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3 Nephi 12: 33-37

3 Nephi 12: 33-37:

“And again it is written, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths;  But verily, verily, I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair black or white;  But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever cometh of more than these is evil.”
 
This revokes the oath making of the earlier Dispensation. When an oath was taken it was to be performed without fail. (See, e.g., Numbers 30: 2.) It was binding. Ancient Israel relied on vows to govern their conduct. (See, e.g., 1 Nephi 4: 33-37.) Oaths were relied on because they bound your conduct before God.
Christ is putting an end to the practice. No further vow-making was to take place. In its place say “yea” or say “nay,” but nothing further to bind your soul before God.
 
Swearing by men who possess nothing is foolish and prideful. Particularly when they swear by heaven, because it is not theirs to promise.  Nor should they swear by the earth, because it is not theirs either.  A man cannot even offer his own life, because it belongs to God who gave it. Indeed, there is nothing we own or can offer. (Mosiah 2: 20-25.)
 
The comment regarding the inability to make a single hair “black or white” is emphasizing how little control we really have over things. Even our own bodies will take a course assigned it by God. They will age, and eventually die. We have our body as a stewardship. It is ours for a season, then we will lay it down. Until then, we serve a probation in which we are given power over these elements we occupy. But that stewardship is one designed to “prove” us, and show what we really are. When we gratify the body at the expense of others, or destroy our bodily temple housing our spirits by indulging uncontrolled appetites, we are unwise. We will lose these bodies before long and then, left with the same spiritual emptiness which caused the cravings in the first place, will find ourselves suffering. Whereas, if you discipline the body, keep it under control and subject to your spirit, then death can bring a release and freedom from suffering. It will be an odd reversal. One known only to those who go through it; at which point it is too late to change the outcome.
 
Additionally, Christ is suggesting that we speak in plain language, without the rhetoric of grand threats or promises. Speak simply. Speak out of an abundance of humility. Mean what you say, and do not obligate yourself to do what you cannot do.
 
Live simply, prepare to deal honestly with one another. And leave the heavens out of your promises if you cannot control them.
 
Do not commit yourself to do anything by swearing to God it shall be done. You have no control over when you will die, whether you will have another day of health to accomplish what you have vowed, or even if the thing about which you committed yourself will continue to be possible. Be humble about what you are given. Be grateful.
 
These verses address a social standard that needed to be left behind. Coming out of that should be a replacement of plain speaking, humility about what we are able to do, and caution about words we use.

In this reformation alone Christ proves Himself to be a sage. He was more than a wise teacher, He was the Great Teacher. This concept alone makes Him one of the greatest social reformers of the ancient world.

3 Nephi 12: 31-32



“It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.”


First and foremost, this is a verse dealing with male conduct. The verse is masculine in orientation and word usage, and deals with a male’s prerogative under the law that existed then. So applying this new, higher law, beyond that is not warranted, as will be more clearly seen in the discussion below.


The ease with which a divorce could be granted made the serious nature of the act unappreciated. Today it is still unappreciated. Divorce rates among Latter-day Saints have risen to practically mirror the population at large. We follow all the surrounding social trends, but are a little slower in getting there. We are not “peculiar” any longer. We are just slower.


Christ was re-enshrining the significance of marriage. It should not be easy to end a marriage. But, then again, perhaps the kind of marriage Christ is speaking of is one of a higher order and rarely exists here.


Although there are reasons for every marriage to be treated as sacred and worth preserving, it was always intended for there to be a higher purpose in marriage. It was intended to be an eternal union, inside of which sacred acts mirroring heaven itself take place. Bringing into this world new life by the loving union of two partners is a mirror of heaven. Such things are, or ought to be, most sacred.


But a higher kind of union, where love is the prevailing rule, is not often established here. More often than not, the marriages of this world are corrupted, just as society itself is corrupted.


I hardly dare offer a different view of these verses, because people think they know what they’re reading in them. I’m not sure we have ever seen what Christ is actually speaking about. Though caution would suggest otherwise, I’m going to go ahead with offering a different view.


