Thursday, July 4, 2013

Christlike Part 3: If Ye Have Not Charity, Ye Are Nothing

Towards the very end of Christ's mortal ministry, some of the Jewish leaders came to Him with a test, as they often did. They hated Him and were constantly trying to find things that they could use to condemn Him to death. In this particular instance, they came up to Him as asked, saying, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

This response by the Savior exemplifies the importance of the third Christlike attribute that I want to share: charity. Jesus Christ perfectly personified all of the attributes I have previously written about and many others, but to me, this is the most prevalent and constant attribute of Christ. When I think of who He was, His love--charity--is the very first thing I think of.

Everything Christ did was out of love for us and for the Father. He perfectly followed the will of God because He loved the Father and wanted Him to be pleased. He lived a perfect life also because of His love for us. In the premortal world, He volunteered to be our Savior, to come down and offer the chance for us to be forgiven. He understood well the weight of this responsibility throughout His life. But it wasn't the pressure of literally holding the salvation of every human to ever live that kept Him going and gave Him the motivation to continue and to be perfect. It was His love for us that kept Him going.

From the sign of His birth to His ascension into heaven, every instance in the life of the Son of God is overflowing with His love. When He was tired, when He sought time alone and people came to Him desiring to hear His teachings or experience His miracles, the scriptures always say that He had compassion on them. Although He may have desired some time to Himself, some time to ponder and commune with God, He loved these people so much that He couldn't help but satisfy their desires for wisdom and healing.

This is the first commandment, to love God the way Christ did. And in a similar vain, the second commandment is to love our neighbor--everyone around us, everyone without our sphere of influence--as Christ loved them.

Even with all of the instances of love and charity that followed the Savior throughout His life, two specific events stand out to me.

The first of these took place during the last night of the Savior's life. After having the Last Supper with His Apostles, after teaching them one last time, Christ retired to a garden called Gethsemane. Taking His three most trusted Apostles with Him, He proceeded further into the garden and soon told them to stay while He "went a little further."

The time had come for the precipice of His life, the meaning of His birth. It was time for Him to take upon Himself our sins, to suffer for us in a way incomprehensible to every one of us and unexpected even to Himself. He knew it would be the most difficult thing He had ever done and desired for some other way. Praying to the Father He cried, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

The last statement is the part that exemplifies His love for us. He didn't want to have to endure the imminent pain. He didn't want to have to suffer that. Nevertheless, because of His all-prevailing love for you and for me, He submitted His will to that of the Father and accepted whatever was necessary. Through modern revelation given to the prophet Joseph Smith, we learn, to the extent possible for our human minds, just how excruciating this experience was for Him.

"Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."

He didn't want to do this, but He did it anyways. Because He loves you.

The second experience that shows Christ's perfect and prevailing love came literally seconds before He died. I have heard it said that what a person says in the face of death--when they know there is no escape--is the true test of their character. That is when the open, unadulterated truth comes out. That is when the true colors are shown. I firmly believe that is true, even for the perfect Son of God. He lived a perfect life and we have a wonderful example of who He really was in His final words while hanging on the cross.

There He was next to two thieves. People mocking and spitting at Him from below. Just endured a highly illegal trial. Condemned and crucified on no real grounds, with no evidence against Him. Brutally beaten and tortured moments before. Suffering only hours before the sins of the world and, as previously mentioned, bleeding at every pore.

What would you do in that situation? What would you say to those around you? What would be your final prayer?

That is the test of who you are. What were Christ's final words? They were all focused on reaching out to those around Him and building them. Once again, even in His final moments, He was more focused on the welfare of those He loved rather than Himself. Even in such dire circumstances, with every reason to be frustrated, to call down judgment and pain on those who so mercilessly put Him in that position He prayed "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

What character; what love; what charity!

These are two of the many, many examples of Christ's charity. In my opinion they are two of the most powerful, but really any of the events from the life of the Savior depict wonderful charity.

But what is charity? If you ask almost any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints older than about 15, they will most likely answer by saying that charity is the pure love of Christ. This is a wonderful summary of this great attribute that comes from the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Mormon in a letter to his son Moroni: "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."

It is true that charity is the pure love of Christ. That is a great description, but if you are anything like me, that gets really old really fast. I start getting uncomfortable when that wording is used more than once in a lesson on charity and pretty frustrated when it is used more than thrice. That is an accurate summary of charity but there is so much more to it than simply "the pure love of Christ".

Around the same time that I began my quest of finding the difference between faith and hope, I also began a search for a better summary of charity. Again, my search brought me to Preach My Gospel. As I studied the section on charity, I noticed something. The scriptures often talk of "faith, hope, charity and love." For the first time a question came to my mind, "Why is it 'charity and love'? Is there a difference between charity and love? Why do the scriptures put such an emphasis on charity and not love?"

My studies helped me discover that charity and love are in fact two distinct traits. It is easy for people to love others. While I wouldn't say that it is natural to love everyone, love is an inherit trait that we as humans have. But charity isn't as natural.

Is it possible to have love without having charity? Definitely! As defined in the dictionary, love is simply "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person." But charity is so much more. Charity isn't just affection, but it is our motivation. I can do something kind for someone, but if my intentions aren't pure--if my motivations are selfish--it is not charitable.

As human beings, we are naturally carnal and selfish and looking out for ourselves. Caring about others comes naturally, but caring about them for the sake of caring about them and helping them be safe and happy does not. We naturally care about others because we know that we can get something out of the deal; a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" kind of mindset.

Is there anything terrible about this? I don't think so. I mean if it gets us to help other people, that is a step in the right direction in my book! But is that divine? is that tapping into the godliness within each and every one of us as spirit children of the perfect Father? no. That only comes through not simply reaching out and serving others, but doing so expecting no reimbursement; doing so even though it may go unnoticed; doing so in the face of personal loss, fatigue, or even harm. That is true charity. That is the love of Jesus Christ.

Turning back to His example we see that nothing in what He did was selfish or prideful. When He performed the Atonement, He didn't have in mind the thought "Maybe if I do this, then everyone else will realize how great I am. This way I can climb the ranks a little bit and be a leader." No. His thoughts were pure and focused directly on you. "Maybe if I do this, she will realize that even though she has made some mistakes, she can still find peace and forgiveness. Through this she can be cleansed and have the joy of living with my Father again."

We all serve others on a daily basis. We all reach out and help and uplift someone often. But why do you do that? What are your intentions? I know that as we reach out to those around us with both and charity, we can feel a difference. It is easier to love when we want to help. It is easier to care about others when we forget about ourselves and serve out of a sincere to help them and make their lives easier and better. Although we don't get as much of a benefit from serving with charity, I have seen in my own life that as I help others selflessly I find so much more joy and happiness.

That is the biggest thing I have learned through my service: the pure love of Christ begets pure joy.

1 comment:

  1. I think there is nothing wrong with a "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mentality, because in my opinion, its just brutally honest about how we feel about doing things for other people. As humans, we expect to be repaid - maybe not in the obvious manner, but we end up feeling good about what we have done for someone else, so that is the payment we get for helping someone else. We just don't really admit it.

    Does that mean to say that we don't like to help people? Of course not. As followers of the Savior, we should want to help others as often as we can. But there is no harm in admitting that we get something from it as well. It's just one of the small things that make life so unique. :)