“They Did Not Set Their Hearts Upon Riches”

Brant Gardner

What is the value of Nephite wealth? It means that the entire society could share in life’s necessities. The sick, naked, or hungry could be provided for.

What does the provision for the needy have to do with wealth? In an agrarian culture, life’s necessities are absolutely the first priority since their lack leads to starvation and death. Providing for one’s immediate family and, second, for one’s kin group are also top priorities. Having food is directly related to labor. Those who are ill or injured, too old, or too young to work must still eat. They must, however, eat food someone else produces. Either they eat food that causes someone else to go hungry, or that food comes from provisions that exceed the needs of those who labor. The Nephite church-men prospered in that they had more than required for their own bare subsistence and could therefore generously provide for those unable to work. They were wealthy because they could provide.

Even in the modern world, we understand that true wealth comes with the social responsibility to use it to benefit others. We call such use philanthropy. Although modern capitalism is different from the Nephite economic system, “wealth” serves the same purpose in both. The excess allows for necessities to be provided to those unable to care for themselves.

Mormon spells out that the Nephites “did not set their hearts upon riches”—in other words, did not seek riches. Rather, they had wealth. The modern reader might suppose that wealth is riches. For Mormon, however, wealth was more of an attitude than possessions. Wealth was the communal abundance plus individual generosity, not individual acquisition.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4