First, this is always interpreted to be discussing things which are coarse or material, but it comes immediately following a discussion about the inner or spiritual self. This suggests our normal reading of this language may be incorrect. When the focus of Christ’s new and higher law is the inner man, then to read this as applying to outward behavior (fornication/adultery) may miss the point.


Second, notice the contrast between the only justified reason for terminating the marriage (fornication) and the subsequent results (adultery). Two different words are used, suggesting two different meanings are present.


I’ve consulted with John Hall about the New Testament language in the Matthew account of this sermon, where “porneia” is the typical rendering.  There the meaning of the first word which we render “fornication” could be a variety of things including: prostitution, sexual permissiveness or merely a sexual act. But, if the word was “poneria” then it could, by broad measure,  mean bad acts (with no sexual connotation at all).


There is a possibility that the correct way to read this could be rendered in this way: “Whoever puts away his wife for any reason other than the lack of marital intimacy…” That would mean the only justified reason to end the marriage is that the marriage has ended within the heart. There is no longer any love in the relation. It has died. It is no longer worthy of preservation, and therefore, the death of the heart justifies the death of the relation.


However, the focus is on the woman’s heart. That is, if the woman still retains marital intimacy for the husband, he cannot be justified in putting her away.  He is obligated to retain as his wife the woman who loves him. If he puts away such a wife, then he causes her to commit adultery.


This, then, raises the issue of the meaning of adultery. We tend to view it as a physical act involving sexual union with another. But adultery also holds the connotation of unfaithfulness, as in Israel becoming unfaithful and playing the part of an adulteress, worshiping other gods. (See, e.g., Jeremiah 3: 8.) When forced away by the man she loves, a woman is then “adulterated” by the act of the man. He is accountable for the treachery involved in dissolving the marriage which the woman wanted, and forcing her into the relation with either no one, or with another man. Either one is “adulterating” the marriage which she had with him. He is accountable for that uncharitable, unkind, and unjustified treatment of the woman.


On the other hand, when she has lost affection for him, and the union has become hollow and without love, then the marriage is dead and continuation of the relation is a farce. It is not a marriage. In fact, it is a pretense and an abomination unworthy of preservation. It will not endure. It is not eternal and not possible to preserve beyond the grave.


No union that has not been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will endure beyond the grave. (See D&C 132: 718, among other places.) The reason for sealing such a marriage by the promise of the Spirit is because it replicates the kind of holy union found in heaven. It is like unto the unions between gods and goddesses. It is worthy of preservation because it is eternal. It is enduring. It is worth preserving into all eternity. It is sealed because the gods recognize on the earth a mirror of what is found in heaven itself. Therefore heaven ratifies and approves the relationship. They do not create such relations in heaven, but instead recognize them here, and approve them for eternal duration. Without such a relationship, the parties are worthy of continuation as angels, but not as spouses, as Christ would put it elsewhere. (Matt. 22: 30; see also D&C 132: 17.)


It is true enough that the restored Gospel allows everyone the opportunity to come to the Temple and receive ordinances which hold the promise of an eternal union. But those are relationships where the parties are on probation. They are given as an opportunity to work out your salvation before God. They are given so that if you are true and faithful, the time may come when you are called up and chosen by the Holy Spirit of Promise to be kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas now you are only given opportunity to prove yourself worthy to become such.


There are many unhappy Latter-day Saint marriages which exist in name only.  The notorious high record use of anti-depressants by women in Utah is driven in large part by unhappy marriages they believe ought to be preserved because of a misunderstanding of these verses. Yet the underlying reality that the union causes suffering rather than rejoicing cannot be escaped. So they alter their natural reaction to the unhappy union by altering the brain with chemicals. Such a marriage cannot endure into eternity. Though the woman may sacrifice herself to preserve her heart’s desire to be a faithful, married mother, her unworthy marriage is not what will endure. It cannot be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, though she may be otherwise qualified.


