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What is Charity?

From jesuschrist.lds.org

In this brief article, it is my hope to perhaps expand our minds on an oft-discussed topic. The idea of Charity is something that any well-intentioned Christian aspires to 'develop' and express to others. Unfortunately, our discussions about this concept miss the mark a bit. For example, I think this line from Neal A. Maxwell can apply to many gospel topics:
"Poorly defined, [Charity] not only produces little conviction but also is difficult to nurture and increase." - Neal A. Maxwell (Lord, Increase Our Faith, p.2, original says 'Faith' instead)
 Elder Maxwell wrote elsewhere:
"... to misunderstand the true nature of love is to misunderstand life." (Notwithstanding My Weakness, p. 105)
Charity is never really unpacked in the scriptures. The actual word is used 59 times in the standard works, but the closest thing we get to a definition is found in Moroni 7:47. It is simply defined as "the pure love of Christ." All other verses that discuss it are either description of what it is not or give various descriptions about its nature (not a straightforward definition). It is this sparseness in which Boyd K. Packer spoke of when he wrote:
"For His own reasons, the Lord provides answers to some questions, with pieces placed here and there throughout the scriptures. We are to find them; we are to earn them. In that way sacred things are hidden from the insincere."(1)
Is it not interesting, therefore, that we are told that Charity "is the greatest of all" (Moroni 7:46) but the straightforwardness of it is missing in scripture? If Boyd K. Packer is correct, then we must assume this was done on purpose.


First, it might be instructive to look at the two chapters in scripture which take Charity as a featured topic. These are 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and Moroni chapter 7. Understanding the audiences for these two chapters might nudge us in the right direction.

The audience of Moroni 7 is a group of "the peaceable followers of Christ" who "have obtained a sufficient hope by which [they] can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven" (Moroni 7:3). In short, these are a group of people who have, at one point, got their heads above the veil. This becomes more clear when we see that the term 'rest' in scripture is defined as "the fulness of his glory" (D&C 84:24). 

This then sets the stage for Mormon's crescendoing sermon on Charity. This suggests that some heavy and deep things are contained in this chapter that can only be grasped by such an audience who have experienced what Paul called "the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10).

The audience of 1 Corinthians 13 is found in verse 2 of the 1st chapter.
"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours"
This is a general gloss over that includes all the Christians who were at Corinth. Paul includes the same category of people Mormon writes too ("them that are sanctified") and also those who generally call upon the Lord in prayer. Even further, Paul appears to narrow down the light intensity of his teachings in chapter 13 at the end of chapter 12.

After giving a long rendition of spiritual gifts, Paul then is going to suggest unto the Saints "a more excellent way". It is right after this he goes into Charity, which is, therefore, the "more excellent way". On an interpretive note, I personally can't help but link this "more excellent way" with "the way" discussed in 2 Nephi 31:21-32:1-5.

In both instances, these sermons on Charity are set up to be about very sacred and very important themes.

