Scripture Study: What’s Expedient?

HawkgrrrlAsides, book of mormon, christianity, church, Culture, curiosity, doubt, God, Humor, joseph, LDS, Logic, love, mercy, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, prayer, prophets, questioning, religion, scripture, theology, thought 32 Comments

I’d like to start a new feature showcasing stuff I read in the scriptures and getting your opinions on what the heck you think it means.  Hope you like it.  I just read D&C 88 and ran across an interesting passage we’ve all heard/read before in vv. 64 and 65 that begs the question:  What’s expedient?

First of all, here’s what it says:

64 Whatsoever ye aask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is bexpedient for you;

65 And if ye ask anything that is not aexpedient for you, it shall turn unto your bcondemnation.

Wowzers.  So:  “Be careful what you wish for.”  This leads to some logical questions about expediency and condemnation:

Expediency.  The definition of “expediency” is:  1. fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances. or 2.  conducive to advantage or interest.  Expediency is a big JS word.  It appears 52 times in the BOM and 27 times in the D&C.  It only appears 7 times in other scripture:  John uses it 3 times and Paul uses it 4 times.

  • Do people pray for things that they don’t think are expedient?  Don’t they ask for something because they think it’s what they need?  So, is this a caution against being too specific in what you ask for?  Or against misunderstanding what’s proper under the circumstances or advantageous to you?  Doesn’t that notion contradict this one:
Luke 11: 11-13:  11  If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?  12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give athe Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
  • Is something expedient for some people and not for others?  Can I ask for something and get it, but if you ask for it, it will turn unto your condemnation?
  • How expedient is expedient?  What if something is kind of expedient, but then the time has just passed?  (Like OC translating was no longer expedient, “Sorry time’s up, thank you for playing.”)

Condemnation.  This doesn’t specify whether you will get it or not if it’s not expedient, just that it will be for your condemnation. 

  • Does that mean that if God doesn’t give you what you asked for (I keep picturing a vending machine), that it wasn’t expedient and now you’d better duck because condemnation is coming?  Can nothing happening or just not getting it be the “condemnation”?
  • Does God ever give you the thing that wasn’t expedient, and him giving it to you is in fact how it turns to your condemnation?  (An ironic twist – that’s how it works on Fairly Oddparents anyway).
  • What kind of condemnation is this we’re talking about?  Full-on raging condemnation or something mild that goes away with an over-the-counter salve?


Comments 32

  1. As a child I always had this fear that God would twist my prayers like genies do in cartoons—yeah… .

    Anyway, we need to get down to the purpose of prayer. I believe strongly in the definition given in the Bible Dictionary: “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). … Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”

    Note especially the central phrase: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” So by asking for some non-expedient thing, we are opposing the will of our Heavenly Father for our personal growth and well-being. In this sense it turns to our condemnation—it stops our progression, because we are unwilling to bring our will into correspondence with that of our Father. Expediency is thus a matter of perspective, and what may appear to be expedient in a moment here is not so in eternity.

    1. I completely agree with your value put onto the Bible Dictionary definition. It is important to note that our will must be inline with His. An interesting thing to note here as well are some of the cross referenced scriptures that provide a little clarity.
      Romans 8
      26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
      27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
      And importantly to note the reference to condemnation would be James 4
      3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

      as we can see from James we are looking at condemnation to those seeking through prayer upon our lusts. I like to think of this as a Rameumptom sort of prayer not a meek prayer to align ourselves to God.

  2. First some generalities: What if the son asks for a stone or a serpent? Does the father give it to him? Well, maybe the stone… unless the intention is to bang his little sister on the head with it. Probably not the serpent, until he has first had some serious training in cobra-handling, which may not be expedient…

    Now a couple of specifics:

    First, the children of Israel complaining, “We are sick of this low-fat, heart-healthy perfectly nutritious manna. We want meat.” The Lord sends a superabundance of quail, and they eat themselves sick. It seems to me that the lack of expediency and the condemnation are pretty clear in this story.

    Second, the incident of Joseph Smith and the missing 116 pages of manuscript. Again, fairly obvious. The desires of Joseph and Martin were not in harmony with the desires of the Lord, nor did they tend to further the accomplishment of the task at hand. Joseph found the condemnation overwhelming. Still, it all ultimately turned to their good, as they learned a lesson… I think.

