The Lord has told us, "Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the labor" (D&C 42:42).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught as part of its basic beliefs that God does not condone nor is tolerant of idleness and laziness. Instead, from the time of Joseph Smith to the present LDS church leaders have often exhorted us to be industrious and to avoid depending on others to do things we can and should do for ourselves. Furthermore, they have counseled parents to teach their children the virtue of work so they don't grow up thinking that others will take care of them.
In the October Conference of 1936 the First Presidency of the LDS Church, in announcing their newly created welfare program declared, "Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership."
But this idea is nothing new. In the twelfth century the poet Chaucer wrote "Idle hands are the devil's tools" and Benjamin Franklin counseled "Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease." In the Book of Mormon when speaking of the Lamanites, Nephi was moved to write, "And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations" (1 Nephi 12:23), "And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey" (2 Nephi 5:24).
Nothing great has ever come from people being idle. In fact, just the opposite is true. Great things can only happen when people work hard and are industrious. The United States of America has become a great and prosperous nation precisely because its people have labored hard to make it that way as they have diligently worked to accomplish what seemed to be impossible. On the other hand, idle people drain the energy of those who do work since they require others to spend valuable time and resources taking care of the needs of those who will not care for themselves when they could.
However, most generally when we talk of idleness we usually think of it in terms of the absence of performing physical work or of being lazy so as to require someone else to provide for our physical needs. However, the Lord's displeasure of idleness goes beyond this definition. He has declared, "Now, I, the Lord, am not well please with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness: they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness" (D&C 68:31).
When the Lord made this statement to Joseph Smith in November 1831, the saints were in the process of setting up the city of Zion in Missouri as He had previously directed them to do. However, God had also previously declared that those who inhabited this city were to serve the Lord with a willing heart and were to keep all of His commandments (D&C 64:34). The building up of this city required the saints to purchase land and then develop it. Of necessity this required hard physical labor to not only construct buildings but to farm the land as well. Therefore, when most people read these words they think the Lord is talking about being displeased with some people who were being lazy by not doing their share of physical work.
However, that is not exactly what the Lord had in mind when He made this particular statement. To better appreciate what He is telling us we need to understand this verse in the context of its entire message.
Beginning in verse twenty-five the Lord instructs parents that they are to teach their children to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost so that when their children are eight years old they will be sufficiently prepared and willing to become baptized. Then the Lord further instructed parents to make sure their children are taught "to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord." He also instructs those who live in Zion to "observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy." And then He declares "And the inhabitants of Zion also shall remember their labors, inasmuch as they are appointed to labor, in all faithfulness; for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord."
The question we need to ask ourselves at this point is: What "labors" is the Lord referring to in this verse? That is crucial to know if we want to understand the point He is trying to make. According to what He told Joseph Smith, the saints were to perform those labors to which "they are appointed to labor." Therefore, we need to further ask the question: What labor were these saints "appointed" to perform? When we know the answer to this second question then we will have also learned the answer to the first question.
What makes it so important for us to find this answer is because it gives us the understanding of what the Lord meant when immediately afterwards He declares: "I, the Lord, am not well please with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness: they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness."
If we say that the Lord is referring to people who are not doing enough hard physical work and are not providing for their temporal needs then we would also have to conclude that these people were "appointed" or assigned the task of taking care of themselves. But that answer doesn't fit the context of the rest of the revelation. As we have seen, just prior to making this statement, the Lord was talking about people keeping certain commandments, such as teaching their children the doctrines of the church, making sure their children were baptized when they were eight years old, and keeping the Sabbath day holy. While these are not necessarily "physical" labors, they are nonetheless a work that the Lord requires of us. As such, each of us are "appointed" or assigned the task of accomplishing these specific spiritual responsibilities.
Furthermore, the Lord complained that because of their idleness "their children are also growing up in wickedness." Perhaps we could say that since "idle hands are the devil's workshop" these children were getting into mischief (i.e., wickedness) as a result of their parent's example of laziness, but that doesn't fit with what the Lord had just previously said. Notice that when the Lord said these children were growing up in wickedness He immediately followed that by explaining, "they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness."
This statement gives us two important clues to what the Lord means when He uses the word "wickedness." The first is that God isn't complaining because these children have nothing to do. Instead, He specifically states that the reason why He considers them to be wicked is because they are not earnestly seeking the riches of heaven. There are many people today who are extremely hard workers but who do not seek for the riches of heaven. In fact, too often people put so much time into their earthly labors that they forget they should be laboring to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Which then brings us to the second clue this verse gives us.
The reason why so many people work hard is so they can provide a good, comfortable lifestyle for themselves and for their family. As such, they not only stop seeking for the riches of eternity by taking their eyes off of their eternal future but they then focus all of their energy and thoughts on accumulating worldly goods. Hence, "their eyes are full of greediness."
