In the waning days of his life, Moroni recorded a sermon that he had once heard his father give. In that sermon Mormon had told his people, "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, [it] seeketh not her own, [and] is not easily provoked, [it] thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, [it] beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. 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; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him" (Moroni 7:45-47).
One of the last things Moroni wrote jut before burying his record was, "And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God" (Moroni 10:21). The apostle Paul referred to charity as "the bond of perfectness" (Col 3:14). Therefore, he counseled the saints in his day, "Let all your things be done with charity" (1 Cor. 16:14).
Mormon referred to charity as "the pure love of Christ," but what does that mean? Does it mean that we have a pure love for Christ our Savior or does it mean we have developed the same kind of pure love that Christ has? In a sense, it's both. Nephi explained, that "charity is love" (2 Nephi 26:30) and Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. The apostle Paul summed it up when he said, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. 5:14).
We cannot love our Savior without loving our neighbor and we cannot hate our neighbor without hating God. The apostle John explained, "And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:21). "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20).
The greatest example of love is that shown by our Father in heaven when He gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die so that whosever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And because of our Savior's love for us, He willingly gave His life so that we might live.
Love is one of the cornerstone doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, the motto of the Relief Society is "Charity never faileth." President Hinkley once said, "love [is] that constant, never-failing quality that has the power to lift us above the evilů It is of the very essence of the gospel. It is the security of the home. It is the safeguard of community life. It is a beacon of hope in a world of distress" (CR, April 1989).
Obviously, charity is a quality we must possess if we want to inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, it becomes extremely important for us to understand exactly what charity is and what it isn't.
When we say that a person has charity, we usually envision someone who is always even tempered, never raises their voice, speaks calmly, and treats others kindly, with gentleness and thoughtfulness. And often associated with charity is the concept of giving "unconditional love," which means that we don't place conditions on our love. We don't say, "I'll love you only if you do this or don't do that." Unconditional love means that regardless of how others treat us we still love them. And frequently when we talk about giving unconditional love it's in the context of how it will have a positive effect upon the behavior of those who are not very loving towards us. In other words, love has the power to change people in a positive way. And, indeed, there are many examples of this happening.
And yet, there are many examples when showing unconditional love has not only had little if any effect upon some people, but has actually caused others to become even more wicked.
Take the example of Laman and Lemuel. Their father was a prophet of God, and from the scriptures it appears that he always spoke gently with them and treated them with love, yet that didn't change their unrighteous attitude. On the other hand, their younger brother Nephi was not always so gentle with his words. In fact, Laman complained that Nephi used much harshness with them. Was Nephi therefore not showing forth unconditional love to his brothers? And yet, when Lehi spoke nicely to his sons they ignored his words, but when Nephi spoke sharply to them they at least temporarily behave more righteously.
Nephi spoke nicely to Laban when he tried to obtain the brass plates from him. But, instead of his kind words softening Laban's heart, they only encouraged him to behave even more wickedly by trying to have Nephi and his brothers killed.
Enos had a great love for his people, as did his father Jacob and his uncle, Nephi. So great was his love that he pleaded with the Lord to forgive his people of their sins (Enos 1:9). And yet, he said, "And now it came to pass that I Enos went about among my people, testifying of the things I had seen and heardů [but] there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching, and prophesying of wars and contentions and continually reminding them of death and the judgments of God, I say, there was nothing short of these things [that] would keep them from going down to speedy destruction" (Enos 1:19,23).
Enos also tried to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God, yet he wrote, "But our labors were in vain; their hatred for us was fixed and they were lead by their evil nature" (Enos 1:20). Obviously, the unconditional love Enos had for others had little to no effect on the behavior of those he spoke to.
Ammon went into the land of Nephi to preach the gospel to the Lamanites and his gentle, kind, and loving ways did have a positive effect upon King Limhi. However, when he met king Limhi's father, there was nothing gentle or charitable about their encounter. In fact, Ammon threatened to kill king Limhi's father if he did not do as Ammon asked. That seems an odd way to show charity.
Abinadi and Captain Moroni as well as Mormon himself were great spiritual men and yet each of them spoke harshly to those who did not live the principles of the gospel. How is that showing charity and unconditional love? If we say that calling people to repentance is showing love, then why did their love so often have no real effect upon changing people's behavior? In fact, in some cases it only made them angrier and incited them to greater wickedness. Is that what showing love to others is supposed to do?
Mormon said that we are to exemplify the love that Christ had, but on several occasions Jesus harshly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their unrighteous behavior rather than trying to change their attitude with love. On two occasions He angrily drove the money changers out of the temple. And despite all the acts of love that He did perform, instead of Him softening the hearts of the Pharisees, the more He showed love, the more it infuriated them.
In the church we frequently talk about the great love that our Father in heaven has for his children, and yet all the power of His love wasn't enough to keep Satan, along with one third of His other children, from violently rebelling against their God and Father.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is, What exactly is charity and why is it so important for us to have it?
Mormon gave us the answer when he said that "charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, [it] seeketh not her own, [and] is not easily provoked, [it] thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, [it] beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
A person who is filled with charity is a person who is long suffering and kind. What that means is that they patiently endure and bear up under all things, whether they are pleasant or not, and they react in a kindly manner. A person who has charity puts up with a lot of grief from others and yet is not easily provoked to anger. But notice that Mormon doesn't say that a person with charity is never provoked. However, an argumentative person is usually someone who seeks to prove they're right and that the other person wrong. This is a selfish and vain attitude. On the other hand, a person who is filled with charity is not puffed up in their own pride, nor do they envy the good that comes to others, but instead they are someone who seeks to be kind and gracious to others and endeavors to build up people rather than tear them down.
