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Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Gift of Charity, Part 1: Protecting One Another's Honor

If you go here, you’ll see that in my opinion, there are three gifts of the spirit which all of us are entitled to, all of us should seek and even covet: The gift of faith (because in my opinion, faith is the foundational layer of all that we should say and do) and the gift of discernment (which helps us discover right/wrong and true/false).

But in a greater sense, discernment can also help us realize further opportunities to serve others.
When we’re seeking discernment for that reason, we are co-workers with God in helping to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

This is a natural transition to a discussion about the gift of charity.

Of all the gifts of God, none ranks higher in importance than the gift of charity.
“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” (Moroni 7:46)
“except they should have charity they were nothing” (2 Nephi 26:30)
In fact, you’re worse than nothing; you’re deserving of being cast out from the presence of God:
“Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men.” (Alma 34:29)
“except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” (Ether 12:34)

What Charity Is

So, to have charity, we should:

  • Be meek
  • Lowly of heart (Moroni 7:44)
  • Be long suffering
  • Be kind
  • Envy not
  • Not be puffed up
  • Seek not your own
  • Not be easily provoked
  • Think no evil
  • Rejoice not in iniquity but rejoice in the truth
  • Bear all things
  • Believe all things
  • Hope all things
  • Endure all things (Moroni 7:45)
  • Have the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47)

With discernment combined with charity, we seek to build another up, not destroy them. We enhance, not demean. We “look for the good and not for the bad in others” (Pres. David O. McKay, "Protecting One Another's Honor," The Instructor, Vol. 95, June 1960, pp. 177-178). We are kind and loving, even when they may not receive or even be deserving of that love.
"True religion, as exemplified in the gospel of Jesus Christ, teaches that every man should be the defender of his brother's good name. It goes even further by requiring everyone to overlook another's trespasses.”
"In upholding the good in others he makes better his own soul. He that looks for the good shall find it; and he who protects another's good name makes bright his own.” (McKay)

What Charity Is Not

“If every man is the keeper of his brother's good name, he who proves false to his trust weakens his own good character, stains his own soul. There is a mean element in human nature which 'feeds fat' upon seeing weaknesses and faults in others—which secretly gloats upon others' failures. The more one yields to this meanness, the meaner one becomes." (McKay)
Thus, in our eagerness to help others, we talk about people who should be avoided. “They’re bad,” “They’re deceived,” “They’re dangerous,” we say. “It’s because I’m concerned [about the person being gossiped about, or to]”
"Looking for the good does not mean being blind to the bad. Human nature is full of weaknesses and frailties; evils and sin about everywhere. But in organized society, and particularly in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are means established whereby weaknesses may be corrected and evils overcome. They are only made worse when magnified and multiplied by gossip's idle tongue." (McKay)
Interestingly, whisperers (gossipers) are lumped in with some pretty bad other sins:
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1:29-32)

When We Do It for the Church

The church is an organization which helps the sinner. As members, we’re obligated to help heal the sinner:
“Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults:” (2 Corinthians 12:19-20)
God takes seriously how we communicate about others in the flock. Peter said:
“be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12)
When we character assassinate another (delivered via whispers, calls, emails and posts), we often justify it by saying we’re trying to warn others so they’re not deceived, or we’re protecting the flock -- often in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus perfectly exemplified charity’s attributes. I read about His interaction with the woman at the well. He never judged her. He loved her. I read about his encounter with the woman caught in adultery. He even said He didn't condemn her. He loved her. Even when He was on the cross, He didn't judge others. Instead, He begged, "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do."

It seems as though the only ones He had words of judgment and condemnation for were those who were hypocritical, those who were themselves sinful, yet felt perfectly justified in casting a light on others' sins.

Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to protect the flock. However, we are told that God is fully capable of doing so:
“And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.” (3 Nephi 4:30)
Doesn't God tell us time and again that if we are threatened, He’ll fight our battles? That may be one reason why speaking evil of others is expressly forbidden in the very scriptures we profess to believe:
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:" (Luke 6:37
"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" (John 8:7
"speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men." (Titus 3:2)
"Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles." (Proverbs 21:23)
"cease to find fault one with another" (D&C 88:124)
"Speak not evil one of another" (James 4:11)
“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Leviticus 19:16)
“A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
Those who think they’re doing the church a service by gossiping about others should think again. When you gossip, you harm the entire church.
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6
“Another place where we have ample opportunity to serve is in the Church. Our wards and branches should be places where the Golden Rule always guides our words and actions toward each other. By treating each other kindly, speaking words of support and encouragement, and being sensitive to each other’s needs, we can create loving unity among ward members. Where charity exists, there is no place for gossip or unkind words.” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Finding Joy through Loving Service,” April 2011 General Conference) 
“This is the kind of gospel culture we desire to cultivate throughout the Church of Jesus Christ. We seek to strengthen the Church as a place where we forgive one another. Where we resist the temptation to find fault, gossip, and bring others down. Where, instead of pointing out flaws, we lift up and help each other to become the best we can be.” (Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Believe, Love, Do,” October 2018 General Conference)
I've never understood how people can feel they are “protecting the flock” by gossiping. That’s tantamount to saying that we can accomplish a righteous end using unrighteous means. Does that sound like the Lord’s way?
“We simply cannot criticize, gossip, or judge and keep the pure love of Christ.” (Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society General President, “Choosing Charity: That Good Part,” October 2003 General Conference)
The situation is made worse because when we speak ill of another, the effects can spread far and wide (and for a very long time). American editor, lecturer and essayist William George Jordan put it best when he said:
"The second most deadly instrument of destruction is the gun—the first is the human tongue. The gun merely kills bodies; the tongue kills reputations and ofttimes ruins characters. Each gun works alone; each loaded tongue has a hundred accomplices. The havoc of the gun is visible at once, the full evil of the tongue lives through all the years.” (William George Jordan, “The Kingship of Self-Control”)
Gossip can also drive the people you love or care about to retreat beyond a barrier more distant than anyone in the beginning of that exchange could ever have imagined -- a circumstance which wouldn't have happened had you not gossiped.

