Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.–Alma 1:25
The premise is that the practice of “priestcraft” was started by Nehor—essentially preaching the “word of God” for profit, fame, personal gain etc… (much like televangilists do today with their money schemes to make themselves ridiculously wealthy). When Gideon opposed him with true words of God ( in an attempt to prevent Nehor from leading people astray from the church), Nehor responded by slaying Gideon with his sword. Nehor was taken to Alma to be judged, and Alma condemned him to death for not only slaying Gideon, but also for initiating the practice of priestcraft–“were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction (Alma 1:12).” Despite the death of Nehor, priestcraft continued to corrupt people who were more focused on vanity, wealth, and preaching false doctrine according to what suited their own benefit and desires—they also persecuted those within the church for remaining true to the word of God ( and for not practicing for profit/ self-gain).
Alma 1:25 depicts those who continued to keep the commandments and follow the word of God despite temptations of riches and personal gain, as well as when faced with the hardship of persecutions that were put upon them. They held on to what they knew was true despite all or the things that were used to both tempt, and scare them away from being loyal to the true teachings.
In today’s age, we may not have swords swung at us in our daily dealings, but we do often encounter temptations and situations that may cause us to stray, or make compromises when it comes to practicing, and remaining true to our faith and living the gospel. I think that it is easier to make gospel-based choices, and stick to teachings when we do so for our own selves without pressure or concern for how others will react or view us—-it becomes far harder to uphold when we feel we have to go against the norms of society, or may cause conflict/ discord with others in some form (or even flat-out be teased, mocked, or persecuted). We may even fear we will somehow offend, or chase away others by our practices.
I myself have been guilty of “softening” on things in order to “fit in” with others, or to avoid causing them discomfort in some form. It was unfortunately what led to some mistakes. It typically seems like it is something being done for a good reason, and to keep peace….. or maybe even to achieve good impressions and connections with others who do not follow the same standards. In reality, it is not right. We are not supposed to make exceptions just to appease others—especially if it causes us to do things that conflict with the gospel. We are supposed to live in a way that is not only true to our beliefs, but also to be an example to others of what those beliefs are. If we “slide” on things in order to be more accepted by others, or to make others more comfortable somehow…..it results in communicating to those very same people that we lack conviction in teachings, and thus we are willing to bend ourselves in contrary directions. Instead of setting an example of someone strong in their beliefs, it has the opposite result of revealing someone who has weakness, and who will “bend” to suit their desires. It reveals a lot about character, loyalty, and strength of one’s faith. Additionally, why would others be inspired to learn the teachings for themselves if they see those who practice it as being easily swayed away? When others discover that all it takes is a little prodding or bait to get someone to drop their standards, it communicates that maybe the gospel is not really true, or that it is too hard to follow.
It is not easy. Mainstream society is rife with lifestyles, beliefs, and morals that greatly contrast with those who aim to follow the gospel and commandments. We are often the minority, and thus face struggles when it comes to interacting with others—-especially when we desire to receive approval and acceptance in some form, or to achieve things. It may initially seem like a worthy compromise to allow/participate in things in order to get a desired job, become popular in some way, or to achieve a relationship. If it is done for what is perceived as being the gain of “good” things, it can seem like it is justifiable to compromise ourselves—- especially if we try to convince ourselves that it is only temporary, and that eventually things will lead towards something “good”, and somehow will result in bringing us back on track/ in the direction of living according to teachings, (and being the person we want to be/ achieving eternal goals). However, that is rarely the case…..usually it leads us in wrong directions due to either somehow corrupting ourselves within (via continued relaxation of standards and acclimation), or finding ourselves stuck in a cycle of having to continue wrongful practices for the appeasement of others. It results in being dishonest both in our faith, and to our own selves/ true beliefs, desires, and goals.
Oddly, what comes to mind is an analogy related to diet choices. Imagine you are someone who normally eats a very healthy, clean, whole foods diet. You find yourself faced with wanting to get close to someone, or gain career advancement with those who eat foods that are highly processed, fatty, sugary etc…. At first you might indulge in eating a meal or two of the unhealthy foods despite knowing it can be harmful, because you tell yourself, “Its only just for now so that I can achieve/ appease this or that person….I will return to my healthy practices, and make-up for it…. so it won’t cause damage to me.” We might even try to tell ourselves that eventually we will be able to show/ teach others that our way of eating is better, and thus bring them over to our standards—but in reality, we cannot really teach, or be an example of that if we instead cross-over to their practices. The next thing we know, we have gained a lot of weight, and have to face the negative health consequences from having relinquished our standards to fit that of others. We may become sick, find ourselves experiencing pain, limitations, hardships etc….all because we “relaxed” on what we knew to be true in order for personal gain, and appeasement of others. Instead of gaining something “good”, we end-up with the opposite results of what we really wanted. It then can become a long tedious path to lose the weight, regain our health, and become the person we truly are/ want to be (assuming we make that effort, and do not just give-in to the contrary lifestyle we know is not correct, or good for us). Likewise, when we compromise our beliefs and morals with practices that are not aligned to following the gospel, we risk damaging our spiritual health, and preventing ourselves from achieving eternal goals and privileges.
So, for me, I see Alma 1:25 as a reminder to be steadfast and loyal no matter what temptations are dangled—-or what pressures are put upon us, who we may displease, or what we could lose in the process of practicing what we know is true. Ultimately, anything we lose via remaining true to our faith…. was not something that was aligned with us, or meant for us. Heavenly Father would not require us to have to stray from him in order to obtain something good/ meant for us. Backwards paths do not somehow twist-around to lead us to Him…. the only way those kind of results happen is when we learn the hard way that our choices were wrong, and make the corrections that turn us back around towards Him. It is sometimes hard to uphold things, but in the end it is that very integrity that will keep us spiritually healthy, and growing in the direction meant for us, and towards eternal goals.