Have you ever really wanted something to the point where that want became a need? Maybe it was a special toy as a child (or an adult). Perhaps you were at a friend’s house and enjoyed playing a video game you didn’t have. Maybe it was seeing a “puppies for sale” sign in front of a store and you just wanted to go in “to look” and fell in love with one of them and tried convincing your parents that you were responsible enough to take care of it. 🙂
What is the difference between a need and a want?
I saw a funny phrase a while back:
“People need to understand the difference between want and need. Like I want abs, but I need tacos.”
A few weeks ago while preparing a lesson that included Mosiah 4, I noticed something interesting in verse 26. At the end of the verse, we are told to meet the needs of others “both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”
I hadn’t noticed that so clearly in the past. Meeting the wants of an individual seems like it could be an impossible task. Aren’t wants endless? What is this verse actually saying?
I wanted to see other verses that talked about wants and needs so that became my first search.
wants and needs
It only returned 3 verses so I expanded it to:
want* and need*
That resulted in 7 verses. I read through that list and there is a key verse there, but I realized I wasn’t pulling in my original starting verse. I tried a search for:
want* or need*
But that resulted in 360 verses, which was more than I wanted to study at the moment, but would certainly result in the most accurate set. Last, I tried:
77 verses. Just right for me to scan through and look for flecks of gold. Again though, it’s going to miss some gems that would be in the bigger set (but I’ll show you at the end how to pick those up later). This is just a determination you can make individually when you study as to how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Something may only mildly interest you, or something may really pull you in and you determine to study it deeply.
I then created a Collection Note (CN) from these verses and named it “Meeting the needs and wants of others” and gave it tags of Wants, Needs, and Charity. Close the search results pane and hit ctrl/cmd-F and find all instances of “want.” This will highlight the word down the list and make it easier to scan. You’re all set to study the topic.
As you move through the list there are verses you will want to remove that don’t discuss this topic and just use the word want in a sentence like “I want you to…”
Since these words are used Biblically and across other scriptures, we can use two of our primary resources to think about definitions of the words. You could look at Strong’s concordance for the use of the words in the Bible, and Webster’s 1828 dictionary for standard definitions.
Among the definitions of needs I found a couple phrases that I really liked: sustenance for the journey, and necessary for life.
Want is an interesting word. It can mean both need (“I am in want of food”) or a desire to possess something (“I really want one of those”).
With these simple definitions in mind, lets go through some scriptures.
I noticed while in the Blue Letter Bible site looking up Strong’s definitions for “needs”, the story in Luke 11 was referenced which doesn’t contain the word “wants” but does contain “needeth”. In these few verses, the Savior shares a story about a man that goes to a friend’s home at midnight asking for 3 loaves of bread, not for him, but for unexpected company that has arrived on a journey. The friend he turns to is probably someone with greater wealth and resources so he trusts he will have bread ready to provide. The Savior concludes:
8. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
The Savior then follows up this story with the instruction that we are to ask, seek, and knock.
10. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
These are topics I’ve discussed elsewhere so I won’t dive into here except to note that the scriptures indicate God knows what our needs and wants are and we just need to ask in faith to receive.
It’s never a good idea to try and make a teaching out of a single phrase in the scriptures. Looking across scriptures and how a concept is used in multiple places is the best way to understand prophetic, inspired doctrine.
My own studies of this topic included verses not in my original search for “want” but also went into “need” as well. That would be the best way to dig deep, but here’s a few things that contribute to understanding what Mosiah 4:26 was talking about.
D&C 82:17. “And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—”
This is a key verse. Wants doesn’t mean everything a person might want. I’ll give more perspective on this in a minute.
D&C 70:7. “Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse;”
Don’t we all have a bit of excess in our lives? More than we need or want? The Lord asks us to put it into the storehouse to share with others.
D&C 51:14. And let him also reserve unto himself for his own wants, and for the wants of his family, as he shall be employed in doing this business.
It is righteous to provide for your family and meet the wants of your family members.
Mosiah 18:29. And this he [Alma] said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.
2 Cor. 8:14 “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:”
We need to meet the needs and wants of each other both spiritually and temporally.
The scriptures are clear on this and yet many go astray supporting the idea that it’s OK to force a redistribution of wealth through governmental channels to help others. The Savior didn’t say pay your taxes to take care of the poor. He said give to the poor. Use your personal agency and look for the needs and wants others have. Here are some verses that help see this more clearly.
