Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Charity—Who we are to Become

During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ taught that the great commandment in the law is that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:36-39).

When we speak of charity we often speak of actions and organizations. We donate to charities which help the poor, the needy, the sick, the homeless, the abused, etc. Service we perform on behalf of neighbors, friends, family members, and others is often considered charity.

However, prophet Mormon gave the true definition of charity when he taught that “charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:47). Indeed, the scriptural definition of charity does not denote any sort of action at all although it may be a prompting motive (see Bible Dictionary, “Charity”). Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity does not describe actions in the same way living the law of tithing doesn’t describe giving money to the Church or living the law of chastity doesn’t describe not committing adultery. Of course, living the law of tithing leads to the paying of tithes and living the law of chastity leads to not committing adultery but the actions are only a result of living the law, not the law itself. In the same way, what could be described as “charitable acts” such as bestowing all our goods to the poor are not charity at all, but the fruits of charity. Charity describes the intention and motive behind the action. Charity describes who we are inside.

In Moroni 7:45, Mormon lists attributes of charity (or charitable persons); Paul made a similar list found in 1 Corinthians 13. Wrote Mormon:

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

One thing that we can learn from this list—and the subject of my focus—is the intent and inner desires of these attributes and actions.
  • Suffereth long. Mormon does not say “puts up with” or “waits out,” but suffereth. One only suffereth long if he truly loves and cares for the reason. We “put up with” or “wait out” something because of a promised reward and should the process of waiting or putting up with outweigh the reward, we quit. Not so when we are filled with charity—the process of suffering, dealing with, waiting, or enduring never outweighs the reward because we love like Christ does and have Christlike patience. The reward is becoming children of our Father (see Matt 5:44) and we suffer because we know that He did. (See Topical Guide, Forbearance; Suffering.)
  • Is kind. Mormon does not say “does nice things,” but is kind. He writes that charity is. Simply put, is is the present tense of the verb to be, signifying that one has become something and is that thing presently. Is kind; kindness is a part of us.
  • Envieth not. Envy can be hidden. Mormon does not say, “does not act envious” or “does not show that one is envious.” Charity does not even have envious thoughts. Charity is not envious even on the inside. Envieth not.
  • Is not puffed up. Mormon uses is again. Not, “doesn’t act proud or full of his self.” Pride, like envy, can be hidden—acting humble is not charity. Charity, inside, really is not puffed up. Charity is humble as Christ is humble.
  • Seeketh not her own. This attribute is near the heart of pure intentions. Do we serve for the approval and acknowledgement of others? Or because we hope to have the favor returned? Or do we serve because we love our neighbor as our self and we truly desire his well being? Christ taught that we should, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men . . . That thy alms may be in secret:” (Matt 6:1, 4; see 1-4). Said Elder Christofferson, “service and sacrifice for the well-being and happiness of others in love are far superior to making one’s own comfort and possessions the highest priority” (“Moral Discipline,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 105–8).
  • Is not easily provoked. Charity is patient and endureth well. Charity turns the other cheek, gives both the coat and the cloke (see Matt 5:39-40). Charity responds to provocation as Christ did, with patience, understanding, and submission to His Father’s will. Charity knows that anger, malice, contention, or retaliation is not the answer to any situation. Charity does not even think or feel anger, malice, contention, or desire retaliation, which leads into the next attribute.
  • Thinketh no evil. When one suffers or experiences situations in which one could become envious, prideful, or provoked, charity does not hold everything in and merely think evil or desire to retaliate. When one has charity, one does not even think evil things; charity strives to gain an understanding of the situation and prays for the ability to forgive the offending party.
  • Rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in truth. Rejoices, not “shows outward excitement.” Rejoicing comes from the heart, which is why charity cannot rejoice in iniquity and rejoices in truth.
  • Beareth all things. The scriptures often use “beareth all things” in reference to ability to understand the doctrine taught by Christ. However, I believe this reference to be similar to suffereth all things and endureth all things. We bear and do not give in to the suffering, situations in which our kindness is tested, and all other situations in which we are tempted with pride, envy, and provocation.
  • Believeth all things. Faith and Hope are inseparably connected.
  • Hopeth all things.
    • 1 Cor 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
    • Alma 7:24 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.
    • Ether 12:28 I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.
    • D&C 18:19 And if you have not faith, hope, and charity, you can do nothing.
  • Endureth all things. All the previous attributes culminate into this last one. Suffering; kindness; and lack of internal envy, pride, self-gratification, anger, evil thoughts, and iniquity; enduring all things that come in this life and bearing them with the faith and hope that the Lord will both help and exalt.
Surely the Savior was referring to the development of charity when He commanded us to be perfect, even as He or our Father who is in heaven is perfect (see Matt 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48), for on the great commandments of Love hang all the law and the prophets. Charity is the pure love of Christ. The pure love of Christ needs to be embodied in us. As we strive to develop this love inside our souls, our desires and intentions will be reflected in outward actions of kindness, service, humility, and rejoicing.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible. If we strive to develop the pure love of Christ, He will make up for our faults and shortcomings. He will show us an increased outpouring of love and show us how to become perfect. And whoso is found possessed of the pure love of Christ at the last day, it shall be well with him. Charity is who we are to become.

Jeremy