  3. I think a scripture that relates to this is when the Lord told Oliver Cowdery to “first study things out in your mind”. Then we can safely go to the Lord in prayer and say “Look — I’ve thought about this, and this is what I think I need. Do you agree? If so, will you give it to me? If not, I’m lost and could I get some guidance?” That way, we show we’ve tried to figure out for ourselves (which shows God we’re grateful for a previous gift he’s given us: our brains), and we are still willing to align ourselves with what the Lord wants for us, and not be demanding that everything go our way and not His way.

  4. Hawkgrrrl, I have had this question about this exact scripture for years. It’s easy to point out references in the Bible, or church history to define this expedience you talk of, but how do we define it in our lives, with our limited view of eternity? I personally find it baffling to know if what I am asking God should be considered expedient. Yes, I usually figure it our long after the fact (as we do with the bible and church history), but at the time, it is most difficult to determine. I view Matthew’s examples as “Monday Morning quarterback.”

    Regarding Andrew’s reference to Oliver Cowdery, let’s put that revelation in the context. Oliver was trying to translate the Golden Plates, but he was not supposed to look at the Golden Plates. What exactly was he supposed to study out in his mind? I personally hate it when people refer to this scripture, because it is usually done in a naive way. Andrew, if you were supposed to come up with a reveletory translation of scripture, what does “study it out in your mind” entail? I like to compare this to Jesus asking Peter to walk on water, and then when Peter starts to sink, he tells us that Peter feared and did not exercise faith. Excuse me? How many people have tried to walk on water without fear of sinking?

  5. “Expediency is a big JS word. It appears 52 times in the BOM and 27 times in the D&C. It only appears 7 times in other scripture: John uses it 3 times and Paul uses it 4 times.” Just wanted to point out another thought or two on expediency. The fact that this is a strong emphasis of the restored gospel is not accidental I think. It also coincides with Paul’s epistles and the gospel of John, both of which are also strongly emphasized in the LDS church (given preference over other scripture). The concept of expedience provides a lot of fluidity and flexibility, even a back door – if something didn’t work out, hey, “my ways are not your ways” or it wasn’t expedient. Surely in a church that is being defined, especially through personal revelation, which is subject to personal interpretation, that kind of flexibility is valuable. We use it all the time.

    The problematic portion of the scripture, IMO, is that it will be turned unto your condemnation if you ask for what is not expedient. It seems to me that the word expedient is inadequate in this formula: request – expedience = condemnation. Maybe the formula should really read: request – expedience [where expedience is a known factor] = chastisement.

  6. MH,

    Please forgive me, but when you set yourself up like this, I just can’t resist.

    “Oliver was trying to translate the Golden Plates, but he was not supposed to look at the Golden Plates. What exactly was he supposed to study out in his mind? I personally hate it when people refer to this scripture, because it is usually done in a naive way.”

    I think you know that Joseph wasn’t looking at the plates either when he translated. He was staring into a seer stone lying in the bottom of a hat. Therefore, Andrew is correct; Oliver was attempting to do exactly what he saw Joseph doing without success. Hence the scripture about expediency…

    As for prayers being answered the way D&C 88 spells it out. I can’t buy any of it. I served a mission many years ago under a mission president who claimed to have a revelation from God. He told us that God promised him that if we labored worthily the Lord would prepare at least two (and sometimes many more) people in each area who would accept the gospel. I was an obedient missionary and prayed fervently every month to find those two individuals that were ready. I bet you can guess the result, not only did I fail more months than not, but so did every missionary in our mission.

    Was our request expedient? Was every missionary in Australia unworthy? Was it a righteous desire? Is there some reason the Lord would promise my mission president something that He couldn’t deliver on? I’m not pretending to know how or why God does what He does, but I’m convinced that whatever He does decide to do has very little to do with what I personally ask of Him.

  7. doug, i’m not sure what you mean when you say I set myself up. you made my point. have you ever heard someone talk about seerstones in the context of this scripture? I haven’t.

  8. I’d like to offer an idea or two on this important subject.

    Prayer and answers to prayer, in my estimation, is where the rubber meets the road.In other words, do we have the Lord’s ear or not? If we do, can we keep it? We can keep it when we pray for things that are expedient. If we pray for that which is not expedient then we bring condemnation upon ourselves. Expedient = seeking for the things the Lord has told us are important: missionary and temple work for example. Seeking for the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit to further the Lords work. Condemnation = seeking after power, gain,riches, and status.

    In a general way, it doesn’t matter what religion we are or what position we hold in the church we attend, that really doesn’t matters (Or that we even attend church).