Mosiah 18:28 “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.”
Imparting of our substance must be from our own desires to do good and exercise agency.
Mosiah 4:22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
Nothing we have belongs to us. It all belongs to God. He provides for our needs and wants and desires that we should choose to use our agency to take care of our brothers and sisters, that all may have according to their needs and wants. This is Zion. No rich or poor.
D&C 84:112 “And the bishop, Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.”
How do we humble the rich and proud? By preaching the word of God and helping them understand the doctrines that we are all children of God, brothers and sisters, and that by not providing for the needs of our brothers and sisters, we bring condemnation upon ourselves.
What we want to avoid, and enormous pressures are brought to bear in bringing this about, is a social democracy, or welfare state. This is a state where lack of personal responsibility takes over the system and the system shifts from freedom-oriented, to force-oriented to meet the needs, and then meet the wants of others. In March 1966, Elder Howard W. Hunter expressed this in a talk at BYU. Emphasis mine.
“What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms . . ..
If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through ‘a democratic process’ he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ Both have lost their freedom. Those who ‘have,’ lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who ‘have not,’ lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got ‘something for nothing,’ and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.
Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms, which they have lost.” (Elder Howard W. Hunter, Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest.” Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966.)
I want to discuss something about D&C 82:17 for a moment. In that verse posted above, it ended with meeting the “wants and…needs, inasmuch as…wants are just.”
How do we determine if wants are just? In briefly analyzing this, I thought it would be helpful to visualize it this way.
People that are not spiritually mature haven’t overcome the natural man desire to have for the sake of having. They may have bought into a marketing lie and think they need something, or want to get something to “keep up with the Jones'”, or simply consume something of no real value.
Spiritually mature people have fewer wants. Things beyond what they need are used to be productive and bless others. Their wants consist of things they can properly manage and make good use of that aren’t necessary for their survival. If people are living the gospel, their wants reduce. They aren’t living a life of materialism. They are overcoming the world and aligning their priorities toward God. As such, their needs largely become their wants.
When someone is poor and their needs are met, they may want something like a computer, a car, a bus pass, some tools, an appliance, books, garden soil, or any number of very different things they have a desire to use to bless their life or the lives of others. These are righteous desires. It’s not a sin to want more (even if you’re wealthy), if you are going to use it to meet the wants of others.
Jacob taught this:
Jacob 2:19 “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
We should look to satisfy the needs of others, then their wants, particularly where we see people who are capable of being more productive and greater contributors to their own life, family, community, and might just lack the resources to become a greater benefit to others.
All this isn’t to say our eyes never get smitten by something we think we want. We are still subject to the temptations of life and sometimes think that owning something will let us be more productive and we sometimes spend unwisely. The Lord understands this and sometimes there’s a place for that purchase that justifies it.
There is nothing wrong with wanting something that brings you joy. For some, buying a boat might be a perfect purchase to enjoy fishing or water skiing and they may have in mind all the people that will be blessed by their purchase as they take others out on a lake when those people don’t have the ability or access to do it on their own. For others, buying a boat might just be a complete waste of money and something they will fail to properly take care of. They may have purchased it on a whim without thinking it through. They may have gone into debt to purchase it without a business purpose with a source of revenue to pay the debt down.
There is a great statement by Brigham Young I can’t find at the moment (don’t have it in my Scripture Notes yet) where he basically says if you can’t take care of things you have, give them up to someone who can make them productive and meet their wants. Don’t hoard things you can make productive and put to good use. Let them be a blessing to someone else. If you know the quote I’m thinking of, please post it in the comments. 🙂
Psalms 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
I think this says more to me now after studying this topic than I’d ever thought about before. It’s got a dual meaning. The shepherd takes care of the needs and wants of the sheep, and I need to evaluate my own priorities. There are things I definitely feel like I have a righteous want for, and other things I need to get rid of to simplify my life. We can all be satisfied in the Lord.
If you only studied the scriptures found with the “want*” search, you can always do a search for:
That will find only the new verses that you haven’t seen yet and you can drag and drop in the relevant ones to your collection note.
Share your thoughts in the blog comments below.
(Featured image copyright by Klenova @123rf.com)