Howard W. Hunter RS lesson 11: True Greatness

According to the references at the end of the chapter, the majority of this lesson came from the 1987 September Ensign article, “What is True Greatness?” by President Hunter when he was President of the Twelve. That article is taken from his talk to the BYU student body in February of that year,  if you’d like to read it in full. Most of the changes between the original talk and the Ensign version are the removal of references to the audience’s being in university and their future careers. If you teach in a student ward, you could probably take a look at those sorts of references and include them in your lesson. However, there is one line outside of the student-related references that I noticed to be different. The original version given at BYU states, “I am also talking about … (those) who teach and instill faith and a desire to learn in the hearts of their students,” while the Ensign and the HWH lesson manual uses, “I am also talking about those who instill in others faith and a desire to live the gospel.” The edit to change “desire to learn” to “a desire to live the gospel” seemed to change the meaning of the sentence and to be notable.


I think I might first ask the class what words they think of when they hear “greatness” and compile them on the board.

In the scriptures, there are lots of references of the “greatness” and while it’s often paired with words like “glory,” greatness is paired with other words, too. Examples, bolded:

Doctrine and Covenenants 133:46 “in the greatness of his strength

2 Nephi 9:17 “O the greatness and the justice of our God!”

Alma 22:3 “the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon”

Numbers 14:9 “the greatness of thy mercy

2 Nephi 9:53 “because of his greatness, and his grace

Psalms 71:21 “Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.”

In the talk, President Hunter mentions two people he considers to be “great:” Pablo Casals and Joseph Smith. Maybe read/tell those stories with the class and then ask if they have people they consider “great.”

Discussion: What makes them great? Which of their qualities/actions do you admire?

My favorite quote in this lesson is,

As we evaluate our lives, it is important that we look not only at our accomplishments but also at the conditions under which we have labored. We are each different and unique; we have each had different starting points in the race of life; we each have a unique mixture of talents and skills; we each have our own set of challenges and constraints with which to contend. Therefore, our judgment of ourselves and our achievements should not merely include the size or magnitude and number of our accomplishments; it should also include the conditions that have existed and the effect that our efforts have had on others.

because it focuses on us looking in to ourselves and measuring our own “greatness.” It is important to “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,” and that there is nothing we can do to be greater than we already are to God.

I think I’d like to spend time thinking about the individual circumstances and strengths and talents that President Hunter refers to in that quote. When we try to consider our own “greatness,” it’s important to remember that we each prioritize different things, so what is considered “great” to one person is not considered “great” to another.

Reflective activity:

Share a list of values. Possibilities:

  • Adaptability
  • Authenticity
  • Compassion
  • Compromise
  • Creativity
  • Dependability
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Health and fitness
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Independence
  • Influence and power
  • Leadership
  • Learning/education
  • Patience
  • Positive impact on society
  • Prestige and status
  • Professional growth
  • Security
  • Spirituality/faith
  • Steadfastness
  • Spouse/partner
  • Wealth/savings

Have everyone write down their top five (no judgments- everyone’s will be different) on a paper and think about what they’ve done in the past week to become “great” at those top 5 things, or what they are planning on doing to become greater at what they value in the next week.greatness

I think I might end with this quote from former General Relief Society President, Mary Ellen Smoot,

“Truly, we may each be an instrument in the hands of God. Happily, we need not all be the same kind of instrument. Just as the instruments in an orchestra differ in size, shape, and sound, we too are different from one another. We have different talents and inclinations, but just as the French horn cannot duplicate the sound of the piccolo, neither is it necessary for us to all serve the Lord in the same way. Sister Eliza R. Snow said that “there is no sister so isolated and her sphere so narrow but what she can do a great deal towards establishing the Kingdom of God upon the earth” (Woman’s Exponent, 15 Sept. 1873, 62; emphasis added). Our privilege and our responsibility as daughters of God and as sisters of Relief Society, then, is to become the most effective instruments we can be.”


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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3 Responses

  1. Great lesson. I love church lessons that motivate improvement, or the struggle for greatness.

    Thanks for pointing out the source material. I love your idea of using the original talk in student wards, since the original material was already tailored to them. And thanks for pointing out the one change that affected the meaning of the quote. That was not very responsible editing on the part of the manual writers. While I doubt that Howard W Hunter would be offended by counsel about “living the gospel” (they probably could have found a real Hunter quote that said that) but I would not want to share a fake quote.

  2. Maryle says:

    Thanks for the lesson. I always find great helps here, and I really appreciate it.

    I wanted to point out that the Ensign article states that it is edited from Pres. Hunters talk. In doing so, they would have approved those edits with Pres. Hunter, it was possibly even edited by Pres. Hunter himself. I think that the quote is legitimate, before and after the edits.

  3. Sarah says:

    I LOVE your perspective on this lesson! Thank you for sharing!

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