    I believe that all mankind has the opportunity to gain the ear of the Lord if they are living as close as possible to the light they have been given. This is the key.

    This works both ways to our blessing or to our condemnation. Where much is given, much is required.

    True followers of Christ, meaning those who have been given the opportunity to receive the gospel as taught by LDS and who have embraced it with all their hearts have a great advantage–they are favored of the Lord. The Lord hears and answers their prayers. However, should they start asking for that which is not expedient then they lose their way and come under condemnation.

    The Book of Mormon teaches this powerfully. The Nephites were blessed because of their righteousness, and then the next thing the record states is that pride entered into their heart as they sought for the things of this world–condemnation soon followed. This is the cycle that keeps repeating itself in the BoM.

  9. Sorry MH, I thought you were inferring that Joseph was translating using the plates and Oliver was given the opportunity but told he couldn’t see them. Therefore members were misinterpreting the scripture in not understanding why he couldn’t ponder about what he was looking at. I’m not sure how I made your point, but at least we both understand the historical setting for it…

  10. Doug G.–

    I don’t understand why it concerns some people that Joseph Smith used the stone and hat to translate the Book of Mormon. Where does it say he translated the Book of Mormon by holding it in hands or viewing it? Maybe he could have done it both ways, and maybe he did. I don’t know what the fuss is about.

  11. jared, start talking about seerstones in sunday school and you’ll get a visit to the bishop’s office. then you’ll see what the fuss is about.

  12. MH, in some wards. That should be stated clearly, since that discussion wouldn’t be a problem in our Gospel Doctrine class – as long as it was straightforward and accurate.

  13. Great post.Expedience covers a lot of ground as a concept,and it’s useful to be reminded.
    Sometimes i think we get so hung up on how dreadful it is to be wrong,or to be chastened.It happens,we can live with it and it’s a functional part of the human condition.I’m human,and i will ask for the wrong things.Over time,in the course of their denial and my frustration,I might catch on to God’s process.If I don’t,then God will try again-He’s good like that.None of this makes me intrinsically bad,just human,and appropriately chastened. We often get the hump with God when He doesn’t fit in with our plans,my children do it all the time with me.I will insist on continuing to act outside of the box,which is most disconcerting for them.I also think it’s important to bear in mind that God’s delays are not necessarily His denials.It can be hard to grapple with the immensity of God’s tough love,which is at the same time infinitely kind.

  14. At the risk of sounding ignorant in regards to Oliver’s attempts at translation. When the Lord told Oliver he could translate — did Oliver ever ask to see the plates? If I remember correctly, didn’t Joseph spend a lot of time looking at the characters, copying them out, etc. before he ever began to translate through the seerstones. Did Oliver ask to do this? Other things he could have studied include: he could have looked at what had already been translated and study that; he could have studied the Bible more in depth to understand different ways that God gives revelation (for there are as many different ways as He has children in my opinion). In short, I feel there was lots Oliver could have studied, we (at least I) don’t know what he did and didn’t try.

    But thanks for pointing out the background for the verses, it is always better to look at them in context. But I don’t feel that the Lord was setting Oliver up for failure (the condemnation referred to in the OP).

  15. Hawkgrrrl said: “…is this a caution against being too specific in what you ask for?”

    My experience has taught me to be specific in what we ask. I think the more specific the better. For example, if you’re praying for someone who is sick, one could pray “please bless them to feel better”, or better yet pray “please bless Jack to find a solution to his health problem. When Jack receives a priesthood blessing, please inspire Fred Jones and Ben Johnson with power to know thy will. Bless them with the gift to heal and Jack with the gift to be healed. Please lead Jack to find a doctor that will be prepared to give him the care he stands in need of.

    Great post Hawkgrrrl. But I can’t help but notice how few comments there are. It seems that those subjects that influence spirituality receive fewer comments than subject that are of lesser importance. I also noticed that in the Catgories section of the blog the heading for Holy Ghost has not been entered. Just observing, I’m not being critical. I enjoy and respect this blog and those who contribute to it.

  16. “It seems that those subjects that influence spirituality receive fewer comments” I have noticed this, too. Interesting. But I suppose blogging is not necessarily on-line institute class. Sometimes I think it would be cool if it were an on-line institute class with people from across the belief spectrum.

  17. I’d rather these classes were more like a university theology class than institute, and I too have noticed that spiritual type posts receive few comments, unless one can put a controversial angle on it.