Now, to be clear, I do not advocate divorce, particularly where minor children are involved. But I do advocate a higher view of the marital union where the prevailing reason for the union is love. This should be the whole preparation for marriage. Before contracting the union, the parties should look for that spouse with whom they can find heaven on earth. Unhappy marriages might all be saved if the parties would repent. The higher ideal is not impossible for any union to seek and find. That is the right of every party here, if they will but seek after it. If however, after every effort has been made to both find, and cultivate such a union, it proves to be an impossibility, then the parties ought to use the precious time allotted to them in mortality to find a union which will be worthy of continuation. Not at the expense of their children, who are entitled to have both parents raise them. The Holy Spirit of Promise was intended to be shed upon many marriages, rather than a comparative few.  Happiness was the design of our creation. When we avoid it by our misconduct and foolishness, we do not please heaven. Nor does gritting our teeth, putting up with miserable relationships, and enduring an unholy union please heaven or merit some eternal reward.


These words of Christ are speaking of a higher way to conduct our lives. To read into them exclusively outward behavior, when the whole import of the sermon addresses the inner-man, is out of context. I think we hardly understand the Lord’s meaning. But, then again, perhaps it is best if we do not understand His full meaning until we are ready to see for ourselves what great things the Lord has in store for those who love Him. (D&C 76: 114-117.) Perhaps it is best that man is not capable of making them known.


Now, as to the woman, there is another standard. He does not articulate it here, but can be found throughout scripture. A woman’s love of and fidelity to her husband is more often than not a product of her nature. It takes quite a fool to turn a wife’s natural affection for him into distrust and bitterness. But there are churlish men, as we know from scripture. Sometimes they marry an Abigail. (See 1 Sam. 25: 3.)

3 Nephi 12: 30

“For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.”
Each person’s cross is individual. Carrying “your cross” is not the same as carrying mine. Therefore, when you “deny yourself of these things” what you surrender and what you take up will be “your cross” and never mine.
It is odd how we are able to spot from a distance the weaknesses of others. We have highly acute sensitivities about others’ flaws. But we rarely appreciate the crosses they bear.
How hard a burden a man carries when he disciplines himself to rise daily, and work to sacrifice for his family, is not at all the same across the economic scale. Nor, for that matter, is the daily service carried on by mothers who have deprived themselves of other pursuits to raise sometimes ungrateful children.
But “hell” is where we are cast when we are pained by the regrets of having lived without discipline, having lived selfishly. (Mormon 9: 4-5.)  We will stand “naked” before God. All of what we want hidden will be before us, revealed and exposed to view.
The “hell” of it all will be our regret, for we are our own tormentor. The torment of a disappointed mind will be like fire and brimstone to the regretful. (TPJS p. 357.)
Christ is advising us in a kindly way how to prevent that moment of fear, regret and torment. He is telling us how to escape it. These teachings are not a threat addressed at us, but a caution about the future moment when these teachings apply to us all.
It is as if the Lord wants us to know clearly beforehand what we are going to wish we had done instead. Now, in mortality, while we can still change how things will turn out, He is telling us how to accomplish that. In an understatement, He advises: “it is better to deny yourself” than it will be to indulge. You may find it a “cross” as you do, but if you deny yourself now it will let you escape “hell” in the future. It is kindly advice, without a threat. It is a warning about the road you have taken, and guidance on how you can avoid the collision that is coming.
Whatever the “cross” is you take up in your daily effort to live inside the bounds prescribed by the Lord, it will be worth it. By heeding His counsel, you will become someone better and avoid becoming devilish.
The temptations each of us face are unique to the individual. What is universal, however, is the limit placed upon temptations. They are never too great to resist. There is always an escape provided by the Lord. (1 Cor. 10: 13.) Nor are you given any commandment you cannot obey. (1 Nephi 3: 7.) However, that is not to say temptation is easily overcome. Weakness is our lot. (Ether 12: 27.)
What then are you to make of your cross? If you’ve tried to deny yourself and failed, does it mean you are hopeless? Is the persistent failure to lift the cross you have been called to bear proof that you are just unable to merit salvation? Does the relentless return to temptation mean you are lost? Are you necessarily doomed because you have not found the escape promised by Paul’s writing to the Corinthians?
Life is filled with cycles. When we battle and fail one day, then join the battle again, but fail again; then another, and another and another, what is the use? What do we make of such persistent failure, such continuing weakness? Is the lesson that we are lost? Or is it that we are weak? Weaker than we had ever imagined. Weaker than you could ever suppose man to be. (Moses 1: 10.) Is this evidence that you are doomed? Or is it merely a patient God proving to your utter satisfaction that you are indeed in need of saving grace to rescue you from where you find yourself? Is this the moment when, while filling your belly with husks along with the swine you’ve descended to accompany, you wake up? (Luke 15: 11-17.) If you will finally surrender your pride, come forward with a broken heart and real intent, returning to your Father, He will joyfully receive you still. (Luke 15: 18-24.) There is joy in heaven over you when you awaken.
Weakness is nothing, for all are weak. It is a gift, given to break your heart. Your broken heart will qualify you for His company. Whether a leper, an adulteress, a tax collector or a blind man, He can heal it all.  But what He cannot do, and you must alone bring to Him, is that broken heart required for salvation.
William Ernest Henley wrote Invictus:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Orson F. Whitney penned the response in The Soul’s Captain:

