The talks in our Church meetings today were on the subject of charity. They were all excellent, and gave me the opportunity to again consider this important quality I need to better develop. A couple of months ago I was asked to speak on this topic at Church too, and have posted that talk below.
It is interesting I think to note that “the Pure Love of Christ” could refer to the love which Christ shows for me (its ultimate expression being through the Atonement), the love which Christ shows to all people (which I need to attempt to emulate), and the love which Christ enables me to show to others (again through His atonement). My talk focussed primarily on our attempt to develop this characteristic, but perhaps I will write on some of the other aspects at a later date….
Today I would like to talk about a principle that has been described as the one which best defines us as followers of Christ. It has been described as the measure of the greatness of our souls; the central object of our existence; and the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship (Joseph B Wirthlin, The Great Commandment, October 2007 General Conference). It is the principle of charity: the pure love of Christ.
Said the apostle Paul, “Though I speak with the tongue of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 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.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Paul’s description of what charity is not in this passage is instructive. He firstly lists a number of spiritual gifts, and subsequently includes actions of great personal sacrifice for the benefit of others, stating that none of these represent true charity, and will not benefit us without the development of this greater gift.
We live in a day when there is much good as well as evil expressed across the world. Large numbers of people show kindness, tend wounds, sacrifice and serve to remove suffering and improve the lives of others. Their actions are an expression of love for their fellowman. While true charity certainly includes these actions, it is not defined by them, for true charity is more than this.
Having stated where we should not look to find charity, Paul goes on to list some of the characteristics found within this essential quality, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
A comparison of Paul’s list with the beatitudes taught by the Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount shows some striking similarities and teaches us that the development of charity in its fullest sense is one of spiritual growth and development. * (see endnote)
Elder Joseph B Wirthlin taught, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities. The means of this refinement is our Christlike love.” (Joseph B Wirthlin, The Great Commandment, October 2007 General Conference)
This principle is taught most clearly in the Book of Mormon, where the development of charity is linked with powerful spiritual blessings. In the very first chapter of 1 Nephi, Lehi saw the pillar of fire, and received a vision and his calling as a prophet after he, “…prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” (1 Nephi 1:5)
I do not believe it is coincidental that Nephi commences his record with evidence of his father’s love for his people, and ends his record stating, “I pray continually for [my people] by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them….” (2 Nephi 33:3). Nephi essentially shows us the spiritually mature Christlike man – his father – at the outset of his record, and much of his writings thereafter are intended to show us how to develop the same.
Later in the Book of Mormon Enos is told by the Lord, “I will grant unto thee according to thy desires”, after he has prayed, “with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.” (Enos 1:11-12)
Alma was promised eternal life after he, “poured out his whole soul to God” on behalf of those in need of repentance. (Alma 26:11-20)
And in the book of Helaman, Nephi was given the sealing power after, “being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people of the Nephites”, and that following his “pouring out his soul unto God” in prayer because of his brethren. (Helaman 7:9-11, and Helaman 10:3-11)
These and other prophets received some of the greatest blessings available from the Lord, only after they had demonstrated through their actions that they had developed a love of their fellow children of God that was Christlike; a deep and selfless caring for the eternal welfare of others that motivated them. As covenant followers of Jesus Christ, this is the standard to which we aspire.
Our covenant journey in the development of a Christlike character begins at baptism, when we show our willingness to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God. (Mosiah 18:8-9) It is interesting, and I believe important, to note that this covenant includes helping others with physical, emotional and spiritual support.
We ultimately fulfil our covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ in the fullest sense as we are able to say – like Him – that it is our work, glory and joy to labour with our might in bringing to pass the eternal life of all those of our Father’s children with whom we do, or may, hold any influence. (See Moses 1:39, and compare with Doctrine & Covenants 93:12-22)
As the prophet Joseph Smith said, “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church 4:227)
Most of us, of course, have not yet arrived at such a state. How do we achieve it? A determination to do so is a start, but is not enough. May I suggest 5 things that each of us can do.
1. Pray that we may be blessed with increased charity
As we come to understand and internalise the truth that it is through the development of charity that we will obtain our fullest joy, as well as our greatest ability to bless others, we will want to heed Moroni’s admonition to, “…pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love….”. The phrase “all the energy of heart” suggests that our prayers will genuinely express our deep desires, and will be consistent, persistent, and meaningful. Moroni assures us that those who are true followers of Jesus Christ will have such prayers answered. (Moroni 7:48)
2. Apply our own life experiences to bless others
One LDS author has written that in order to have charity for others, we need to have empathy, and goes on to say, “Empathy must be learned. It is impossible for us to have empathy if we have not hurt as they hurt and have not rejoiced as they rejoice. Consequently, in this life some of the most worthwhile experiences we have are the ones that teach us how to feel the hurts that other people feel, so we can comfort them in a language that teaches them that we know and care. In order to make our own hard experiences worthwhile, rather than crippling, we must be strong enough to turn that difficulty into power.” (Baker and Ricks, Who Shall Ascend Into the Hill of the Lord, p 446)
The physical, emotional and spiritual hardships and trials we experience in life are therefore not solely to refine our own souls. Perhaps an even greater blessing may come from them in that they enable us to express charity towards others. As we have each had life experiences and challenges that are unique to us, we are thus each uniquely able to bless others with needed love and understanding.
