Second Nephi, chapter 26 has a verse that has perplexed me for decades. Verse 31 states, “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.”

“Wait! Doesn’t EVERYONE labor for money? Does that mean we’ll all perish? If we all stop laboring for money, what will become of us? How will we survive?As my wife and I re-read these verses this morning, I had an epiphany that helps me understand this verse better (and hopefully, more accurately).

Two verses earlier, Nephi points out that God has forbidden priestcraft. He defines priestcraft as being when “men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world”. In other words, they charge for preaching. What does charging money for preaching do when our motive is to maximize profits (rather than to maximize people’s long-term well-being)? Charging money for preaching tempts the preacher to change the message so that the people more readily accept it (and continue paying him). So paid ministers are tempted to pervert God’s word to make it more marketable. The salvation of their fellowman ceases to be the goal and is replaced by efforts to keep the money flowing in.

King Benjamin refused to be paid to be king (see Mosiah 2:12,14). Would getting paid to govern pervert government just as getting paid to preach perverts the priesthood? Doesn’t the US government today prove that to a remarkable degree? Lobbyists spend billions of dollars on congressmen and senators to persuade them to pass laws they haven’t even read and which are written to protect the “interests” of the lobbyists’ clients. Being paid to govern tempts the governors to pervert the law for their own benefit. Personal gain and power eventually becomes the goal of those paid to govern, and then “equal justice for all” becomes a quaint notion.

What about other “industries”? Does getting paid to build furniture lead to a perversion of… furniture? Well… have you ever bought a bookcase at Ikea or Lowe’s? You get it home and while you’re assembling the press-board pieces, you notice how rickety the thing is and hope it will not collapse when you load it up with books. Gone are the days of the caring craftsman.

What about agriculture? Hasn’t the drive to increase profits led to the abuses decried today about agribusiness? Nature’s way of integrated networks of mutually-beneficial plants, insects and animals has been replaced by land sterilized by fertilizer burnout, food bereft of nutritional value, and tortured animals living in unimaginable filth. Now Big Agriculture is messing with the DNA of your food and even the seeds that produce it with yet unknown results – all to maximize profits.

“If they labor for money they shall perish” – hmm….

I admit, it’s a reach to say that rickety furniture can lead to national destruction, but I can see how perverted agriculture could lead to widespread famines, perverted government could lead to a dictatorship and the reign of death that always follows in its wake.

The more I study and ponder the differences between the societies of Babylon and Zion, the more I see that Babylon includes any society that perverts government, science, religion, education, agriculture, or any other element of their society. And, now I see how the use of money eventually contributes to the perversion of those once-venerated institutions. And it’s that perversion that leads to their eventual decay and death – “if they labor for money they shall perish” becomes a sobering warning.

I’ve long wondered, “If the Zion that Jesus set up among the Nephites only lasted 240 years, how in the world is he going to configure the laws of the New Jerusalem in a way that its peace and prosperity will last for a thousand?” Based on this idea that payment perverts performance, I’m willing to believe that Christ will outlaw the use of money at all in his millennial kingdom. The risk is too great.