Why "Keep My Commandments and Ye Shall Prosper" Bugs Me

One of the very first promises made by God in the Book of Mormon is found right in the second chapter: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper” (1 Nephi 2:20). This promise is repeated in similar wording so many times in the Book of Mormon that after a while the book begins to sound like a broken record.

a pile of gold bars

However, I have known several commandment-abiding individuals and families who do not appear to be prospering. Some of the best, most God-fearing and -loving individuals I have known are in some of the poorest and humblest circumstances I have seen. I have heard others­ complain that they do not feel God is prospering them when they are keeping the commandments. I also think we can all point to examples of people who are not keeping God’s commandments who are prospering above what they deserve.

Why is one of the most repeated mantras in the Book of Mormon seemingly failing?

To answer this question, I started with the word “prosper.” Most dictionaries define prosperity as success, especially economic and financial. So prosper can mean different things depending on what the goals are: financial success does not mean the same thing for everyone. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, what does God consider financial success? After all, He is the one offering us the promise.

I am not going to totally answer that question here, but here are a few resources if you’d like to answer that question for you: Matthew 25:14-30; Matthew 6:19-21; Matthew 6:24-34; Jacob 2:18-19; D&C 11:7.

I have never found a scripture that says or implies that prospering means having more than someone else. In fact, the scriptures seem to abundantly teach us the opposite: comparing our prosperity to someone else’s prosperity is pride (Helaman 12:1-5; Alma 45:24). If we are seeking to have more of something than our neighbor, we are guilty of the same category of sin that caused Lucifer to fall.

If we do want to play the comparison game (which we should not), than maybe we should try comparing ourselves to the rest of the world. If you have indoor plumbing, you are among the 30% (and that is a generous estimate) most prosperous people in the entire world (see, for example, these sources: 1, 2, 3). Who’s to say you and I are not prospering?

Finally, I have a word about the “inasmuch much as ye shall keep my commandments” part of the promise—the part of the blessing we are asked to abide by. How can we expect God to prosper us in the ways we imagine if we are not truly striving to keep all of God’s commandments?

How many of us wake up early and go to bed early (D&C 88:124)? How many of us are still envious or lustful of others (Exodus 20:17; Alma 5:28-29; Matthew 5:28)? How many of wake up with gratitude in our hearts (Alma 37:37)? The list goes on.

Maybe instead of focusing so much on why God is supposedly not blessing us, we should focus more on why we are not keeping all of His commandments.