Saturday, August 21, 2010
There is much talk today of the need for charity in our nation and how government can force us to be charitable, but what is the true definition of charity? The World Book Dictionary defines charity as a "generous giving to the poor or to organizations which look after the sick, the poor, and the helpless; an act or work of charity; a fund, institution, or organization for helping the sick, the poor, and the helpless; alms; kindness in judging people's faults; love of one's fellow men; natural affection; love" (pp 343-344). "The life of the Savior reflects His pure love for all people. He even gave His life for us. Charity is that pure love which our Savior Jesus Christ has. He has commanded us to love one another as He loves us. The scriptures tell us that charity comes from a pure heart (see 1Timothy 1:5). We have pure love when, from the heart, we show genuine concern and compassion for all our brothers and sisters" (Gospel Principles, p 173). I noticed that in neither of these definitions is any mention of government-enforced charity. Charity comes from the heart of a willing giver. Mormon, a prophet in the Book of Mormon said, "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" (Moroni 7:46-47; see also 1 Corinthians 13; 2 Nephi 26:30; Moroni 7:44-45, 48). The Savior gave us a perfect example of charity in His life. As the Son of God, He had perfect love for all mankind, and He showed us how to love. He taught us as well as showed us by example that all mankind has spiritual and physical needs that are important. He said, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." He also said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13). Most people will not have to give their lives as the Savior did, but everyone can have charity by putting Christ at the center of their lives and by following His teachings and example. Just as the Savior did, we too can bring blessings into the lives of other people. The Savior taught by using stories or parables. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ taught that we should give to those in need, whether we know them or not (see Luke 10:30-37). The parable tells of a man who was traveling to another city. While on the road he was attacked by robbers who stole his clothes and his money, beat him, and left him to die. A priest came along, saw the man and passed by. Then a temple attendant walked over to him, looked him over, and passed by. Along came a man from Samaria - a people who were despised by the Jews. When he saw the man, he felt compassion for him and knelt beside him. The Samaritan bandaged the man's wounds and then put him on a donkey and took him to an inn. There he paid the innkeeper to care for the wounded man until he was healed. Jesus taught his followers to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and shelter to the homeless. He also taught that when we visit the sick, the widowed, the fatherless, or those in prison, it is as though we were doing those same things for Christ. He promises that those who care for the needy will inherit His kingdom. (See Mathew 25:34-46.) Jesus also taught his followers that they didn't need to decide whether or not someone really deserved to be helped (see Mosiah 4:16-24). After we have taken care of our own family's needs, we should help all who need help to the extent of our ability. In helping as much as we are capable, we will be like our Father in Heaven, who sends rain to fall on the just and on the unjust alike (see Matthew 5:44-45). Sometimes people need more than just material goods. President Thomas S. Monson said, "Let us ask ourselves the questions: `Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need?' (Hymns, no. 223.) What a formula for happiness! What a prescription for contentment, for inner peace - to have inspired gratitude in another human being. "Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved" (Ensign, Nov. 2001, 60). True charity must come from the heart. We do not have charity if we give without feeling compassion for those in need (see 1 John 3:16-17). Paul the Apostle taught that we are filled with good feelings for all people when we have charity. If we have charity, we are patient and kind; we are not boastful, proud, selfish or crude. When we have charity, we do not remember or rejoice in the bad things done by others; neither do we do kind things to make others indebted to us. When we have charity, we share joy. When we have charity, we are loyal, believe the best in others, and show kindness to others. The scriptures teach, "Charity never faileth." (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.) Jesus Christ, our Savior, gave us an example of how to feel toward and how to treat other people. He loved sinners but despised wickedness. He had compassion for little children, old people, the poor and the needy. He had such great love for all mankind that even while the soldiers were pounding nails into His hands and feet, He begged Heavenly Father to forgive them (see Luke 23:34). He was very firm when He said that if we want Heavenly Father to forgive us of our sins, we must forgive others of their trespasses against us (see Matthew 18:33-35). We can learn to feel toward others as Jesus did by following his formula: "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?" (Matthew 5:44, 46). So - now that we know what charity is - how can we develop more charity? 1) We can study the life of Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. By learning what He did in certain situations, we can know what to do when we are faced with the same kinds of situations. 2) We can pray for greater charity - especially when we have uncharitable feelings towards someone. The prophet Mormon counseled, "Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love [charity], which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ" (Moroni 7:48). 3) We can learn to love ourselves by gaining the understanding that we are children of God. The Savior taught us that we must love others as we love ourselves (see Matthew 22:39). When we love ourselves, we also have respect and love for ourselves. We can learn to love ourselves by being obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ, repenting of our wrongdoing, and then forgiving ourselves. As we grow in love for ourselves, we can also feel the deep love that the Savior feels for us. 4) We can stop thinking we are better than other people and learn to have patience with their faults. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 428-429). In the Book of Mormon there is a story about a young man named Enos who was concerned about his sins. While he was out in nature, he felt the need to commune with God. He said, "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, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed" (Enos 1:4-5). When Enos asked how this could be, the Lord explained that his sins were forgiven because he had faith in Jesus Christ. The interesting thing to me is that when Enos heard that his sins were forgiven, he knew that the Lord loved him and would bless him. He also was able to forget about himself and was able to reach out to others. He was concerned about his family and friends, the Nephites and he poured out his whole soul to God in their behalf. The Lord again answered his prayer by telling him that they would be blessed according to their faithfulness in keeping the commandments. When Enos knew that his family and associates would be blessed, he reached out even further and began to pray with many long strugglings for his enemies, the Lamanites. The Lord assured him that his desires would be granted, and Enos spent the rest of his life trying to save the souls of both the Nephites and the Lamanites. (See Enos 1:6-26.) Enos was filled with true gratitude for the Lord's love and forgiveness and became filled with charity. He spent the rest of his life helping others to receive this same gift. Enos became more like Jesus Christ when he learned to be truly charitable. We can and must learn to have charity in order to inherit the place in Heavenly Father's kingdom that is being prepared for each of us. True charity cannot be legislated or taxed or otherwise forced. It must come from a willing and loving heart.