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Public and private worship in the Book of Mormon

Within the Book of Mormon, hundreds of years apart in time but only a couple of chapters apart, we have two examples of worshiping God: Enos and King Benjamin. These illustrate the kind of relationship we should have with our Father in Heaven and also with our fellow beings. Enos relates to us a very private experience while Benjamin, king of Zarahemla, gave a sermon to his people before abdicating the throne to his son. His life of devotion and the address itself were public worship; a testimony of his love to the Lord and the people he served.

Enos only wrote 27 verses, comprising the entire Book of Enos. In the first two thirds, he tells us of an experience he had when he was mostly likely a young man.

Enos, while in the forest away from everyone, pondered his father’s teachings about the Plan of Salvation, and his soul hungered for a remission of his sins. He asks how, and the teachings of his father are affirmed, that it was through Enos’s faith in Christ. Upon learning this, he petitions the Lord for his loved ones first and then for his enemies.

It’s a remarkable experience, a beautiful conversation he has with the Lord that shows us a pattern we can follow. We begin first with faith that leads us to repentance, then having felt the sweetness of the love and forgiveness of God, we desire it for all our brothers and sisters. When we ask questions, we acknowledge that God is the source of all truth.

Approximately 300 hundred years later King Benjamin gives his address. In it, he bears strong and humble testimony to his people, teaching and exhorting them to put off their animal selves, to believe in the atoning power of Christ, and to become humble before God. One thing that stands out to me is that Benjamin, a king of his people, says this of himself “[don’t] fear me, or … think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves… [weak] in body and mind;…and have been kept and preserved by [God’s] matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.” Mosiah 2:10-11

In his public example, we are shown that a true worshiper of God – a true disciple of Christ is a servant, no matter what his stature in society. In fact, King Benjamin follows Christ’s teachings, “whosover of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister…” Mark 10:44-45

Both the public and private worship of God shown by King Benjamin and Enos have several things in common. We seek repentance, or the putting off of the natural man. We either seek or bear testimony of Jesus Christ and of his Atonement. And we must be “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Mosiah 3:19

Once Enos had gained his testimony, he preached the Gospel successfully enough to his people that he and they could turn their attention to restoring the Lamanites to it. (Enos 1: 19-20) And before King Benjamin had been directed by an angel to publicly testify, he had privately prayed, with some indication that he had prayed on behalf of his people. (Mosiah 3:4)

Neither public nor private testimony of God negates the other. If one has gained testimony of Jesus Christ, then they cannot help but to bear testimony of Jesus Christ in word and deed. The stronger the testimony gained, the more obvious it is in the life of the follower.

Elder Russell M. Nelson said in the General Conference of April 2014:

“Danger lurks when we try to divide ourselves with expressions such as “my private life” or even “my best behavior.” If one tries to segment his or her life into such separate compartments, one will never rise to the full stature of one’s personal integrity—never to become all that his or her true self could be.”

For the Christian, the difference between their private and public life before God is that in the first, they primarily seek and are instructed by the Spirit and in the second, the Spirit primarily moves them to testify by word or action. In their private life, they determine the standards they live their life by. In their public life, they live those standards. For the Christian, no matter their visibility to others, they look always to God because they know that whether they are seen by men or not, their heart is always known by God.

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