The Greatest of these is Charity
It was November in Utah, the Autumn colors were in the trees with the Rocky Mountains surrounding me, but I did not notice. I was worried. I was scheduled for surgery on my shoulder, and winter was close. The doctor had told me not to lift anything more substantial than a pound or two. He said, “nothing heavier than a plate of food.” Then I said, “But I can pile a plate pretty high.” I had learned the hard way that if the snow fell before I could clean up the leaves, my lawn would end up patchy and possibly die wherever the leaves piled themselves. Looking back, it shouldn’t have been a huge priority, but it worried me.
The biggest problem with the situation was that I couldn’t take care of it myself. It was probably the first time I depended on others for something as mundane as leaves in my yard. The two massive trees across the street and the towering Box Elder Tree in my backyard seemed to send all their payload my way. The wind seemed to blow just right to direct the neighbor’s leaves toward our yard.
I called a few friends and my Dad, and we hatched a plan for them to come over on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, when I woke up and turned on the news, The news forecasted a massive snowstorm. It would arrive several hours before my crew would arrive. I called each of them to see if they could come earlier, but their schedules wouldn’t allow it. While trying to rake my lawn with one arm, picking up the leaves was the hardest part. In full health, I didn’t have time to accomplish the task before the snow arrived. I felt helpless.
Then I had a feeling to call my Elders Quorum President. To my relief, a text went out, and six Elders and some of their wives showed up and made quick work of it. They easily accomplished a task beyond my abilities, and I was left with a deep love for my brothers and sisters.
A few months later, I was scheduled to speak to the Stake President. As he extended the call as the new Elders Quorum President, I was immediately overwhelmed. After spending a few weeks trying to grasp why the calling came to me and what capacities I had that could provide anything to these Priesthood holders, I received a prompt: “Serve them the way they served you.”
Indeed, everything we do, every doctrine, every blessing, every commandment, every ordinance, and covenant revolves around the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet charity is another principle that seems to underlie almost everything we do. The pure love of Christ guides His Atonement blessings upon us all. Just like the Atonement, Charity is infinite.
The Apostle Paul taught:
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
-1 Corinthians 13:8
Charity has also been called the “Pure Love of Christ.” But unfortunately, the world has defined charity as “the charitable giving of one’s time and resources to help those in need.” While that definition can be useful, it’s not necessarily a high-definition understanding of the word.
The Apostle Paul also stated:
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 13:2–3
It is possible to give money and time to charity, and still not possess charity. My experience doing good deeds has shown me that service is a perfect gateway to charity. But how do you get it if you can do all these things and still not have the real thing?
In the book of Moroni, we learn about Charity. Chapter 7 is a fantastic resource on the subject. He also says, “cleave unto charity, which is greatest of all, for all things must fail.” We then learn how to begin to have Charity:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God;”
It’s interesting to me that Charity is described as something we are “bestowed,” and faith, which we know from Ephesians, is a gift:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:”
There must be some connection between faith and charity. They’re mentioned together so many times throughout the scriptures. I like this one from the standard missionary scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“And faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.”
I do not think it is a coincidence that these principles show up so often together.
One pair that often comes up in philosophical discussions is faith and hope. It’s hard to say whether they are the same thing. I think of hope as a precursor to faith and love as a precursor to charity. Perhaps love is the feeling, and charity is the action.
Sometimes we need earthly examples to help us understand godly principles. It is a frailty of being mortal. When I think of a mortal example of Charity, one word always comes to mind, mother.
I think that mothers hold the keys to charity. Although I realize there are exceptions to every rule, it is not a good idea to say all women are mothers or that all mothers are good mothers. Nevertheless, I still believe that if you want an example of Christ-like love, look no further than a mother.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah asks a widow in Zarephath to feed him. She replies that she only has enough flour and oil left for one last meal for herself and her son before they die. But, in true Christ-like charity, she plans to do everything for her family.
“Fear not,” he said to her, “but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”
I read about this miracle as a child and was amazed at God’s power to multiply food. And yes, I believe miracles like those described in the Bible occurred when they were needed. However, I wonder if God, who is all-powerful, would inspire others in the village to help the widow and her son.
I used to think of miracles as only those big, dramatic events — like parting the Red Sea or walking on water. As a mere mortal, I figured we couldn’t comprehend how these things could happen — so they seemed like more convincing evidence of God’s power.
For a God who created everything, spontaneously generating food may not be a very tough task. But that same God gave us free will and cannot break his word, so it may be a tougher task to inspire one of his children to serve another. I am coming to believe more and more that the most significant miracles are those surrounding changing hearts and souls and turning them to Christ.
One night I received a call from an Elder who had just moved into a new home. His car had broken down, and with the help of other drivers, he could push it off the main roads but needed some assistance getting it home.
I could tell this was going to be an easy task. I immediately began walking to my friends’ houses — Lance lived about five houses down and had a truck with chains. I knew we would be able to complete the job in time; otherwise, I would miss whatever it was that I wanted to watch on TV that evening.
But as I got close to my friend’s house, I felt a deep unease. Something didn’t feel right. And I immediately set out to complete the work differently. Changing course bothered me because I could see how hard it would be to get it done. But, on the other hand, I could see that Lance was home, and I knew we could quickly finish the task.
Another Elder in the Quorum came to mind. He was someone who I knew had the means to help, but I was not as familiar with him and was worried that he might not have the time. So I called him up, and he said he could do it, but it would be later that evening, after work, and after he could spend some time with his family. So I called the Elder in need of assistance and told him that help would come but not as soon as I had originally hoped. I tried to be patient because I could have just gotten it done.
I couldn’t imagine why I felt prompted to ask the other quorum member. However, months later, I became aware that these two had become fast friends. I learned that they each had personal challenges they were facing, and they became great resources for each other. They might not have become acquainted if I had performed the task my way.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is about salvation. The Atonement saves us from our sins and redeems us. It strengthens us and enables us to become more like Christ by strengthening our faith, hope, and charity.
And as Paul says, “But the greatest of these is charity.”