Charity is the greatest of all virtues because it is the pure love of Jesus Christ. We can understand charity better by looking at the life of Christ because His life reflects His pure love for all mankind. He has commanded us to love one another as He loves us. We can know if we have pure love by showing genuine concern and compassion for all mankind.
An ancient American prophet by the name of Moroni wrote, “Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail – but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Moroni 7:46-37).
Jesus Christ was a perfect man with a perfect love. He showed us by His example that the spiritual and physical needs of other people are as important as our own. He gave His life for us that we might have the opportunity to return to His presence. Prior to His death, He said, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
If we are to have true charity, we must be willing to give to the sick, afflicted, and poor. One of the Savior’s parables was about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). This parable teaches us that we are to help those in need regardless of whether they are family or friend. The parable tells the story of man (probably a Jew) traveling to another city. He was attacked by bandits during his travel. The bandits beat him and then stole his clothes and money before leaving him for dead. A Jewish priest came along, saw the injured man, and passed by him. Then a Jewish temple attendant saw him, looked closely at him, and then went past him. A Samaritan – one person of a group hated by the Jews – came along. He saw the injured man and felt deep compassion. He bandaged the man’s wounds and then put him on his donkey. He took the man to an inn where he continued to care for him. The next morning he paid the innkeeper to take care of the man until he recovered from his injuries.
Jesus taught that we are to give food to the hungry, clothes to the poor, and shelter to those in need. He taught us to visit the sick and those who are in prison and said if we are doing these things it is as though we were doing them to Him. If we do these things, we are promised an inheritance in the celestial kingdom.
Conversely, Jesus also taught that if we turn away those who are sick and in prison or in need of food, clothes or shelter, it is as though we turn away the Savior (see Mathew 25:34-36). We are not responsible to decide whether or not they are “worthy” of our help (see Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:16-24). We should take care of the needs of our own family first; then we should help all who need our help. We are required to help everyone and let God sort out the details just as Heavenly Father send rain upon the just and on the unjust alike (Matt. 5:44-45).
According to the Apostle Paul, we do not exhibit charity simply by giving to those in need; we do not have charity unless we feel compassion for the people we are helping (see 1 Corinthians 13:3). Paul taught that we have charity if we have special feelings for all people. When we have charity, we are patient, kind, not boastful or proud, not haughty, selfish or rude. When we have charity, we do not remember or rejoice in the evil done by others. When we have charity, we do not do good things simply for our own advantage. When we have charity, we feel joy for those who live by the truth. When we have charity, we are loyal; we believe the best about other people and defend them. These good feelings stay with us when we have true charity (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
We can become more charitable by practicing four principles: (1) We can study the life of the Savior and keep His commandments; (2) We can pray for charity and to have uncharitable feelings taken away; (3) We can learn to love ourselves by learning to respect and trust ourselves; (4) We can love other people as we love ourselves by being patient with them and not thinking we are better than they are.
The book of Enos in the Book of Mormon is about a young man who had a great desire to know if God had forgiven his sins. “My soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. And there came a voice unto me saying: Enos, they sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (Enos 1:4-5).
The Lord explained to Enos that He had forgiven his sins because Enos had so much faith in Jesus Christ. When Enos understood that he was spiritually okay, he began to feel concern for the welfare of his friends and relative. He prayed for them with all his heart, and the Lord told him that they would be blessed according to their faithfulness in keeping His commandments (Enos 1:7-9).
Enos’ ability to love continued to increase, and he prayed for his enemies. The Lord granted his desires, and Enos spent the rest of his life trying to have the souls of the Nephites and the Lamanites. Enos willingly worked for all his remaining years helping others because he was so grateful for the Lord’s love and forgiveness (Enos 1:11-23).
Enos had developed true charity. We too can become truly charitable; in fact, we have been commanded to do so in order to inherit a place in the Father’s kingdom.