I recently studied the words of the Apostle Paul about spiritual gifts in my “Come, Follow Me” studies. I am fascinated with the topic and have a great desire to learn more about spiritual gifts. Paul discusses spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and end the chapter with these words, “But covet [seek] earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (verse 31). He then gives a wonder discourse on charity in chapter 13.
Some of my greatest aids in studying the scriptures are some books known as “institute manuals” or manuals used in institute classes and religion classes at universities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The institute manual on the New Testament has clarified many topics for me as I studied the life of Christ and the teachings of His Apostles. This book gives the following information about charity. All other quotes for this essay are also found in the institute manual.
The word charity is a translation of the Greek noun agape, which can also mean simply “love.” Agape is used in other New Testament passages to describe the deep and abiding love between the Father and the Son, the divine love that God has for man, and the love we are to have for our fellowman (see John 13:34-35; 15:10; 17:26; Romans 8:35, 39) (New Testament Student Manual – Religion 211-212 , 376).
When we understand that charity is the type of love that exists between the Father and the Son and their love for us, we can better understand why Paul emphasized the importance of charity and its influences on all other spiritual gifts. Followers of Jesus Christ are encouraged and even urged to seek the gift of charity.
Paul says “Charity suffereth long, and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). A person with charity is patient with those who offend them or during adversity. If we have charity, we are patient and kind with everyone – no matter how they treat us. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency taught:
We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt. The Apostle Paul was telling us how to love in a world of imperfect people, including ourselves, when he said, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; Charity envied not; Charity vaunted not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). And then he gave solemn warning against reacting to the fault of others and forgetting our own when he wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).” (“That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 68).
If we are to have true charity, we must develop the Christlike characteristics of patience and kindness and exhibit them. The Apostle Paul taught, “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8). An ancient American prophet named Mormon taught the same thing and added, “Charity is the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:46-47). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says that true charity is Christ’s pure love that will never fail.
The greater definition of “the pure love of Christ,” however, is not what we as Christians try but largely fail to demonstrate toward others but rather what Christ totally succeeded in demonstrating toward us. True charity has been known only once. It is shown perfectly and purely in Christ’s unfailing, ultimate, and atoning love for us. It is Christ’s love for us that “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not.” It is his love for us that is not “puffed up …, not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” It is Christ’s love for us that “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” It is as demonstrated in Christ that “charity never faileth.” It is that charity – his pure love for us – without which we would be nothing, hopeless, of all men and women most miserable. Truly, those found possessed of the blessings of his love at the last day – the Atonement, the Resurrection, eternal life, eternal promise – surely it shall be well with them….
Life has its share of fears and failures. Sometimes things fall short. Sometimes people fail us, or economies or businesses or governments fail us. But one thing in time or eternity does not fail us – the pure love of Christ” (Christ and the New Covenant , 336-37; see also Romans 8:35-39).
True charity is the love that Christ has for us. It is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts, but it does not act alone. The Apostle Paul ends this chapter with this statement, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Three modern-day Apostles expand on his statement.
In teaching about charity, Paul also referred to faith and hope, saying that charity is the greatest of the three virtues. These qualities are sometimes called the three sisters. Elder M. Russell Ballard explained the relationship between the three principles.
The Apostle Paul taught that three divine principles form a foundation upon which we can build the structure of our lives. They are faith, hope, and charity. (See 1 Cor. 13:13.) Together they give us a base of support like the legs of a three-legged stool. Each principle is significant within itself, but each also plays an important supporting role. Each is incomplete without the others. Hope helps faith develop. Likewise, true faith gives birth to hope. When we begin to lose hope, we are faltering also in our measure of faith. The principles of faith and hope working together must be accompanied by charity, which is the greatest of all. According to Mormon, “Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever.” (Moro. 7:47.) It is the perfect manifestation of our faith and hope.
Working together, these three eternal principles will help give us the broad eternal perspective we need to face life’s toughest challenges, including the prophesied ordeals of the last days. Real faith fosters hope for the future; it allows us to look beyond ourselves and our present cares. Fortified by hope, we are moved to demonstrate the pure love of Christ through daily acts of obedience and Christian service” (“The Joy of Hope Fulfilled,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 33).
Even though faith, hope, and charity work together, the greatest of the three is charity. When Paul says that “charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8), he means that it never ends. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains why charity is the only gift that endures forever.
Shall the gifts of the Spirit cease? Is there to be a day when the saints shall no longer possess the gifts of prophecy and tongues? Or the gift of knowledge? Yes, in the sense that these shall be swallowed up in something greater, and shall no longer be needed in the perfect day. When the saints know all tongues, none will be able to speak in an unknown tongue. When the saints become as God and know all things – past, present, and future – there will be no need or occasion to prophesy of the future” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:380).
I found the above information interesting. The only spiritual gift that endures is charity because the time will come that the rest of them are unneeded. President Howard W. Hunter (1907-95) explained why charity is “the greatest” of all the virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13): “Charity encompasses all other godly virtues. It distinguishes both the beginning and the end of the plan of salvation. When all else fails, charity – Christ’s love – will not fail. It is the greatest of all divine attributes” (“A More Excellent Way,” Ensign, May 1992, 61).
The information from the Apostle Paul, combined with the teachings of modern-day Apostles, expanded my understanding of charity. For the first time, I understand why charity never fails and why it is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts. It is exciting for me to know that “all other godly virtues” are encompassed in charity. To me, this means that I am working to develop charity as I work on developing patience, long-suffering, faith, hope, and all other Christlike attributes. This gives me hope that I can have true charity one day.