For my Come, Follow Me lesson this week, I studied Doctrine and Covenants 4, a revelation from the Lord, through Joseph Smith the Prophet to his father Joseph Smith Sr. Joseph the Prophet and his wife Emma were living in Harmony, Pennsylvania, when Joseph Smith Sr. came to visit them. While he was there, he acknowledged that he desired to know what he could do to assist in the work of the Lord. Joseph, the Prophet, inquired of the Lord, and he received what is now known as Doctrine and Covenants 4.
There are only seven verses, but they pack a wealth of knowledge in them. The first verse reads as follows: “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.” It is interesting that the Lord used the words “marvelous work” to describe what was going to happen. The Lord used the same words when he prophesied anciently to the prophet Isaiah. He told Isaiah that there would be a great apostasy in the last days, but He would “proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14). The wording in this verse – “is about to come forth” – shows that Isaiah’s prophecy had not yet been fulfilled. President David O. McKay (1873-1970) said the following about this verse.
When this revelation was given to the Prophet Joseph, he was only 23 years of age. The Book of Mormon was not yet published; no man had been ordained to the priesthood. The Church was not organized; yet the statement was made and written without qualification that “a marvelous work [was] about to come forth among the children of men (in Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 86; as quoted in the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual – Religion 324-325 ).
Other revelations containing similar language were received before the Church was organized. Verse 2 is often applied to missionaries serving full time in the mission field. However, we know that it applies to non-missionaries because Joseph Smith Sr. was not a missionary when the revelation was received. “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” Then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks said the following about this verse.
We learn from this command [in D&C 4:2] that it is not enough to serve God with all of our might and strength. He who looks into our hearts and knows our minds demands more than this. In order to stand blameless before God at the last day, we must also serve him with all our heart and mind.
Service with all of our heart and mind is a high challenge for all of us. Such service must be free of selfish ambition. It must be motivated only by the pure love of Christ (“Why Do We Serve?” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 15).
All those who desire to serve God are required to give great personal effort, but their desire calls them to the work. Verse 4 tells us that there is much work to be done: “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.” Jesus Christ used the description “white already to harvest” (John 4:35) during his mortal ministry.
The Doctrine and Covenant Student Manual explained, “Grains such as wheat or barley change color as they grow. When the grain is young it is green, but as it matures it grows pale. When the grain is ready for harvesting, it can be described as ‘white.’”
A second topic in verse 4 is that the worker for Christ “bringeth salvation to his soul.” The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual explained: “A sickle is a large curved knife used to harvest grain. A reaper uses a sickle by either drawing it toward him or her to catch and cut the crop or by swinging it against the base of the crop. Using this tool to harvest grain is a very labor intensive and slow process. This metaphor describes the diligent work required to bring people to Jesus Christ.” Elder Keven R. Duncan of the Quorum of the Seventy had personal experience in using a sickle as a boy on his father’s farm. He said that the sickle had to be kept sharp to work as well as possible and with the smallest amount of effort.
Verses 5 and 6 tell us that the Lord does not require us to be gifted physically or intellectually to help with His work. He does, however, request that we develop the Christlike attributes listed in these verses.
5 And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.
6 Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.
Then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency explained what happens to any person who develops these Christlike qualities: “If it is your great desire to cultivate Christlike attributes of ‘faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and service]’ [D&C 4:6], Heavenly Father will make you an instrument in His hands unto the salvation of many souls” (“Lord, Is It I?” Ensign, Nov. 2014, 58; as quoted in the D&C Student Manual).
The last verse in the section tells us that the Lord stands ready to provide spiritual guidance and other help to those who work for Him: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.” President Russell M. Nelson of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the importance of gaining Christlike characteristics to obtaining answers to our prayers.
For each of you to receive revelation unique to your own needs and responsibilities, certain guidelines prevail. The Lord asks you to develop “faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God.” Then with your firm “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and] diligence,” you may ask, and you will receive; you may knock, and it will be opened unto you. [D&C 4:5-6; emphasis added; see also verse 7.] …
Every Latter-day Saint may merit personal revelation” (“Ask, Seek, Knock,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 83-84; as quoted in the D&C Student Manual.
As you can see, there are numerous gospel topics contained in the seven verses of Doctrine and Covenants 4. These verses contained excellent counsel for full-time missionaries as well as for anyone who desires to serve the Lord. I know that as we “thrust” in our “sickles” and serve God with all our heart, mind, mind, and strength, we can bless ourselves as well as others.