In April of 1830 when the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first formed the Lord explained the duties of the priesthood in part by saying, "The teacher's duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking" (D&C 20:53,54).
Three and a half years later, on December 16, 1833 the Lord further explained the reason why He said this when He told the parable of the vineyard as recorded in D&C 101:43-62.
The parable tells of a certain nobleman who had a very choice spot of land on which he wanted to plant a number of olive trees. To do this he called his servants together and gave them instructions on what he wanted done. Besides planting the trees he ordered them to build a hedge or a wall around the tree and have watchmen guard and protect them from his enemies. The nobleman further commanded his servants to build a tower in the vineyard so the watchmen could see the enemy coming from far away, thereby giving themselves more time to defend any attack.
As the servants went out into the vineyard they did exactly what their master had told them, at least for awhile. They planted the trees as they had been instructed and built a hedge. They also set up watchmen on the wall and even started to build the watchtower. However, as they were building it they began to say amongst themselves, "Why does our master want us to build a tower?" and they debated this issue with each other for a long time.
There were those who looked out and didn't see any threat and argued that a tower wasn't needed because they were living in peaceful times. Some reasoned that since they had guards on the wall, there really was no need to build a tower. Some rationalized that the money used to build the tower could be put to better use by investing it and making interest. In the end the tower wasn't built as their master had instructed.
Over time the servants became lax in their security of the vineyard and soon the guards stopped watching for any intruders. Because of their slothfulness, the servants of the nobleman one day found themselves surprised and unprepared when the enemies of the nobleman did attack. Instead of staying to protect their master's property, they became scared and ran away, making it easy for the enemy to enter the vineyard and destroyed all that the servants had done.
When the master of the vineyard heard what happened, he was angry with his servants, saying, "Why didn't you do as I had commanded you?" They pleaded that they did have guards on the wall, but then had to admit they were asleep when the attack came. The master then said to them, "Had you done as I had commanded, you would have seen the enemy coming and could have prepared yourself to defend my vineyard and saved it. But because of your slothfulness, my enemy has been able to break down my walls, enter my vineyard, and destroy my trees. Now my enemy has built up his own walls and has set up his own towers so that he might defend himself against my effort to reclaim what is rightfully mine."
Nonetheless, the nobleman was determined to take back his property so he called one of his other servants and commanded him to gather the rest of the servants in the house, take all of their strength and enter the vineyard to reclaim it for the nobleman. He said to his servant, "I have bought this land with my own money therefore, go directly to my vineyard, break down the walls of my enemy, throw down their towers and scatter their watchmen so that I may come with the rest of my family and possess the land. And if you are a faithful and wise servant and accomplish this thing, then I will bless you and make you a ruler in my own house." So the servant went and did all that his master had commanded and after many days and with great effort he was able to take back the vineyard for his master.
Immediately after telling this parable, the Lord explained to Joseph Smith, "I will show unto you wisdom in me concerning all the churches, inasmuch as they are willing to be guided in a right and proper way for their salvation" (D&C 101:63).
The "churches" spoken of in this verse have reference to the various congregations that existed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at that time, such as the church at Colesville, the church at Kirkland, the church in Zion, etc. Therefore, it is clear that this parable of the vineyard was meant to represent Christ's true church and the servants are those who serve in the Church.
The very reason why Jesus established His church was for the purpose of bringing people to Christ through the preaching of the gospel and then perfecting the saints once they have accepted it. Earlier in this revelation the Lord explained it this way when He said, "When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men. They are called to be the savor of men; therefore, if that salt of the earth lose its savor, behold it is thenceforth good for nothing only to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men." (D&C 101:39,40).
When salt is added to food it enhances and enriches the flavor of that food, not because it actually changes anything about the food itself but rather because its flavor, when sprinkled and mingled with food that makes the food more pleasant to eat. In the same way, those who accept the gospel enhance and enrich the culture of the people they are associated with. In other words, as righteous Saints are sprinkled throughout a society their very presence improves the spirituality of that society and makes them more pleasing and acceptable to God. Consider how God agreed to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction if they had just ten righteous people living among them (Genesis 18:32).
On the other hand, if the Saints lose their righteousness then they have also lost their ability to improve the culture of society. In that case, they are not performing any good function. Therefore, God considers them to be no different than the unrighteous and they will suffer the same fate as the wicked.
But how do people become the salt of the earth? That is what the Church of Jesus Christ is all about. It is through the organization of the Church that people are taught what they must know to become saved and that is done by servants going out and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. But then, once a person accepts the gospel they must grow in it. To do this the servants of God must water, nourish, and care for each person who has been planted in gospel soil so they can become like a mighty tree that can bear much righteous fruit.
But Satan - who is God's sworn enemy - is constantly seeking ways to destroy that which God has planted. Therefore, he diligently seeks ways to attack these newly planted believers in Christ and ruin them before they have a chance to become strong in the faith and righteous in their character. His aim is to uproot them and poison their ground so they can't get the nourishment they need. In this way he causes them to shrivel up and die spiritually.
Since God knows this is what Satan is striving to do, He commands His servants to build a protective wall around the saints to hedge them from Satan's destructive assaults. Then He commands that guards be set along these protective walls to watch for Satan's attempts to steal away the souls of men. But even that isn't enough, therefore the Lord commands that a tower be built where the servants of God can look out on the horizon of the future and see what evil may be coming their way.