A person who is filled with charity does not think evil thoughts. Since our actions are governed by our thoughts, that means they wouldn't think of engaging in evil or unrighteous behavior. In fact, a person who is filled with charity rejoices in truth rather than rejoices in iniquity. A person who is filled with charity is someone who is full of faith and hope.
This is the scriptural definition of charity.
As we compare this definition to all the righteous men of the scriptures, we see that it fits them perfectly. Since Nephi loved righteousness, it wouldn't have been showing love to God or his brothers if he had allowed them to continue in their wickedness knowing the harmful consequences that will come upon them in the last day. Enos would have rather preached to his people in a calm, quiet voice, but because he cared enough to save them from the spiritual destruction they were headed for, he had to speak with much boldness and sharpness, since that was the only way they were willing to listen to his words. And the same was true of Abinadi, Captain Moroni and Mormon. Jesus had such love for the sacredness of His Father's house that He drove the money changers out in order to keep it from being defiled. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because He came to save them from their false ideas that were leading them to hell.
Yet all of these righteous men were not seeking to gain personal glory. They were not egotistically striving for power or prestige. They were not arguing for the purpose of vainly proving themselves right. Instead, they labored diligently to establish truth and preserve righteousness. The motive behind all they did was not for their own benefit but for the welfare of others. If, in order to do that, it meant speaking harshly, contending with the ungodly, being imprisoned, taking up arms or anything else necessary to foster spiritual grow, they did it willingly, with their whole heart, mind, and soul, patiently bearing and enduring all things. And they did it because they genuinely loved and cared for God and their neighbor. That is what charity is all about.
But it is equally important to understand what charity is not. It is not charity to remain silent and allow someone to be deceived into becoming unrighteous. It is not charity to do nothing to prevent wickedness from spreading. Charity is something that should motivate us to action in order to help others, sometimes in kind, gentle ways and sometimes, if necessary, with much boldness. However, charity is not overcoming evil by being evil ourselves. Over the centuries there has been much harm done in the name of helping others. Wars have been fought in the name of God, people have been tortured in the name of religion, and reputations have been ruined in the name of morality. This is not charity. This is self-righteousness.
There are people who are charitable to others but it's because they want something in exchange for their love. This is not charity either. When we give love with the intention of wanting to get something back, this is actually a form of selfishness. Charity is caring enough for others that we are willing to put their needs ahead of our own. As Mormon put it, charity does not seek it's own self-interest.
But what if someone doesn't want our charity? What are we to do then?
As we have already seen, the apostle Paul said that "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour." Love doesn't force itself upon people. The object of charity is to help other, not impose itself where it is not wanted. The war that was fought in heaven was primarily about our right to make our own decisions. Under the plan of our Father in heaven, God presented us with the opportunity to become like He is and He provided everything we needed to achieve that goal. But, as much as God loves us and wants all of His children to be righteous, He does not force righteousness upon us, for that in itself would be an unrighteous act. Instead, He provides us with the opportunity to be righteous and then allows us the freedom to decide for ourselves if we want to avail ourselves of that opportunity. God calls to us to accept Him and invites us to follow the path that leads to eternal life. If we chose to reject His invitation or decide to follow our own path through life, God does not force Himself or His ways upon us.
Jesus explained it this way: "For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift" (D&C 88:33). Despite His great unconditional love for His children, our eternal Father would rather allow us to reject Him and turn our back on Him than force us to accept His gift of eternal life. When God knocks, if we decide not to open the door and let Him in, He remains out of our life. That's how God demonstrates His charity for us.
But what about the power of charity to change people's attitudes?
It is important to realize that the purpose of charity is not to change other people's behavior. One of the purposes of charity is to create the climate and opportunity for people to change themselves. The prophet Enos cried mightily unto the Lord to have his sins forgiven, and, after he had received that assurance, he said, "I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them. And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgression will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads. (Enos 1:9,10).
Enos had obtained a remission of his sins because of his own diligence in keeping the commandments of God. Yet his heart was full of charity for his brethren, the Nephites, so he next pleaded unto the Lord that their sins might be forgiven as well. However, the Lord didn't grant his request. Instead, He said that He would visit his brethren according to their diligence in keeping the commandments. And if they transgressed those commandments God said He would bring down sorrow upon their heads. This is how a just God shows forth unconditional love to his children.
Each of us will be rewarded for what we do, not how other decide to behave. We are not responsible for changing others, mainly because we can't, nor would that a righteous thing even if we could. Certainly we can encourage and entice people to do good. We can help make it easier for them to do good. We might even assist them in doing good, yet if they choose to reject the charity we have for them and continue in their wickedness, that is their God given right.
Then why should we have charity? In other words, if charity means loving and caring for the needs of others, and those people reject our love, then what good does it do for us to have charity toward them? The answer is because charity is a quality of godhood. It is one of the attributes of God. Charity means more than merely showing love to others. It's a heart-felt attitude of genuinely caring for the things of God and the needs of man. If we desire to become like God and charity is one of the things that makes God who He is, then we too must be possessed of it in the last day. But if we have an incorrect idea of what charity is, or if we show charity for the wrong reasons, then we are not becoming like God.
What we see then is that having charity for others actually benefits us more than it does those whom we give it to, because if, on the last day, we are found lacking in charity we cannot become exalted. And so, in the final analysis, it is the ability to exalt us that is the real power of love.
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