In the comments section of one of the episodes of the Iron Rod Podcast, a listener shared a profound insight he had discovered in the Doctrine and Covenants. It was a truth hiding in plain sight that I might have never found, trusting instead in the traditions I had been taught since my youth. These traditions teach that thrusting in your sickle is all about missionary work. Yet Section 11, received in May 1829, does not support that notion.
First, Hyrum is told he must wait before preaching the gospel until he has received God’s word and knows his doctrine.
D&C 11:15-17, 21-22
Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called. Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine. And then, behold, according to your desires, yea, even according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
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. But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto.
Instead of being called to preach, he is called to study the word of God, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Then the Lord gives the key of understanding:
Therefore, treasure up in your heart until the time which is in my wisdom that you shall go forth. Behold, I speak unto all who have good desires, and have thrust in their sickle to reap.
The Lord is saying to treasure up the word of God until it is time to go forth to preach the word. But notice to whom the Lord is giving this message that it is not yet time for missionary work: he’s speaking to all who have already thrust in their sickle to reap!
This changes everything. Instead of thrusting in our sickle to reap being about missionary work and harvesting converts, it’s about harvesting our own souls. Thrusting in the sickle is studying the word of God until we know of a surety the Lord’s doctrine. This is quite a bit different from what is taught in the correlated lesson manuals. Surely this one heretic on the internet can’t be right and the correlation committee in Salt Lake City be wrong! Let’s look in a few other places.
Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
Notice it is the soul of the one thrusting the sickle that gets everlasting salvation. There is no mention of converts being saved here. The benefits of thrusting the sickle are for the person thrusting the sickle, which makes sense if we’re talking about personally feasting on the scriptures. Watcher added a few verses to the comments, one of which nicely summarizes this concept:
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
Watcher also referenced JST Matthew 1:37, that says “whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.” This confirms the Helaman passage and puts it squarely in a latter-day context. Satan is generating all sorts of false doctrine in an effort to deceive us. The only antidote is a sound knowledge of the word of God.
Now that we know what thrusting in our sickles means, let’s continue with Section 11.
Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.
Notice the order, thrusting your sickle and reaping is what causes you to be called of God. Yet a missionary is supposed to be called of God before beginning to labor. This doesn’t make sense with the traditional interpretation. But the scriptural interpretation does make sense. Studying the word of God until we have obtained the word and know the true doctrine, that is what qualifies us for the work and causes us to be called of God. We have to put the personal effort in before we can be of use to God. But he promises us that he will help us.
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.
Remember, this Spirit is being promised long before we are asked to go forth and preach. The Spirit promised here is not to help us preach the word with power, it is to help us learn the word and the true doctrine so we can become qualified to preach the word to others!
My thoughts soon turned to D&C 4. This, after all, is the quintessential missionary scripture. Back when I was on my mission, we repeated this at every district meeting, zone meeting, and mission meeting.
Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
Notice that is doesn’t say the words ministry or missionary work. It says service of God, and serving God. How do the scriptures define the service of God? Interestingly, Section 4 is the only place in the D&C that has the phrase “service of God.” Let’s look in the other books.
In the Bible, the service of God is used consistently to describe the work in the tabernacle and temple. Here are two examples:
And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
In the Bible, missionary work is never described as “the service of God.”
In the Book of Mormon, this phrase is used by two people.
Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!
King Benjamin repeated uses the service of God to not refer to missionary work, but to his work as king and being in the service of his fellow beings.
2 Nephi 2:3
Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.
While not as definite as the Mosiah passage, there is no mention of missionary work in the entire chapter. Instead, Lehi is imploring his sons to choose eternal life because he is worried about the welfare of their souls.
In summary, nowhere in scripture is “the service of God” linked to missionary work! So when God talks about those who embark in the service of God, he’s talking about everyone who chooses to seek out his word, his doctrine, and his truth.
Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;
And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.
Section 4 was given to Joseph Smith Sr. in February 1829. When did he embark on his first mission? August 1830…eighteen months later. If this is about missionary work, it sure took him a long time to finish embarking! Compare Section 4 to Section 11 and you can see they agree with one another. The work is not missionary work, but personal preparation.
What a great find! Another tradition debunked! And another reminder that everyone has an individual obligation to obtain God’s word by searching out the scriptures. I am so grateful for this community we are creating wherein we can learn from each other.