    Hawkgrrrl, sorry for taking this to a tangent, but I want to try to answer Andrew’s question while trying to tie it back to your point of the post.

    Andrew, I wish I could speak more authoritatively on your questions, but here is my best understanding. While Oliver was one of the 3 Witnesses, to my knowledge he did not see the plates at all while attempting to translate. There is a post at Gospel Doctrine Underground, and many of the comments state that Oliver was supposed to use a divining rod. Whether it is a seerstone, divinning rod, or whatever, it seems more like witchcraft than revelation to me. But for the sake of argument, let’s say God does work in this way, and it is just one of his more strange methods of revelation.

    While people love to tell us to study it out in our minds as it says in D&C 9:8, they don’t read verses 10-12, (which fits in very nicely with Hawkgrrrl’s premise:

    10 Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now. 11 Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now; 12 For, do you not behold that I have agiven unto my servant bJoseph sufficient strength, whereby it is made up? And neither of you have I condemned.

    Oliver never sought to translate, until Joseph gave him a blessing stating that the Lord would give Oliver the gift to translate, if Oliver desired. So, when Oliver desired, he couldn’t translate. Then the Lord says in a future section that Oliver will still be able to translate future records, but of course that never happened. Ironically, Oliver is not under condemnation for fearing to translate, despite D&C 88:65.

    All this leaves me more confused than ever about what is expedient, what is not, and how/when/why is one under condemnation?

  18. Just stumbled across this, and didn’t take the time to read carefully through all comments, so maybe someone already pointed this out, but in fact neither Paul nor John used “expedient” at all in their writings. The word turns up only because a translator chose to use it, in translating whatever word Paul or John actually used.

    Might seem like nitpicking, but I don’t think so.

    JS uses “expedient” to translate whatever word author uses in BofM, probably because it’s a favorite word of JS’s (as indicated by his use of it throughout D&C).

    Also, dictionary definition should be from early 1800s, not from today. Words change meaning over time. To know what JS meant by “expedient” requires knowing what the word meant and how people used it at the time JS was using it. Maybe the meaning isn’t much different — but if you really want answers here, you have to take those steps to check it out, just in case.

    Just thought I’d toss that out there.

    My initial thoughts here are to say that maybe there’s too much effort at eisegesis (reading into the text). Isn’t the text saying simply that, if what you ask for is right/good/proper for you, then you’ll get it, but if you’re asking for things that aren’t right/good/proper for you, then this will factor in how you are judged?

    This is not so much “careful what you ask for because you might get it,” but rather, “careful what you ask for because you will be judged on what you ask for.” If it’s good and right, you’ll get it; if not, you’ll be in trouble for asking. (Probably because it reveals your lack of good judgment or righteous motive, etc.)

  19. MH – just a guess, but OP = opinion piece (post), and SM = sacrament meeting. Let me know if anyone disagrees with me on that.

  20. I think OP stands for Original Post… Or maybe I’ve just always had that wrong.


    I’ve reread my post about Oliver translating and I can’t see where I stated or even inferred that someone should have a problem with the seer stone thing. Of course, AndrewJDavis seems to be implying that Joseph copied all the characters down before he began the translation. Just curious if that’s Mormon folklore or if there is some creditable historical document asserting such. I know he wrote down a few characters for Martin Harris to take to Professor Anton, but I hadn’t heard of writing characters down and using them in the translation. Any reference????

  21. “JS uses “expedient” to translate whatever word author uses in BofM, probably because it’s a favorite word of JS’s (as indicated by his use of it throughout D&C).”

    And he probably had french toast for breakfast the day he finished translating the Book of Jacob and ended with “adieu”. I agree with Jason on this.

    Words change meanings and translators usually take liberties. Who knows what really was originally written (if anything). We have what we have and there are a lot of great thoughts in the BoM. I use the words in the book to get out of it what I can and don’t spend too much time thinking about what the “author” may have meant in using particular words because who knows what he originally wrote anyway.

  22. #21 Doug G.–

    I wasn’t referring to Oliver translating in my comment. I had something else in mind. Not really important now. I don’t know much about this episode in church history.

  23. Jason “if you’re asking for things that aren’t right/good/proper for you, then this will factor in how you are judged”–I think you’re on to something there.

    Hawkgrrrl did mention that expedient is used more in the D&C than any other scripture in her OP (original post).