Art thou in truth? Then what of him

Who bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
And snatched thee from the flood?
Who bore for all our fallen race
What none but him could bear. –
The God who died that man might live,
And endless glory share?
Of what avail thy vaunted strength,
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his Light may pierce the gloom,
That thou mayest see aright.
Men are as bubbles on the wave,
As leaves upon the tree.
Thou, captain of thy soul, forsooth
Who gave that place to thee?
Free will is thine — free agency
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.
Bend to the dust that head “unbowed,”
Small part of Life’s great whole!
And see in him, and him alone,
The Captain of thy soul.
_______________________________

We choose. We live with our choices. It is better to deny ourselves and take up our individual crosses.

3 Nephi 12: 27-29


“Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;  But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.  Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;”
 
Here it is again – the heart. It is the intent and not just the act. It is not enough that you stop short of doing the thing commanded in the Law of Moses. Christ is attacking the root cause, the internal trouble which causes the mistakes.
 
The Law of Moses is not being replaced with a new era of easy grace triggered by confession for salvation. The Head of the new Dispensation, Christ, is instead providing a much higher standard for mankind to adopt in place of  carnal commandments.
 
You must raise your thoughts to a higher level. Sexual appetites and passions must be kept within the bounds the Lord has prescribed. For this new, higher standard, it is not enough to just refrain from immoral acts, but you must purge thoughts. Neither lust of a woman, nor any of “these things” should “enter into your heart.” This uniform standard applies to all: male and female, married or single, without regard to who or what causes your lusts. It is universal.
The raging controversy going on at present over President Packer’s last General Conference address entirely misses the point. Whether your sexual attraction is male or female, it is to be confined in thought and deed to the bounds prescribed by the Lord, and the Lord has rather clearly identified the bounds in this sermon.
 
The heart is where sin begins. So it is the heart which Christ would have us cleanse. All else will follow.
No one knows how formidable an obstacle this is until they have confronted it themselves. Nor can a person who confronts this challenge succeed at the first attempt. C.S. Lewis made such a profound observation on this subject it is worth quoting here:
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means–the only complete realist.” (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 11.)
 
Those who would rather settle into a comfortable enjoyment of their sins find discomfort in being reminded they are wrong. So when President Packer reminds them of this, it is painful, and they want him to retract his words. It would be better to consider them, for whether he retracts them or not, it will not change the underlying problem of sin. Only by confronting and overcoming sins within us will we ever become people who will be preserved in the coming harvest.
 
Imagine, if you can, the idea of impurity being a compound which exists within you. A compound that could be identified by the Lord and burned away. Think of it like the fuller’s soap or the refiner’s fire, where impurity is removed and something pure and clean is left behind. (Mal. 3: 2-3.) To survive that burning purge there must be so little to burn away that the injury from the burn will not threaten life. It is a useful way to examine what is inside you. And a useful way to reconsider your thoughts.
 
This leads to the final question: What is the difference between the mind and the “heart?” This commandment addresses the “heart” in you. What is the “heart?”

3 Nephi 12: 25-26

 
“Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.”
 
This notion of agreeing with your adversaries is difficult for most people. It requires you to submit to what is sometimes unjust demands. He is saying to submit anyway. Do not rebel against the adversaries in life, but accommodate them.
 
Give to the unjust what they demand, so that they may see your good works and understand there is a higher way. Without your example, they cannot understand.
 
