This comment was made at the end of a lengthy explanation on the responsibilities and duties of the priesthood. In this section of the Doctrine and Covenant, the Lord lists the various offices of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods and details the duties of each one. Thus, when the Lord made this concluding remark He was speaking specifically to all those who hold the priesthood.
When read strictly in context, it would seem that the Lord is telling us that we have an obligation to learn what the various duties and responsibilities of these priesthood callings are and that He expects us to perform those duties to the best of our abilities. However, there is much more implied in this statement than is specifically stated. To understand the greater import of these words we must first gain a clearer understanding of what the priesthood is.
The priesthood has often been defined as "the authority of God delegated to man to act in His name." We also talk about "the power and authority" of the priesthood. Thus, the priesthood carries with it both the power and authority to act in the name of God. But what does God need the power and the authority of the priesthood for?
The Lord has revealed "All kingdoms have a law given; And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions" (D&C 88:36-38).
The answer to our question is that the priesthood is the power and authority by which God governs all kingdoms and administers their laws. The priesthood confers upon those who hold it the right and privilege to officiate in the affairs of the kingdom of God. That is, it bestows upon those who hold it the official authority to manage, operate, direct, and control all things pertaining to the kingdom of God. In short, the priesthood is the power and authority by which all things are governed.
The scriptures tell us that God is a God of order. That means His kingdom is organized in an orderly and systematic way as opposed to things being chaotic and in disarray. But that doesn't just happen by accident. In order for Him to deliberately and purposefully set and keep things in order He must direct, control, appoint and manage all the affairs of His kingdom. Such activity defines the role of a leader. And, indeed, to hold any leadership position in God's kingdom a person must first hold the priesthood.
The priesthood has also been defined as the power by which the ordinances of salvation are administered. Those ordinances include baptism, conferring of the Holy Ghost, and sealings. It is also used to perform other sacred ordinances such as ordination to the priesthood, blessing the sacrament and healing of the sick. But, by far, the greatest use of the priesthood is for the purpose of presiding within the kingdom of God.
The word "preside" means "to supervise, direct, guide, or control" (American Heritage Dictionary). When someone is called to preside over an organization in the Church - whether it be as president of the Sunday School, the Young Men's program, the Elder's or High Priest Quorum, or as a bishop, stake president, or apostle - their role is that of a leader. Although woman are called to positions of leadership as presidents of the Relief Society and Young Woman's program, they do so under the direction of the priesthood. Thus, it is still those who hold the priesthood who are responsible for leading and giving direction to every Church organization.
However, a person is not given the priesthood at the time they are called to preside. Nor is the priesthood taken from them when they are released from their calling. In fact, just the opposite is true. A person is given the priesthood before they are ever called to a presiding position in the Church and they continue to hold it regardless of their status or level of involvement in the Church. Since that is so, then, what is the purpose of God bestowing His power and authority upon someone to lead others when they have no presiding position in the Church?
Perhaps it might help us understand the answer to this question if we look at the definition of some other words. The word "govern" means "To control; to guide; to rule; to regulate; to decide or determine." The word "lead" means "To guide or direct; to influence; to be at the head of: to tend toward a certain goal." As we look at the definition of these words we see that to "preside" is the same as to "govern" or "to lead." Someone who leads is known as a "leader." The dictionary defines this word as "Someone who serves as an example; Someone who has the principle role or is at the head of."
The ultimate role of the priesthood is to be that of a leader. But someone can be a leader even when they are not in an official presiding position. In the Church, each president has two councilors. Although the president presides, the councilors do not. Thus, it can be said that technically the counselors are not the "leaders" of the organization to which they belong because they do not sit at its head nor do they make the final decisions. But that does not mean they are not leaders, because they can still set an example and have the right to control, guide, direct, and influence those who come under their supervision.
By definition, a leader is someone who leads others. They not only set the example that others can follow, but they know how to motivate and inspire others to action. In fact, the most important quality of a leader is their ability to manage people. A leader who cannot instill in others a desire to do what needs to be done is not an effective leader. A person may be a good administrator, have a clear vision of where they are going, are able to set goals, and can organize their time and energies, but unless they can influence others to willingly join their cause, most of the work done will be accomplished by the person in charge. In which case, by definition, they are not leaders
The way a person influences others is through the effective use of what is known as "people skills." For the most part, this consists of the way we talk to and treat others. In his book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" Dale Carnige explains how to interact with others in a way that persuades them to do what is asked of them. In business, one effective way companies persuade people to keep coming back is through the use of good "customer service" which is based on utilizing these same principles. Thus, the mark of a true leader is someone who has mastered the use of good people skills.