With this in mind, we can explore the following verses to see what we can glean about Charity:
"And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation." (Moroni 8:17)
It is probably safe to infer that Mormon is saying that he and little children have Charity because they are alike. Charity makes you blameless (like a child), fully redeemed spiritually through the atonement of Christ. Mormon is like little children because he is a partaker of salvation.
"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."(1 Peter 4:8
"And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." (Colossians 3:14)
"And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace." (D&C 88:125)
 These verses associate charity with a bond or a cover. This sounds like being bound together through covenant and through sealings. Could it be that this 'bond of perfectness' is what a Zion people have who are 'pure in heart' (note the 'pure in heart' parallels the 'pure love of Christ')? Doesn't it please our spiritual senses to think of Charity as being the thing that seals hearts together and creates a Zion people?
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." (1 John 1:3, the Greek word for love here, ἀγάπη, is the same word translated as Charity in the rest of the New Testament)
 In this verse, Charity has been given to a group of people who can now be called "the sons of God" as a result. This same phrase is used in connection with Charity in Moroni 7:48. An interesting thing occurs when we compare how the phrase "sons of God" is used in other places:
"... thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen." (Moses 6:67-68)
"And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God" (D&C 76:57-58)
In these verses, the idea of becoming sons of God is heavily associated with priesthood and exaltation. Charity, therefore, is an aspect of the priesthood that seals and knits hearts together. It is what makes one perfect. Other LDS scholars state it much more plainly:
"The basic idea of making one's calling and election sure is that through faith, repentance, and baptism, a person can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. As he responds to its teachings, he becomes purer and develops the attributes of godliness, culminating in Christ-like love." - Richard Draper ("Opening the Seven Seals", pg. 81)
"... the bond of charity is the sealing power that is also the promise of eternal posterity." (Ricks and Baker, "Whom Shall Ascend Into the Hill of the Lord", p. 262)
"The expansion of 2 Peter’s list of virtues within section 4 of the D&;C warrants further discussion. It is worth noting that the “three principal rounds” of the ladder — namely, faith, hope, and charity/love — are specifically highlighted in verse 5, and then repeated in the same order as part of the longer list of virtues given in verse 6. Intriguingly, the list of eight qualities found in 2 Peter 1 is expanded in D&C 4 to ten in number. In an insightful article, John W. Welch has shown how the number ten in the ancient world — which conveys the idea of perfection, especially divine completion — relates to human ascension into the holy of holies or highest degree of heaven."" (Jeffrey Bradshaw, Mormon Interpreter
"Until we have perfect love we are liable to fall and when we have a testimony that our names are sealed in the Lamb’s book of life we have perfect love and then it is impossible for false Christs to deceive us." - Joseph Smith (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 9)

If we can understand Charity in the way it is described above, we might actually get somewhere in our Sunday School discussions about it. As shown earlier, Charity's pure meaning is veiled and scattered throughout scripture. I have, mostly, brought its meaning to the forefront here. If we can begin to see Charity as being synonymous with the sealing power, it might enable us to put those things that will actually bring us the gift of Charity higher on our priority list. 

Instead of trying to force a perfect love of mankind, we can understand that we can't force it or develop it. It is a power or gift that comes when the Lord chooses to pronounce eternal life upon us. 

Instead of trying to 'fake it till we make it', our mind can become clearer as to what we are actually seeking and how we are to actually get it. If we are praying with all the energy of heart, but rarely darken the door of a temple, we are probably not ready for the power or gift.

Instead of trying to wear ourselves out in the service of others, we can perhaps pace ourselves better and find more wisdom in the admonition to not "run faster than [we] have strength" (Mosiah 4:27). This understanding of Charity allows more room for "wisdom and order" so that we do not grow "weary in well doing" (Galatians 6:9). The oft said desire to "see Heavenly Father's children as He sees them" will be given to one who not only sweats in their service but one who revels in revelation. It will be given to those who comprehend what it means to have power in the priesthood and not just to those who desire to have a twinkle in their eye for humanity. It will be given to women who learn how to access priesthood power.

Instead of worrying over what spiritual gifts we want, we can contemplate what Paul meant by Charity being the more excellent way for spiritual gifts. Neal A. Maxwell has written that "Charity initiates and sustains all other spiritual qualities..." (Brim with Joy, p. 147). Therefore, we come to clamor over the blessings of the temple and then let the gifts of the spirit have their natural place.

Instead of having a chronic self-deprecating view towards our lack of love towards mankind, we can find more patience in ourselves as we grow into Charity. When we start going about it the right way, we will lose our misplaced and depressing views about ourselves.

Instead of having an imbalance in our lives, we can view Charity in such a way that allows us to "participate in the rigorous calisthenics of daily improvement, and not just in the classroom rhetoric of eternal progression!" (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1980, p.15)

The burdens we unnecessarily put upon ourselves because we misunderstand a gospel concept also hold us back from being able to access the more light intensive privileges that are promised the Saints abundantly in scripture. It is my hope that this article can help refine and reshape how we think and how we discuss this particular gospel topic.


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