    In answer to Doug G, I seriously doubt that Oliver copied anything from the plates in attempt to translate the BoM. I’ve read some church history books, and know Oliver was acquainted with a divining rod, and I believe he was supposed to use that somehow to translate. If I had to use such a thing, I’d be dumbfounded how to make it work, even if I did “study it out in my mind.”

  24. Doug, I’ve never heard anyone say that Joseph copied the characters before he began translating. It certainly isn’t close to accepted doctrine or official teaching.

  25. Joseph Smith-History 1:62
    “By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.”

  26. Yes, Matthew, you are correct about that episode. Still, 99% of the translation was done by a seer stone, and Oliver never translated anything.

  27. #26 – Matthew, if you thought I meant he copied NONE of the characters, my bad. That wasn’t the implication; it was “all the characters”.

  28. Sorry to be joining in so long after the OP (a new acronym for my vocabulary). I found this discussion by doing a Google search for “no longer expedient” because I cannot get the confirmation I am seeking regarding something I undertook years ago but have not been able to complete. Have I missed the opportunity? Is it no longer expedient for me? Or should I continue trudging forward in spite of my lack of conviction that it is still right for me?

    In reading this discussion on prayer, I was reminded of another question I have had for a long time, and about which I would be interested in getting feedback. When I think back through my life about the strongest, most direct answers to prayers there are a few occasions where I was asking for something rather small and yet received a rather large answer. Here is the most remarkable of those experiences: when I was about 14 or 15 years old my dachshund was missing. I simply noticed he was not around and started looking for him. He had not been missing long and I was not that worried. Still, I looked inside and out and could not find him. I went looking again in the basement and, when alone down there, decided to offer a quick prayer about finding him. I emphasize that this was just a quick prayer–not a heartfelt pleading–for I really was not that concerned yet. But I knelt in a closet (where I had been looking for the dog), said my prayer, and as soon as I said “amen” I heard a very distinct voice say “he’s in the car.” I have never heard a voice in response to prayer before or since, but this was very clear–and startling. I was so surprised that I looked around the basement to make sure my older brother was not playing tricks on me! Well, needless to say I went and opened the garage, opened the car door, and there was the dog. Apparently he had jumped in while my mother was unloading some groceries an hour earlier. But apart from eventually making a mess in the car, this was not an urgent situation (no risk of the dog overheating, since it was in the garage).

    I have often wondered why I had such a clear response to that question, when there have been so many other situations that I have prayed about fervently and sometimes not had any discernible response. I should emphasize that my prayers do get answered and in general I feel like I can discern the Lord’s will (but without the advantage of whichever angel blurted out a response for me that one time!). There are other times I simply cannot discern His will for me, which is how I ended up finding this post to begin with.

    Sorry to continue, but one last question (and more on topic): what other examples are there when something has been commanded but then became no longer expedient? And what changed? I’m thinking of things like living the United Order, or plural marriage, or wasn’t there a temple that the early saints were “excused” from the obligation to build?

    1. This is a fantastic story that illustrates how much God loves us and wants to show that he cares and thus will even respond to the simplest of requests. Many will call this happenstance or our own thinking but we know this to be God showing forth an outpouring of love in response to our gentle pleadings.

      As for your question on a thing being expedient or advancing and then no longer or not for a time, I’m sure that many examples could be cited. Some through a test of our faith and obedience such as Peter walking on the water or Abraham and Isaac. Others are due to disobedience or pride such as Oliver translating (see D&C 6-8) or the building of the temple in Independence or Far West.

      Look to the Lord’s teachings to Oliver on prayer and understanding and you may be enlightened. I hope his is helpful flattail

  29. Looking at the reference of “expedient” you have given some great things to contemplate. I would like to add the Webster 1828 Dictionary definition as I feel it brings some added clarity to the oft used reference of expedient throughout the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

    EXPE’DIENT, a. [L. expediens; expedio, to hasten; Eng. speed.]
    1. Literally, hastening; urging forward. Hence, tending to promote the object proposed; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances. Many things may be lawful, which are not expedient.
    2. Useful; profitable.
    3. Quick; expeditious. [Not used.]
    EXPE’DIENT, n. That which serves to promote or advance; any means which may be employed to accomplish an end. Let every expedient be employed to effect an important object, nor let exertions cease till all expedients fail of producing the effect.
    1. Shift; means devised or employed in an exigency.

    As we can see when we are doing things with expediency we are advancing God’s great work and making it profitable for Him and us.

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