These same techniques are also found extensively throughout the scriptures. They include such things as "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7:12). "Judge not; condemn not" (Luke 6:37). "Love one another" (John 13:14). "Recompense no man evil for evil. Be not over come of evil but over come evil with good" (Rom. 12:17,21) "Give none offense" (1 Cor. 10:32). "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). "Becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love" (Mosiah 3:19).
Perhaps the greatest advice on people skills is found in D&C 121:41-45 where we are told, "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; By kindness, and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy, and without guile - Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly."
These are principles of leadership and they are the rules for effective people management. Not so surprisingly, they are also the same standards needed for using the priesthood. To govern the affairs of the kingdom of God requires the governing of people and the priesthood is the means by which God governs His kingdom. Thus, to be an effective priesthood holder requires us to be an effective leader.
But, a good leader must also be a good follower. Since a good leader sets the example, if he expects others to follow him, then he must set the example of following those in authority above him. For example, although the Bishop presides over his ward, he takes direction and counsel from the Stake President, who takes guidance and instruction from the General Authorities, who carry out the assignments they receive from the Quorum of the Twelve, who work under the direction of the First Presidency, who follow the inspiration of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. As our leader, Jesus says, "Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do" (2 Nephi 31:12). And one of the things He has done is followed the will of His Father (John 5:30). Since a leader is one who sets the example for others to follow, it become clear that every good leader must also set the example of being a good follower.
And there are many other principles of good leadership, nearly all of which can be found in the scriptures. As such, the scriptures become our handbook on effective leadership. But it takes more than book knowledge to become a good leader. It takes skill. And all skills are acquired through practice and constant use. Furthermore, these skills can be learned without ever being called to a presiding position. They are learned as we interact with others. When we are able to effectively "win friends and influence people" for their good, we are being a leader. For example, a Sunday School teacher who influences those in their class to improve their spirituality is acting in the capacity of a leader. A Deacon who influences an inactive member of his quorum to become active is serving in a leadership role. Missionaries who help influence people to accept the gospel to the point where they become baptized are fulfilling their priesthood (i.e., leadership) responsibilities.
Because of this, it is necessary for priesthood holders to develop their leadership skills before they are called to preside over others. Those who wait to learn how to lead until they are put in a leadership position almost invariably waste valuable time trying to develop skills they should have already acquired. That is why men receive the priesthood first before they are called to a presiding status.
At the time when a person is called to a presiding position, they are given keys which officially gives them the right to direct, control, and manage the affairs of that particular organization which they have been called to oversee. These keys are the right of presidency. But there are no keys associated with the priesthood itself because keys are only needed for administrative purposes. When someone is ordained to the priesthood, they have not been called to preside over an administrative organization, thus they don't need any keys but they have nonetheless been called to serve as a leader in God's kingdom. That is why they retain their priesthood even after they've been released from a position of presidency.
The purpose of the priesthood is to govern in the affairs of the kingdom of God. As such, the reason why God confers the priesthood upon men is to call them to service in building up His kingdom. As such it is an official calling. To honor the priesthood means to honor that call to serve. And the way a leader serves God is by is helping motivate, guide, direct, and influences others in a way that builds up the kingdom of God.
To serve as this kind of a leader a person must have faith, not only in themselves but in the potential of others. To be a good leader requires a person to be willing to place the needs of others ahead of themselves. A good leader believes in a cause and must become committed to it if they hope to convince others to believe and participate in it as well. A good leader must have such character qualities as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, loyalty, and selflessness. They must also know how to effectively use the technique of friendly persuasion rather than depending on dictatorial methods to manage others. These are the essential ingredients for successful leadership, and they are the kind of skills that every priesthood holder can and should learn before they are called to preside, not afterwards.
As such, all priesthood holders need to continually develop these vital skills irregardless of whatever calling they may or may not receive. To be a priesthood holder is a call to become actively engaged in building up God's kingdom. Although women can also assist in this endeavor, the ordination to the priesthood is a specific call to lead the way in helping the kingdom to become successful. But, in order for a priesthood holder to do that, they have to be someone who takes the initiative rather than sitting back and waiting for others to do what needs to be done or waiting to be told what to do. It is a call for them to rise up to the spiritual potential that God knows they are capable of achieving. It's a call to learn the techniques and develop the skills to become an effective and successful leader.
The reason why this is so important for priesthood holders to fulfill this calling is because we are being trained for an eternal leadership role. The Lord has promised that those who overcome shall be made kings and priests and shall sit on thrones to rule and reign with Christ (see Rev. 5:10, 4:21). Those who fail to learn the leadership skills needed to inherit all that the Father has will not qualify for that exalted position. That is what Christ meant when He said, "Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy."
That is the importance of holding the priesthood of God