They pay an honest tithing. They honor the Sabbath. They obey the commandments with exactness. They read and study the scriptures with great fervor. They attend and participate in all their meetings. They are modest in their attire and behaviour. They honour the traditions of their fathers and attend the temple. If these descriptions fit your description of a good latter-day saint, that may not be far from the truth. But these characteristics also describe the Pharisees--the most prominent of the ancient Jewish sects. Though they believe in a just and merciful god, they shunned all those who did not live by their strict codes and separated themselves from those they considered "common" people. When they pray, they give thanks to God that they are not "unjust" or "unclean" as other people (see Luke 18:11) and they take pride in being "different" from others.
For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
Can you just hear the irony in this passage of scripture? One can't help but crack a smile after reading this! While it is of paramount importance to obey the commandments with exactness, our zeal to live the gospel can be carried too far when our efforts turn to measuring others instead of concentrating on our own obedience. The Pharisees were more than concerned about rules and their own interpretations of the applications of these rules rather than the principles of the gospel. They didn't see that before every rule, first comes love.
Pondering all the concerns that we have right now with life's details regarding dress, music, use of technology, the media, dating standards, language use, even the protocol of nursing a baby during meetings left me with many sobering thoughts. While I do not want to minimize the importance of adhering to common sense rules that bind us to high standards, our own zeal to make sure others adhere to these rules may very well limit our ability to love them. This very same problem imprisoned the Pharisees.
Measuring others by any yardstick can prevent us from developing tolerance and compassion for others. Please note that I refer to others and not the sin. It is so easy to look at others and judge them by their appearance---the apparel, their looks, their shapes, their history, their family, their pedigree or name because it is a natural propensity of being human to seek faults so we can feel superior. On some occasions taking offense becomes a favorite pastime or habit because NOT taking offense is a more difficult choice to make. I should know. Many times my sensitivity gets the best of me. But we can override our "humanness" with loving kindness and hopefully, charity as gifted to us by the Holy Ghost. That is not an easy task especially for me. But I am hopeful.
Pharisees wasted too much time building a wedge between them and others. Christ taught us that "...our bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly; then shall they confidence wax strong in the presence of God. (D&C 121:45)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the real center of it all. It provides the only way to help us return to our Father in Heaven. Peripheral issues such as attire, tradition, cultural tolerance or social expectations are important and need to be addressed because understanding how we interact and should act within these boundaries help create order in our human environment. But what's peripheral must not take precedence over what's really important. The fact is, many people, especially young people, dare us to love them by expressing themselves in such a way that it becomes difficult for us to love them first. Often, and there are exceptions, these expressions mean altering their appearance, behaviour or style of dress. Do not let your displeasure reign over your ability to feel more love--and especially to see their hearts. Reproof can only be effective when tempered with an abundance of love and wisdom wrought, shaped and reinforced by the power of the Holy Ghost. Without this influence, we are missing the mark, often causing more hurt and confusion not just for the people we love but also for ourselves.
Our main edict is to make sure we ourselves obey the principles of the gospel and the counsels of a living prophet, not to police others. It is our privilege to obey, to choose for ourselves and as far as others are concerned, we are privileged to learn to show love and kindness to all those we come in contact with---to love them into the fold. It is the greatest and most challenging of all of God's commandments. The measurements that we use to judge others by, whether thy are calibrated by tradition, culture, correct principles or even our own person preferences, fall behind the greatest of all commandments. After all, first comes love.