Jesus Christ’s true disciples don’t do good to earn praise from others (see Matthew 6:1-6). However, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want their church to be well regarded so others might be moved to consider its claims. In this, they obey Jesus: “Let your light so shine before men,” he said, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). After all, his sheep will hear and recognize his voice (John 10:27).
But the LDS Church will never be universally respected, let alone beloved. And this shouldn’t be surprising.
The Savior taught in both hemispheres that, while the gate to destruction is broad “and many there be which go in thereat,” “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14; 3 Nephi 14:13-14).
He warned his first disciples they would be despised and abused:
“Blessed are ye,” he said, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). “Yea, the time cometh,” Jesus predicted, “that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (see John 16:2).
In other words, opponents of early Christianity often regarded themselves as doing good, fighting evil. Why should it be different now?
Today, many millions venerate the names of those first Christian disciples. They “build the tombs of the prophets” and “garnish the sepulchres of the righteous” (Matthew 23:29). While the disciples lived, though, the world neither loved nor respected them.
“We preach Christ crucified,” reported the apostle Paul, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
And, indeed, true revelation often goes beyond human logic and understanding (see, for instance, Moses 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Nephi 11:16-17; 1 Nephi 19:3; Alma 7:8). If it only told us what we could have discovered on our own, it would be redundant.
The apostles, said Paul, were “despised” as “fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Corinthians 4:10).
“Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” he explained. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
Joseph Smith’s First Vision was received “with great contempt,” and he was soon advised that his name would be had not only for good but for evil “among all nations, kindreds and tongues” (Joseph Smith—History 1:21, 33).
Very quickly in the founding text of the Restoration, Nephi sees “the mother of abominations,” who would have “dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” By contrast, peering into the future, he sees that “the saints of God were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small” (see 1 Nephi 14:11-12). That is, while the restored church will spread worldwide, it won’t become numerically dominant.
Why not? Partially because elite opinion will despise it. Lehi saw “a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” of the tree of life. Some who partook were “ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (see 1 Nephi 8:25-28, 33). Nephi learned that the building represents “the world and the wisdom thereof,” and rebellious worldly “pride” (1 Nephi 11:35-36).
Faithful church members should be neither disheartened nor ashamed. These realities were predicted long ago. Ultimately, though, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).