Today, I’d like to address a topic that’s been on my mind for several months.

During that time, I’ve noticed on several occasions that when a question has been asked in class about the things that we’re supposed to be doing in the gospel, the answers often revolve around what we call the “Sunday School answers” — the answers we all know because we’ve heard them repeated often in Sunday School — things like reading the scriptures, saying our prayers and attending church.

These are all important things and good answers. But if they’re all that we do, there’s a whole other side of the gospel that will be missing from our lives.

In John 17 verse 3, Jesus said “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Reading the scriptures, saying our prayers, and attending church are all important in helping us to get to know the Savior. But alone, they’re not enough.

In Mosiah 5 verse 13, King Benjamin taught us how to take the next step. He said: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” We can’t fully get to know the Savior, and therefore have eternal life, if all we do is learn about him. We also need to serve and emulate him, so that we can come to know him through deeper, more complete experience.

If this is true, we might expect to find some more commandments that tell us to do that. And in fact, in Matthew chapter 22, we read:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

It’s worth pointing out that we can’t follow either of these commandments without following the other. In 1 John 4:20, we read: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” So we can’t truly love God without also loving our neighbor. And in Mosiah 2:17, we find the other side of the coin: “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

Of course, we shouldn’t think that because neither of the two great commandments explicitly mentions anything about, for example, prayer, scripture study or church attendance, that those things aren’t important. In fact, as I’ll show from the scriptures later, they’re indispensable to the service we give in the church. But clearly, by themselves, they’re not enough for our salvation.

So how do we obey the first and great commandment and show our love for God? Jesus gave two answers.

First, in John 14 verse 15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” I often think of that scripture when my kids tell me they love me. And then I wonder whether God sometimes feels the same way when I tell him that. This answer goes along well with a lot of the “Sunday School answers” — they’re things that we’ve been commanded to do, and if we love God, we will do them.

Jesus’ second answer is found in John chapter 21, where we read:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

Jesus didn’t ask Peter that question three times because Jesus needed to hear the answer. He asked him three times to make sure that Peter heard the answer. Along with “how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served,” these are the words that have been on my mind most these past few months: “Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.”

So how do we feed Jesus’ sheep? I’ll start off by mention of few things that are not part of “Feed my sheep.”

Does the good shepherd, looking at his flock think to himself, “that sheep wandered off last week and caused me a lot of trouble. I had to leave the 90 and 9 and search half the county to find him. I think I’ll give him a little jab with the scissors they next time I shear him,” or “boy, I’ve got some good stories to tell about the bad things that sheep has done over the years,” or “that little lamb is so naughty, it’s about time to he got what’s coming to him”?

I don’t think so. The good shepherd’s thoughts and concerns and intentions are about what he can do for the sheep, and so ours should be too.

If Jesus were sitting on the stand today looking out over our congregation, do you think he’d be thinking, “those members over there are sinners. I’m going to condemn them,” or “that bishop’s counsellor has really fallen short — I can’t wait to replace him,” or “I went through a lot of suffering for that one. I don’t think I can forgive them any more”?

I don’t think so. More likely, his thoughts would be along the lines of “that person there has really been struggling and isn’t making much progress — what can I do to help them,” or “there’s so and so, who hasn’t been doing so well — this is what I’m going to do today to save them.”

“What manner of men ought ye to be?” The Lord asked his disciples when he visited the Americas. “Even as I am.”

The commandment we’ve received is not “judge my sheep”, “criticize my sheep” or “look down your nose at those other sheep of mine over there,” but “feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.” And in fact, the sheep who are most in need of feeding are those who aren’t doing a very good job of feeding themselves.

Which brings us back to the “Sunday School answers.” When we do those things for ourselves, we are feeding ourselves. And since we are Jesus’ sheep, we’re feeding his sheep. Our first responsibility toward God is, in effect, to feed ourselves. And that primary responsibility can never be handed off to anyone else, because that would violate the principle of free agency.

But there’s even more to it than that. There are numerous scriptures that talk about the importance of building our own spirituality in preparation for feeding others of the Lord’s sheep.