Retaliation continues the cycles. Someone eventually needs to lay down their just claim for retribution and simply take the injury without returning anything in return. This was what Christ did. He took everyone’s injuries and returned only forgiveness.
 
Now He asks for His followers to do some of the same. The failure to tolerate injustice can spiral into continuing the conflict, until there is prison. The prison to fear is not one made by men. But if you are cast into that prison then you cannot come out until you have paid the highest price. (D&C 76: 84-85, 105-106.) It is better to repent because this payment made even God, the greatest of all, to tremble with pain and shrink from the burden. (D&C 19: 15-18.)
 
It is not possible to pay the price while in prison. The price must be paid by a person while in the flesh. (Luke 16: 22-26.) Any who are consigned to prison dwell in darkness, awaiting deliverance from Him whom they rejected while in the flesh. (D&C 138: 20-22.) They become dependent upon others working to pay the debt on their behalf. (D&C 138: 33.)
The sermon delivered by Christ is the foundation of how man ought to relate to fellow-man. It is the pattern on which it becomes possible to dwell in peace with one another. It is the groundwork for Zion.
 
We need to look at this sermon as the guideline for changing our internal lives, so we may become a fit and proper resident with others who are Saints. Even Saints will give inadvertent offenses. Even Saints will disappoint one another from time to time. To become “one” in the sense required for redeeming a people and restoring them again to Zion is beyond any person’s reach if they cannot internalize this sermon.
 
The purpose of this sermon is not to equip you to judge others. It has no use for that. It is designed to change you. You need to become something different, something higher, something more holy. That will require you to reexamine your heart, your motivations, and your thoughts. It will require you to take offenses and deliberately lay them down without retaliation. When you do, you become someone who can live in peace with others. Living in peace with others is the rudimentary beginning of Zion. It will not culminate in a City set on the hilltop until there is a population worthy of dwelling in the high places, in peace, without poor among them. (Moses 7: 17-18.)
 
Christ’s sermon is not merely a description of what kind of person He is. It is a description of what kind of person will qualify to live with Him.  (Luke 9: 23.)

3 Nephi 12: 23-24

3 Nephi 12: 23-24:

 
“Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee— Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.”

Notice the offense is taken by the brother, not by you. It is presumed that you haven’t taken offense against him. If he, however, ‘hath aught against thee”–meaning that if you have done anything to cause him an offense, you have steps to take.

 
Notice that your relationship with the Lord comes second, after you have made amends with any you have offended. 
 
You can’t bring “full purpose of heart” when there is a lingering offense you have not attempted to cure. This kind of mental distraction alters you.

If you realize you’ve offended someone it likely means you know your conduct has been uncharitable. You did something wrong. You hurt another.
 
Inventory of your conduct is something to be done before approaching the Lord. If you have offended someone you need to take the steps to free your conscience from it. Only then can you bring “full purpose of heart” in approaching God.

When the heart is right, then the Lord can “receive you.” When the heart is not right, you cannot be received.

He’s said this before, of course. His doctrine in the preceding chapter required repentance before baptism precisely so you could be right in the heart before the ordinance takes place. (3 Nephi 11: 23.)
 
Other Book of Mormon writers said the same thing as well: “For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. … And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.” (Moroni 7: 6, 9.) “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 31: 13.) “But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” (Moroni. 6: 8.)
 
You bring your whole heart to Him. That He can receive. That He can work with. Less than that, it is not possible for Him to offer you anything. You will invariably reject what He offers. Acting as the hypocrite will neither fool you or Him. Hence Nephi’s counsel in 2 Nephi 31: 13 quoted above, and discussed previously in this blog.

3 Nephi 12: 21-22

3 Nephi 12: 21-22:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God;  But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
 
Christ is elevating the Law of Moses by raising the expectation for human conduct. He moves from mere outward conduct into the inner soul of the man. You are not doing as you should if all you do is refrain from killing. Instead, you need to remove anger.
 
The prior obligation (“said by them of old”) focused only on your conduct, now it is your motivation.

You can judge another based on conduct. They either do or do not do something. The conduct is observable, and therefore capable of being judged. Now, however, Christ moves the battleground inside a person.  It is now in the heart. On such terrain as that, man is incapable of knowing, and therefore, of judging.