While it is possible for someone to be lazy and greedy at the same time, usually a person works hard to accumulate worldly things precisely because they are greedy. In other words it is their greed that motivates them to work hard. So when the Lord condemns those in Zion who are idle, it doesn't appear He has reference to them not performing physical work but rather He condemns them for their greediness. Therefore, the idleness He is talking about in this verse has to do with their laziness in performing their spiritual work.
In the verse just prior to this the Lord commanded parents to teach their children to walk uprightly before the Lord. Then in verse thirty-one the Lord complains about children who are not walking in righteousness. It is clear that these children have lost sight of the riches of eternity and are greedy for the things of the world, not because their parents weren't hard workers but because they were lazy in properly teaching their children the doctrines of Christ. And because of their laziness in attending to their parental responsibilities as the Lord had appointed them, their children were growing up in wickedness. Therefore, what the Lord is referring to here is those who are idle in performing their duties in the Church.
It is important to notice what the Lord has to say about such people. He declares, "for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord." To understand the significance of this statement we first have to understand the importance of baptism. Baptism is not just a ceremony whereby our sins are washed away. It is also a ceremony where we enter into a solemn covenant or commitment to remember the Lord always and to keep His commandments which He has given us. It is also a pledge on our part to help build the kingdom of God here on earth.
But, in order for the kingdom of God to be great there has to be people who are willing to put forth great effort to make that happen. Those who are lazy in performing their duties in the Church are not only going back on the pledge they made to God at the time of their baptism but they are putting a drain on the energy and resources of those who are striving to build up the kingdom of God here on earth. As such, those who are idle in performing their appointed labors in the Church are impeding the growth of God's kingdom.
The scriptures repeatedly warn us that some day each of us will stand before the bar of Christ to answer for the things we did in the flesh. Every idle word and every good deed, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, will be judged either to our condemnation or to our glory. What the Lord is saying in verse thirty is that when those who have been slothful in keeping the promise they made at the time of their baptism come before the bar of Christ to be judged of their deeds, the Lord will remember their idleness in serving Him. That is what He means when He says, "for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord."
A few days after making these remarks the Lord gave Joseph Smith some further instructions concerning the building up of Zion. It was necessary that the revelations Joseph had received up to this point be printed so that the saints could have their own copy of them. The hand-written copy of these revelations were entrusted to Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdrey, John Whitmore, Sidney Rigdon, and William W. Phelps. Among their duties were to purchase a printing press and transport it to Zion where the revelations were then to be printed and bound in book form.
In speaking about this assignment the Lord said, "I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them; And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment. Wherefore, I have appointed unto them, and this is their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof" (D&C 70:3-5).
Notice that the Lord uses the word "appointed" when referring to the labor He required of these men. And these labors which were "appointed unto them" had to do with the "business in the church of God." Furthermore, they were appointed as stewards over these labors and "in the day of judgment" they would be require to give an account of how well or faithful they had been in fulfilling their labors.
Then in verse nine the Lord added, " Behold, this is what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man" (emphasis added). In other words, everyone who is appointed a labor to perform in the Church will have to give an account on the day of judgment of how well he performed his Church duties.
The Lord then went on to say that no one is exempt from this law, not even the bishop or anyone else "who is appointed in a stewardship [position] over temporal things." (verse 11). Then in verse twelve the Lord states that the same law applies to those who are appointed a stewardship to administer in spiritual things. That means everyone who has received a calling in the Church will stand at the bar of Christ on judgment day and have to give an account of how well they labored in building the kingdom of God as they were appointed. Concerning those who worked hard in the Church the Lord has said, "For they have been faithful over many things, and have done well inasmuch as they have not sinned. Behold, I, the Lord, am merciful and will bless them, and they shall enter into the joy of these things" (verses 17-18). On the other hand, those who were idle in performing those labors which they were appointed to in the Church, the Lord has said He will remember them and they will be rewarded accordingly.
In January of 1832 the Lord told a group of elders of the Church to go forth and proclaim the truth according to the revelations He had given them saying, "go forth and not tarry, neither be idle but labor with your might" D&C 75:3-4). He then added, "if ye are faithful [in performing your appointed labors] ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life" (verse 5). But the Lord has also warned us: "Let every man be diligent in all things. And the idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways" (verse 29).
In another revelation the Lord also told us that those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom, "are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God" (D&C 76:79). To be valiant means to be faithful in keeping the commandments of God and only those who are valiant will receive a crown in the kingdom of God. But it is hard to imagine calling someone "valiant in the testimony of Jesus" if they are lazy in fulfilling their appointed callings in the Church.
When the Lord said "Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer" His words have far more significance than just in a temporal sense because after the resurrection, those who were idle in performing their duties in the Church while here on earth shall likewise not eat the bread nor wear the garments that will be given to those who were faithful during mortality in laboring for the Lord.