”
It is only by long-suffering that many souls will be saved. Long-suffering is what God exemplifies. It is what He asks of us. It is what we commit ourselves to do when we agree to “sustain” each other.
What a word. What a liberating and blessed doctrine.
From the Oxford English Dictionary
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman susteiner, susteigner, sustener, sustigner, sostener…
- To support, maintain, uphold.
- To keep in existence, maintain; spec. to cause to continue in a certain state for an extended period or without interruption; to keep or maintain at the proper level, standard, or rate; to preserve the status of. Also, in early use, with up.
- To maintain (a physical object) in good condition or working order; spec. (a) to maintain (a building) in good repair; (b) to keep (a lamp, candle, etc.) burning. Obs.
- To provide for the upkeep, running, or general maintenance of (an institution, establishment, estate, etc.).
- To maintain (a person, etc.) in life and health; to provide with food, drink, and other substances necessary for remaining alive; to feed, to keep.
(a) With a person, an animal, one’s body, etc., as object.
- Of land, a place, etc.: to provide or be the source of the food, drink, etc., necessary to keep (a person) alive and healthy; (of food, drink, etc.) to give essential nourishment to (a person).
- To support or maintain (life) by providing food, drink, and other necessities.
- To supply or satisfy (a person’s needs, wants, etc.).
- To support the efforts or cause of; to give assistance to, back up; (in later use usu. Mil.) to support (other troops).Support is the far more common alternative.
- To give support to or back up (a person’s conduct) or stand by (one’s own actions or conduct); to support or uphold (a cause, a course of action). Obs.
- With that-clause as object. To support (a contention or argument); to maintain (that something is the case). Also occas. with direct object and infinitive: †to maintain (something to be the case) (obs.).
- With infinitive as object. To recommend (a course of action); to insist (that something be done). Obs.
- To advocate or support as valid, correct, or true; to uphold or affirm the justice or validity of.
- To provide an adequate ground or basis for (an argument, assertion, etc.); to bear out, substantiate, confirm. Cf. SUPPORT v. 6b.
- To present and defend (one’s thesis or dissertation).Freq. with reference to a university in a non-English-speaking country.
- To maintain or continue with (an action or process); to keep up without intermission; (esp. in early use)spec. to continue or carry on with (a battle, quarrel, etc.).
- To maintain (something) in use; to continue to use, exercise, occupy, etc. Obs.
- trans. To support physically; to hold up, keep from falling or breaking; to bear the weight of; (in later use freq. Aeronaut.) to provide sustentation to (an aircraft). Also sometimes: to carry, bear.
- trans. To hold in position, esp. to hold (the body or a part of it) upright or in the correct position. Now usu. refl.
- To hold oneself upright, remain standing; (also of something inanimate) to be or stay in a fixed position.
(a) trans. (refl.). In later use only with complement, as erect, upright.
(b) intr. Obs. (rare after Middle English).
- trans. Of a structure, esp. in a building: to be the base or support of; to bear the weight of from below; to have resting upon it.
- trans. To bear, withstand (a weight or pressure). Also in fig. contexts.
- trans. fig. To bear (a burden or charge, esp. a cost).
- trans. With infinitive as object. To be able (to do something); to be equal (to doing something). Obs.
- trans. To keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from failing or giving way; to strengthen the spirits or resolution of; to give encouragement or psychological support to.
- trans. To maintain (a sound, esp. a musical note) at the same pitch or volume, esp. for a prolonged period.
- intr. Of a musical note, chord, etc.: to continue at the same pitch or volume, esp. for a specified period. Also: (of a musical instrument) to produce such a note or notes.
- To play the part of; to keep up (an assumed role) competently; to represent (a dramatic part or character) convincingly. Freq. with person in early use: cf. PERSON n. 1.
- To hold or be invested with (a title); to fulfil or discharge the functions and responsibilities associated with (a position).
- To endure, suffer.
- trans. To endure (something painful, difficult, or unpleasant) without failing or giving way; to bear, withstand. Also with infinitive as object.
- intr. To endure or hold out in the face of adversity; to bear up. Also occas. trans. with it in the same sense. Obs.
- trans. To withstand (criticism, scrutiny, etc.); (also) to bear (comparison) with some other example.
- To undergo, suffer, or have to submit to (something unpleasant or harmful, as loss, hardship, damage, etc.); (now) esp. to suffer (a physical injury).In early use with a variety of objects denoting a wide range of unpleasant or harmful agents and circumstances. From the 19th cent., the range becomes increasingly restricted to certain established objects, esp. loss and damage. Over the same period, examples relating to physical injuries become the most common use. N.E.D. (1918) describes this development as ‘in mod[ern] journalistic use’.
- To experience, esp. as an imposition; to submit oneself or be subjected to. Cf. UNDERGO v. 6. Now rare.
- To tolerate the existence or presence of; to permit, abide. Obs.
- With infinitive as object. To permit oneself or consent (to do or be something). Cf. SUFFER v. 15. Obs.
- With object and infinitive complement. To permit (a person) to be or do something; = SUFFER v. 14. Obs.
III. To wait; to await. Chiefly in translations of the Vulgate.
- intr. To wait. Also with in: to await. Obs.
- trans. To wait patiently for. Obs.