Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has often thought of the concern Jesus must have felt as He knew His mortal ministry was coming to an end and that the daily, ongoing operation of His Church would fall on the shoulders of a dozen very ordinary men.
“Did they know enough? Had they understood any part of what He had tried so hard to teach them? Could they carry off this tremendous responsibility successfully?” asked Elder Holland.
During an address that was broadcast June 26 as part of the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar, Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed “The Two Great Commandments.”
Turning his thoughts to the Savior’s final hours, Elder Holland questioned: What final lesson could the Savior teach in those final hours that would carry His Apostles through His physical absence?
“With a plea, indeed a commandment, that should pierce us today as much as it did them, the living Son of God summarized His entire ministry and their ultimate, ongoing responsibility in one concept, one grand, eternal principle. ‘A new commandment I give unto you,’ He said quietly, ‘[t]hat ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ ” (John 13:34–35).
Elder Holland offered two thoughts about the “new commandment.”
First, he said, this key to gospel success is surprisingly simple.
Jesus consciously chose “one principle, one measuring rod for success that is very easily grasped if not necessarily so easily lived. He says to them in effect, ‘If you will remember this one commandment, you will have understood me and understood my gospel.’ ”
Second, Elder Holland noted that the Savior calls this a “new commandment” even though it was not new.
“Kainen,” the Greek word used for “new,” implies “freshness” or the “opposite of outworn,” rather than “recent” or “different,” said Elder Holland.
“That fresh or untried meaning of this new commandment was that these disciples — and all the rest of us — were to love the way Jesus loved: ‘As I have loved you,’ He said. That was the new part, the distinctive part, of a very old law.”
In addition, the Savior divided that one great commandment to love into two components, “giving it even more clarity, poignance and dimension.”
“Yes, they were to love one another, but Christ taught that would be possible in the fullest degree only by loving God first,” explained Elder Holland. “Thus, He could speak of the great commandment as the two great commandments, neither part of which would be complete without the other.”
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Given the misunderstanding in today’s society in which some want to live the second great commandment while disregarding the first, Elder Holland quoted President Howard W. Hunter, who said “the love of our neighbor springs from [our] love of God as its source.”
That insight is crucial to understanding the two great commandments, said Elder Holland. “Throughout His ministry, Christ constantly made clear His unbending loyalty, His total obedience, and His unique loving relationship to His Father.”
This “undeviating bond the Savior has with the Father is one of the sweetest things in the scriptures to have grown on me in recent years,” he said.
To love as Christ loved — “as I have loved you” — is “to love the Father best of all, to obey Him to the end and therein find the divine motivation to love our neighbor as ourselves. This was indeed a new idea.”
Elder Holland noted that the mission leadership seminar marked 176 years since the Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, and five other prisoners were transferred from a limited ground-floor cell to a larger upstairs room in the small jail in Carthage, Illinois. Three of those prisoners would be released unharmed, but for Joseph and Hyrum, it was the last room either would inhabit in mortality. The following day, June 27, 1844, they were murdered in cold blood.
On that night before the slaying, Hyrum opened the Book of Mormon, probably again to Ether 12. “In that dark moment, in that dark place, he read of the saving grace of charity, even against those who might administer injustice, violence and death: ‘And it came to pass,’ the passage from Moroni reads, ’that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity.
“ ‘And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. …
“ ‘And now I … bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood’ ” (Ether 12:36–38).
That testimony, said Elder Holland, “offered in that setting, read on the very eve of death, is one of the 10,000 reasons I know the Book of Mormon is true.”
No one, not anyone, about to face their Maker would open a book of their own creation, seek eternal consolation in it, and quote from it as the last testament they would give in mortality, he noted.
“As I have loved you” is “to love the Father best of all, to obey Him to the end.”
“These men do not say what a joke they have played. They do not laugh about how many people they have fooled. They do not smirk and say the fable has ended; the travesty is over. No, with the Book of Mormon in their hands and an expression of charity on their lips, these two prepare to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Every element of this tragic experience cries ‘truth, truth, truth.’”
Quoting John 15:13, Elder Holland concluded his remarks with a tribute to Joseph and Hyrum.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Church leaders today may not have to lay down their life for the Lord as did Joseph and Hyrum, Elder Holland said, “But you can love the Savior as they did. … My beloved friends, may you serve with the pure love of Christ, may you make charity your watchword.”