 
With anything involving truth and rules of conduct, there are always some reasons to depart from the rule. Christ departed from this rule.  So we must consider the departures to understand the rule.
 
First, however, we need to know and understand the rule. The “judgment” which you are “in danger of” by being angry with your brother is not your brother’s anger, but God’s. The judgment of God is provoked by those who are angry with their brother.
 
We are not to be angry with our brother because that is the beginning of a whole sequence of events, the culmination of which may be killing. Before killing, however, there are other troubles and offenses along the way. Anger leads to abuse. It leads to discourtesy, dishonesty, and cheating. It justifies miserable conduct because you think it right to give offenses to another. It corrodes relationships and makes society sick.
If you can prevent this at the heart, you can heal society. Refrain from letting offenses turn into anger. Deal with them inside, showing forgiveness and compassion. He will stress this further in subsequent verses.
 
The terms “Raca” and “fool” are derisive names. Christ is saying that applying derisive names to others is wrong, even damning. He is not preventing you from identifying foolishness. He often spoke of fools and foolishness. (See, e.g., Matt. 23: 17, 19; Matt. 25: 2-8; Luke 12: 20Luke 24: 25-after His resurrection; and 2 Nephi 29: 4,6.) He would even use the term “foolish” in this same sermon. (3 Nephi 14: 26.) So it is not at all inappropriate to use the term “fool” or “foolish” when discussing foolishness. What is wrong it to regard your fellow man with derision and use terms of derision to describe them. 
 
Even with this rue of conduct, however, Christ applied a derisive term to King Herod. He called him “that fox.” (Luke 13:  31-32.) This was a term of derision, but appropriately applied to a wicked king meriting derision.  He was corrupt, evil and vile. Therefore, with respect to Herod, Christ’s example allows for terms of derision to be appropriately applied to those who merit them. Christ was able to weigh the heart. For Him to make that conclusion was a matter of Divine prerogative. I suppose that we are equally entitled to apply such terms of judgment and condemnation, including terms of derision, if we obtain them by inspiration from the Lord. That is, if the Lord inspires such a term of derision to be used, then it would be appropriate despite this verse. For whatever we do, even if sharpness is involved, is appropriate when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. (D&C 121: 43.) So, also, even killing another can be done when the Lord is the one deciding life and death. (1 Nephi 4: 10-13.) 
 
The tendency is to always think the exceptions allow your anger. I would suspect the best approach is to do as Nephi did. That is, insist upon following the one standard of conduct and always refrain. Always. Then, if the Lord is going to have it otherwise, leave it to the Lord to make that insistence so dramatic, so undeniable, so compelling, that you know it is the Lord’s judgment and not your own. Removing anger from the heart is a difficult enough challenge to last the rest of your life. To start thinking any passing offense justifies an exception because it may be “inspired” is the way of a fool. Do as Christ bids you to do in this sermon. If He wants a different approach, you ought to require that to be made absolutely clear by Him before you depart from this standard.
 
Remember how often great souls have interceded for their fellow man.  I’ve written about that so often in my books I won’t repeat it again.  However, intercession for your fellow man, including those who give offense to you, is one of the hallmarks of the saved soul. This is who Abraham was, and why he became a friend of God. I’ve hesitated to even discuss the exceptions to the rule because everyone wants the exceptions to apply to them. No one wants to comply with the rule. The higher way is, however, found in following the rule. It should be an absolute sacrifice, and a painful one at that, for the exception to be applied in your life. If an inspired condemnation is required at your hand and by your voice, then immediately afterwards you should make intercession with the Lord for those condemned. That is the way of those who know the Lord. Those who have been forgiven much– including those who have been forgiven everything– always love much in return.  (Luke 7: 47.)