For example, Doctrine and Covenants 11:21: “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.”

Or in Luke 22 verse 32: “and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

Or in Doctrine and Covenants section 50:

Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question–unto what were ye ordained?

To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

Finally, Doctrine and Covenants 42, verse 14: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” We can’t give what we haven’t received. And we can’t feed God’s sheep the food that they really need, which comes from receiving his word by his spirit, if we haven’t prepared ourselves to teach by the spirit.

Now, before I go on, I want to be sure I’m not giving the wrong impression. I don’t mean to suggest that we should wait until we’re perfect, or even wait at all, to begin giving service. Even if we’re not yet prepared to fill certain roles that the Lord may wish to put us in someday, or if we’re not yet the perfect instrument for God to use to shine his gospel light to the world, there is always some way that we can serve. There’s always some good that we can do for someone. You’re probably ready for more than you think.

And if we’re given an assignment or calling that we feel requires a level of spirituality that we haven’t yet achieved, unless there are serious sins that would prevent us from being worthy — and if there are, then of course, that’s something you should discuss with the bishop so that he can help you determine whether you’re worthy or how you can become worthy — but unless that’s the case, then an assignment that we feel is beyond us may be just the thing we need to help us humble ourselves and make the extra effort that’s necessary to prepare to fulfill it.

If you’re close enough to being prepared, then if you’ll seek the spirit humbly, and not just for yourself, but because of your desire to “feed his sheep”, then I believe the Lord will bless you with that little extra that you need. In fact, that little extra is always a gift from God, no matter how well prepared we are. I believe that He wants to give each of us that little extra. And in my experience, the times when we feel the need to ask for a little extra lead to some of the greatest spiritual experiences, because those are the times when you’ll feel the Lord’s love and the mercy that he’s shown to you.

Back in January, our ward adopted a new mission plan. The first section of it wasn’t about sharing the gospel, but about how we would prepare ourselves to be ready to share the gospel.

Our own preparation to share the gospel is so important. In Matthew 5, Jesus taught: “Ye are the light of the world. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” It’s difficult for people to see the light of heaven through us if our lives aren’t reflecting it.

So the preparation section of the ward mission plan is very important. I believe that the better we prepare ourselves to be, as Jesus said, the light of the world, the more opportunities to share the gospel the Lord will send our way.

The steps we take to build and maintain our spirituality are important, both for ourselves — for our relationship with God — and for us to be ready to serve as he would have us serve. But what would be the point of all the preparation if we didn’t take the next step? In fact, Jesus’ words to Peter, when he instructed him three times, “feed my sheep”, suggest just how important that next step is.

In Moses 1:39, we read, “For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” What better way to show our love for our Heavenly Father than by doing what we can help help with his work.

As we feed his sheep, as we do his work, we’ll come to know him in a way that we never can if all we do is read, pray, listen and feed ourselves the gospel.

If we love God, we’ll love his other children and we’ll want to do whatever we can to serve him by serving them. Joseph Smith said, “a man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” And in Doctrine and Covenants section 18, we read:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.

And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!

Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

What better words could we hope to hear from our Heavenly Father when we stand before him again someday than, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You prepared yourself so that I could put you to work feeding my sheep. And then you accepted the callings and assignments I gave you, magnified them, and in other ways, of your own free will, made sacrifices to do the work, and together, we saved these others of my children. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

I hope that we’ll always remember the central importance of service in living the gospel, and not think of it as an elective or optional part that we’ll mix in a little of when we have the time or when someone gives us the calling.

If you’re not sure what to do more of, start with the callings and assignments you already have. Home and visiting teaching may sometimes feel like a job that’s just never done. But maybe we should think of them instead as an opportunity that never runs dry.

If you’re ready to show your Heavenly Father even more how you love him and aren’t sure what to do, talk to one of your quorum or auxiliary leaders or a member of your bishopric.

And always seek the guidance of the spirit through prayer, because the Lord knows better than any of us what service he has prepared for you to give.

Prepare and serve. “If ye love me, keep my commandments. Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.”