Often, when we read the Book of Mormon or the scriptures in general, we may pass over certain words because they are common, or because of the surrounding context in which they are used. Let’s take the word substance for example; as it is used in several scriptures we understand substance to be goods, flocks, herds, food, money, or other temporal and welfare type of goods. This seems to be the case in Mosiah chapter 4 (verses 16,17,19, and 22) where substance is used repeatedly, which all seem to relate to sharing your ‘substance’ with the poor and the needy.
One of my very favorite scriptures, if not my absolute favorite, is Jacob 2:17 which reads “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” At first glance, this context seems to fit the paragraph above. Jacob is denouncing the people’s love of riches, and indicating that the antidote to pride is the sharing of one’s substance. There are other several other scriptures that support this idea, but I think we can learn quite a bit more if we think of this word substance in it’s modern day definition.
- That of which a thing consists
- The actual matter of a thing
- The real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence.
Certainly you could argue that substance can mean material goods and flocks, but I would like us to think about why the word substance is used in Jacob 2:17 (and other verses), and how sharing our substance is much more than just sharing our temporal goods. I like to think of it as “the actual matter of a thing”. The charge to “be free with your substance” tells me that sharing what I am actually made of – the matter of a thing, or that of which a thing consists – is what is expected of me (and not just to give of my material blessings). I love that challenge. In part because it seems harder, in part because it helps us understand that what we are and what we are made of – the sum total of all our experience and trials and strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important and that is what we need to share it with everyone. We need to be free with our substance.
Another reason I think this, is because of the way substance is used in another verse – Alma 27:24. At this point in the Book of Mormon, the people of Ammon (the Anti-Nephi-Lehies) are traveling with Ammon to see if the people of Zarahemla will let them live with the Nephites (since the Lamanites keep destroying them). Of course, the Nephites say yes because they are good – and in verse 24, it indicates the condition for which the Nephites will give up the land of Jershon and provide their army for their protection: “we will guard them from their enemies without our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.”
So far, this reference can still be thrown into the temporal goods category, since it makes 100% sense that the Nephite army required these newcomers to provide food and supplies in return for their possession of the land of Jershon. But, there is always more…
There happens to be a footnote on the word ‘portion’ in verse 24 which takes us to Alma 43:13 where it says that “the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies”. I’ve read these verses, and all of the verses related to sharing substance several times, but only recently I’ve noticed the connection between Jacob 2:17 and these that I’ve listed. The ‘large portion’ of substance that the people of Ammon shared probably included temporal goods (food, supplies, etc.) but it was WAY more than that.
Let’s just do a quick review of exactly what it was – the actual matter of a thing – that the people of Ammon shared with the Nephites through the end of Alma.
This group of new converts comes into town, having made some new covenants, and they were “distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men”, and they were a “beloved people”. A people who were “compelled to behold their brethren (the Nephites) wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances”. This people was renowned among all the Nephites for their convictions, and their commitments to covenants that they had made. Do you think that substance – the actual matter of their being – was shared? I certainly think so. The sharing of their substance, was way more than just providing the Nephite army with granola bars and water jugs. It was a spiritual substance that changed the course of Nephite history, and culminated with 2,060 of their stripling youth volunteering themselves to go right into the heart of battle, leaving home, and placing themselves right in the middle of the Nephite army, an act which caused them to “rejoice exceedingly” and ultimately, an act of love that cannot be measured. Remember that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Even though the stripling warriors didn’t lay down their lives, they were willing to, and that is some serious substance.
I think that this people – the people of Ammon – were the epitome of sharing their substance, which is why I love the condition placed upon them in the very beginning when they come to town. The Nephites themselves probably didn’t even realize how amazing that condition was when they required it in the first place. I think that this condition to give the Nephites ‘a portion of their substance’ was paid in full many times over. When we think of the blessings that the Nephites received and the testimonies that were shared and strengthened from the people of Ammon – I am amazed at the simple phrases in the Book of Mormon that are so jam-packed with awesomeness. So, the challenge for all of us today, is the same as it was for the people of Ammon and the people in Jacob’s time; let us ‘be familiar with all, and free with our substance”.