3 Nephi 12: 20

Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
There goes the argument that all you need do to be saved is “confess Jesus.” It doesn’t work that way. You must keep His commandments. If you don’t, then “ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is not possible to “come unto [Him]” and “be saved” without also keeping His commandments. It is the only true measure of coming to Him. And “except ye shall keep [His] commandments… ye can in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Entry is barred unless you follow Him. If He needed baptism to enter, then clearly we do as well. (2 Nephi 31: 5.)
There is no space between faith in Christ and behavior evidencing that faith. There is no dichotomy between “grace” and “works” because it is by our conduct we merit grace. Christ received grace by the things He did. (D&C 93: 11-14.) The manner by which we receive grace is through keeping His commandments. (D&C 93: 19-20.)
Grace, or power to move closer to God, is also an increase of light. Light grows only as you move closer to it. But you have choice, and must elect to move closer to the light. (D&C 93: 27-28; D&C 50: 23-25.) The great proof text for salvation by confession of faith alone is Romans 10: 9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” This is offered as if Paul had priority over Christ, if the two conflict. However, Paul does not conflict, for in the same letter he teaches: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?  But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” (Romans 6: 16-17.) Righteousness comes by obedience. Obedience requires action. Without conforming conduct to the Lord’s commandments, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Paul understood this, and lived his life accordingly. Who worked more than Paul to spread the Gospel? If his life was filled with works from the time of his conversion to the time of his martyrdom, then does not his example prove the necessity of obedience to the Lord’s commandments? How then are his words twisted to mean confession alone, without obedience, can save? Even if someone were mistaken and in good faith sincerely believed Paul to justify salvation by confession alone, how did Paul become greater than Christ?
The Lord’s instructions are clear and obedience to His and the Father’s commandments are a threshold requirement for salvation. Without obedience to them you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Grace is a gift, but the gift must be received. Only those willing to “receive” it, merit grace. (D&C 88: 32-35.) It is “received” in the way the Lord ordained and in no other way. (D&C 130: 21.) 
Only the deceived or the wicked would contradict the Lord’s teaching that “except ye keep [His] commandments” then “ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Yet there are those who both make this claim in the various Protestant denominations, and are trying to advance this position into the LDS faith, as well. We would be better served by forgetting how to make ourselves seem more Protestant, and instead accepting and teaching what Christ established as the sole basis for entering the kingdom of heaven.

3 Nephi 12: 19

 
“And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.”
 
This hearkens back to the doctrine of Christ given preliminarily to the audience. Repent. Be baptized.  Receive the Holy Ghost. These commandments are the foundation upon which all else is to be built.
 
To all that He explained before, He has added, “repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Repenting will be accompanied by a broken heart and contrite spirit. When you turn to Him and see clearly for the first time how dark your ways have been, it should break your heart. You should realize how desperately you stand in need of His grace to cover you, lift you, and heal you. You can then appreciate the great gulf between you and Him. (Moses 1: 10.)
If you had to bear your sins into His presence it would make you burn with regret and fear. (Mormon 9: 3-5.) Your own heart must break.
 
When you behold how little you have to offer Him, your spirit becomes contrite. He offers everything.  And we can contribute nothing but our cooperation. And we still reluctantly give that, or if we give a little of our own cooperation we think we have given something significant. We have not. Indeed, we cannot. (Mosiah 2: 20-21.) He honors us if He permits us to assist. We should proceed with alacrity when given the chance to serve.
 
How patiently He has proceeded with teaching us all. We have the law, we have the commandments.  Still we hesitate. Still He invites and reminds us: Repent. Come to Him. Do what was commanded. The law is fulfilled, and He is its fulfillment. Look to Him and be saved.
 
The heart that will not break does not understand the predicament we live in. The proud spirit is foolish and blind. Our perilous state is such that we can forfeit all that we have ever been by refusing Christ’s invitation to repent and turn again to Him.
 
But we still hesitate. We still hold back.

He really can save you. He has that power. He holds those keys. Even death and hell are conquered by Him. (Mosiah 15: 7-9.) But His victory cannot become ours unless we repent and turn again to Him.

 
Think of those you have lost to the grave.  All those living will likewise be lost unless we come to Christ.  We have hope only in Him.

It seems too simple a thing to achieve so great a result. It has always been like that. (1 Nephi 17: 41.) Look to Him and be saved. Keep His commandments. Repent. He can and will lead you from wherever you find yourself at present back into the light. It really does not matter what foolish traps you have surrounding you. So soon as you turn to face Him, He will direct you back safely. Repent and keep His commandments and they will bring you to Him.