3. Don’t be selective about who we seek to bless
Particularly when it comes to spiritual matters, too often some of us subconsciously rank those within our spheres of influence in a way that may go something like this:
- Our family and maybe close friends: to these we will be most willing to discuss spiritual matters and feelings
- Active Church members: perhaps in Home or Visiting teaching, or in Church meetings we will make comments if we feel there is something useful to say
- Less-active Church members: we may mention the Church in passing at the end of a Home or Visiting teaching visit
- Those who are not Church members: we will only talk of spiritual matters if it becomes very clear to us that they will respond positively
I do not believe that our Heavenly Father ranks His children in this way. His work and glory is for each of His children to take any steps that are necessary to move closer to Him. For some of His children the next step might be attending the temple; for others, baptism; for yet others, returning to the Sacrament table; and for still others perhaps to simply feel the Holy Spirit testify that He lives, and that His Son and our Saviour atoned for our sins, pains, and sicknesses. Surely our Father in Heaven cannot be happy with us when we fail to extend His love to those who need it – whatever their circumstances – because of our own fears, trepidations or thoughtlessness.
4. Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost – and get to work
I love the story in the Book of Mormon of Ammon and his brethren going amongst the Lamanites. Mormon records that they sought the companionship of the Spirit – and then acted. (Alma 17:9, 18) For Ammon, this approach enabled him to be an instrument of the Lord in at least two miracles which transformed a nation. In the first instance, after having offered to be a servant to the local Lamanite King Lamoni, a group of robbers scattered the King’s flocks, which historically would mean inevitable death for the servants. Ammon was assured that they would be able to gather the King’s flocks again, but rather than seeing this as an opportunity to teach the gospel, Ammon saw it as an opportunity for his Lamanite fellow servants to see God’s hand in action. When the countless numbers of robbers returned, with the Lord strengthening him, he single-handedly fought them off. This miracle opened King Lamoni’s heart and led to his household being taught the gospel. (See Alma chapters 17-19)
The second miracle followed this. Following promptings by the Holy Ghost to try and free his brothers who had been made prisoners, Ammon – now joined by King Lamoni – came across Lamoni’s father, King over all the Lamanites. Rather than accept the testimony of his son Lamoni however, the King, blinded by hundreds of years of social conditioning to mistrust Nephites, decided rather to kill his own son. Again filled with power from God, Ammon was able to defend Lamoni; and his father, seeing the enormous love shown by Ammon towards his son, had his heart softened, and many thousands of Lamanites were consequently converted. (See Alma chapters 20-23)
Because Ammon did everything in his power to have the Spirit with him – and then acted – the Lord was able to act through him such that miracles were performed, hearts were softened, and individuals were healed. You and I can also be instruments in the Lord’s hands to heal hearts if we too will seek the Spirit, and then act.
5. Rely on the Saviour
We not only look to the Saviour as the perfect and ultimate expression of charity, but also as the source from which we are able to develop this attribute more fully ourselves. You and I cannot achieve perfection of any part of our character on our own. “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him,” taught Moroni, “…and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ….”. (Moroni 10:32)
Christ is not only the perfect embodiment and expression of this highest of characteristics, but His atoning sacrifice is also the means through which we are able to develop it ourselves. As we rely on Him and His mercy and grace each day, we will grow in our development of charity.
One of the hymns we often sing in our church meetings has the following words:
Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee-
Lord, I would follow thee.
Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can’t see.
Who am I to judge another?
Lord, I would follow thee.
I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother’s keeper-
Lord, I would follow thee.
Savior, may I love my brother
As I know thou lovest me,
Find in thee my strength, my beacon,
For thy servant I would be.
Savior, may I love my brother-
Lord, I would follow thee.
(LDS Hymns 220)
Brothers and Sisters, you and I have been blessed with a knowledge of the gospel, and an opportunity to make covenants with the Lord that lead us back to His presence. These covenants provide us with both an opportunity, and a responsibility, to more fully develop the Christlike attribute of charity.
May we each: pray for this attribute, apply our life experiences to bless others, avoid being selective about who we seek to lift, seek the Holy Ghost and act, and rely on the Saviour as we do so.
I testify that Christ lives, that He loves us, and that He is the perfect embodiment and example of this most exalted of characteristics.
* Compare with Matthew 5:3-10. The comparison is not exact, but is close enough I believe to evidence that Paul was showing a link between the two. For example the “poor in spirit”, and “those who mourn” in the Sermon on the Mount can be seen in Paul’s reference to suffering long; references by Paul to not envying, not vaunting ourselves or being puffed up may reference the Saviour’s admonition for us to be meek; hungering and thirsting after righteousness compares with rejoicing in the truth; while bearing and enduring all things certainly mirrors the Saviour’s blessing of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The order of these statements is also broadly the same between the two passages, which strengthens the case for Paul trying to teach that our acquiring of charity will match our spiritual progress and development.