It doesn't take being a prophet to do this. Parents are in an especially good position to spot trends that could adversely affect their children such as the kind of friends their children associate with, the kind of music they listen to, and the types of TV shows and movies they watch. And the same goes for church leaders of both youth and adults. They too are charged with the responsibility of protecting and guarding those whom they have responsibility over. But it isn't enough for them to prevent immediate attacks. A faithful servant will also watch for trends that may foretell of trouble in the future and take action now that might thwart or blunt a wave of evil later on.
However, most of the time Satan doesn't launch an obvious frontal attack against us but rather he usually uses stealth and deceit to sneak past the sentries guarding the flock of God, hoping they won't be alert enough to spot their disguise. Therefore, it is important for those servants, charged with protecting the Saints, to be alert to what is going on around them. They can't afford to be lax or slothful in their duties because the enemy is ever vigilant, constantly looking for openings to destroy the work of God.
That is why the Lord said "I will show unto you wisdom in me concerning all the churches, inasmuch as they are willing to be guided in a right and proper way for their salvation" (D&C 101:63). The parable of the vineyard is meant to show all the churches of Christ the wisdom of God concerning the salvation of man. If we are willing to be guided by that wisdom it will show us the right and proper way to maintain the salvation of those who have joined Christ's church. If we are not willing to follow that wisdom then the saints of God are at risk of losing their salvation when Satan assault's their faith.
Fortunately, people don't fall away from the gospel because of one incident. It usually happens gradually over a period of time. Husbands and wives don't fall out of love with one another because of one argument or one disagreement. It happens as a result of years of neglecting to patch up differences. People don't become thieves over night. One little theft, left unpunished, encourages a person to try the next little theft, until they have developed a habit of stealing that is hard for them to control.
And the same is true of all other behavior including our faithfulness in the Church. People don't fall away from the church because of reading one piece of anti-Mormon literature or because of one offensive remark made by another member. In almost all cases, people's faith and testimony of the Church fails when either it has not had sufficient time to become strong or it has been weakened over a period of time. It is at that point that Satan can easily uproot them and pull them away from the church.
This is why the Lord has said that "The teacher's duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking."
Iniquity can include many things, such as being hard with one another, lying, backbiting and speaking evil of one another. These kinds of behavior causes cracks in the wall of our faith through which Satan can enter our heart. Then, once there, he quietly but effectively begins to destroy our salvation from within by tearing down our faith and destroying the testimony we received from the Holy Ghost. Therefore, to help prevent this from happening, the Lord has said we must always be watchful and ready to help strengthen and protect one another from the evil designs of Satan.
Just as in war, it is always better to have a strong defense than to engage in a strong offense. It is much easier to protect someone from falling into the hands of Satan in the first place than to rescue them after they have been taken prisoner by the enemy. Once Satan gets a hold of a person, he then claims them for his own. And to protect his property, he puts strong walls around them and sets guards to insure no one takes them away from him. Therefore, to rescue a lost soul involves attacking the enemy, breaking through his walls, and getting past his guards. Anyone who has ever home taught an inactive member knows how much more difficult it is to get that person to come back into the Church than it was to get them to accept the gospel in the first place. That is why the Lord, in His wisdom, has commanded His servants to be watchmen on the tower.
Each of us in the Church are like the olive trees in the parable that need to be nourished, fed, and spiritually cared for. But each of us are also like the servants who have been given the responsibility to watch over each other in the Church and help keep one another safe from God's enemy. When Jesus told Peter, "When thou are converted, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32), this is what He was referring to.
The night Jesus was betrayed, the told His disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you, That 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 13:24,35). Paul told the early saints, "by love, serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). The commandment to love our neighbor is second only to the commandment to love God and that's because love is the very essence of the gospel. Though we may possess all other spiritual gifts, without love we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
If that is so, then how do we go about showing love to our neighbor? The apostle John answered that question by asking, "Whoso….seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 17). Although John was referring to worldly needs in this particular verse, the same principle applies in spiritual matters. To have love for our neighbor means being compassionate enough to help them in their time of need. And what greater need can a person have than to be protected from the forces of Satan?
In the Church we sing, "Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not I have failed indeed. Has anyone's burden been lightened today because I was willing to help? Have the sick and the needy been helped on their way? When they needed my help was I there?" (Hymn #223 - Have I Done Any Good?)
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are given multiple opportunities to help people in need, both physically and spiritually and perhaps the greatest need we all have is help in staying true to the faith. The reason why we come to Church often is to help strengthen one another spiritually. The very purpose of testimony meetings is to uplift and reinforce the faith of others.
But there is much more we can and should do. There are some in the Church who are carrying a heavy burden of spiritual problems who need help with lightening their load. There are others in the Church who are feeling spiritually low or sick and are in desperate need of help to regain their spirituality. When we fail to provide that help Satan is always ready to step in and take advantage of the situation. And when he is successful in pulling people away from Christ we need to rightfully ask ourselves, "When they needed my help was I there?" If not, then we have failed indeed. We have failed not only our brothers and sisters but also Christ, our Master.
It isn't enough for us to bring people to Christ. After they have entered into a covenant with Him and become the salt of the earth the Lord has specially commanded us to watch for and make sure that Satan doesn't steal away the precious souls of men whom Christ has bought with His blood. If that were to happen because of our neglect, the Lord will not be happy with us. That is the message Jesus was trying to convey when he gave us the parable of the vineyard.
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