The Fate of the Character Assassins

Why do we constantly see those who have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ judging and condemning others? Where do we read in the scriptures that we're justified, that it's OK to spread rumors and speak ill of others behind their backs?

If Jesus didn't judge and condemn others, why do we -- who are all prodigal sons and daughters -- unilaterally assume a judgmental status superior to that of Jesus?

Do we not realize that when we do so, we destroy our spirituality and further the distance from Christ possibly far more than the person being spoken of? We sift ourselves right out of the gospel and a possible future among those who are merciful and kind to others.
"Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (Romans 2:1)
Evil speaking injures the reviler more than the reviled. Those who assassinate characters, reputations and more -- even if the facts are true -- are ranked among the uncharitable, for “In being just, one will not condemn, find fault, or gossip, as there is no salvation in being critical of another.” (Elder Franklin D. Richards, “Justice, Mercy, and Humility,” April 1970 General Conference; emphasis mine)
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14–15). 
". . . ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9)
Perhaps a friend’s experience drives this point home best:
“My mom’s husband recently died. I won’t detail who he was, other than to say he believed some apostate doctrines and thought himself as a very significant leader. 
The other day I was meditating and I asked Jesus about him, where he was. I suddenly felt myself traveling through a tunnel very fast and I arrived, with Jesus standing behind me, in hell. I saw XXXX (my mom’s husband) in agony on the floor of what looked like a dark cold cement room. He was suffering. 
Jesus said to me, "There is a special place in hell for those who hurt other people in my name." And I knew that Jesus was telling me something pretty specific with that statement. It wasn't just a snarky comment toward XXXX. There really is a special kind of hell for people who use Jesus' name to hurt others. 
I wasn't sure what to do, and I felt Jesus tell me in my mind that it would be helpful if I forgave him to his face. It would be helpful to XXXX, not me so much. I had already forgiven him, but for XXXX to hear it would be to his benefit. So I took a step forward and said, ‘XXXX, its zzzz. I want you to know that I have forgiven you. I hold nothing against you and I want you to have joy.’ He started yelling at me and saying this was my fault, the church's fault. I don't know if he realized he was dead. He seemed to think that the church and I had put him here. We were punishing him. 
I said to him, ‘XXXX, you need to let go of pride. Forget everything you know and start again. Just turn to Jesus.’ XXXX again started yelling at me. I felt bad for him. I prayed that teachers would come to him that he would accept, and that he would be able to soften his heart. Then Jesus grabbed my shoulders from behind and pulled me backwards and said, ‘It is enough.’ Then the vision closed. 
There is a special place in hell for people who hurt others in His name. There are varying degrees of this, from the simple judgments at church to mass murder. Judging others in the name of Christ makes Jesus very sad. That's not what He is about!”
It’s my observation that those who harm others in the name of God are eventually cursed, forfeiting God’s blessings, while those whose names have been tarnished are often eventually vindicated by none other than God Himself.

Reaching Higher. Being Better.

“...there is a strong almost universal tendency to find the fault in another; that is, the mote that is in our brother’s eye. Second, when we focus on this mote, his fault, we don’t focus on the beam or fault in our own life. Third, in this spirit we often try to correct another. It doesn’t work. We may have a correct opinion but our spirit is wrong. Then we hurt, reject, offend, and threaten. Spirit, or attitude, communicates far more powerfully than opinions or gilded words. Fourth, because of the beam in our own eye, we are unable to see clearly. Our judgment, or opinion, may be entirely wrong. We may be merely projecting our own weakness and calling it his or hers… To improve a situation, you must improve. To change your wife, you must change. To change the attitude of your husband, you must change your attitude. To win freedom, you must be more responsible, must exercise more discipline. To raise obedient children, you and I must be more obedient to certain laws and principles. This is not to say that we should altogether ignore the faults and weaknesses of others or that we should be blind to injustices in a situation. But it is to say that the very first step we take in improving any situation is to work on the injustice or fault in our own personal life, which helps remove the beam from our eye.” (Stephen R. Covey, Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, p. 134-135).
In my opinion, those who gossip are broadcasting that they are unaligned with God:
“When our hearts are filled with the love of God, we become kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving.” (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” April 2012 General Conference; Ephesians 4:29-32)
Elder Marvin J. Ashton beautifully observed,
“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn't handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.” (“The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, p. 19)
One way to cease the urge to gossip is to leave whatever it is that’s bugging you to God. Quit trying to intervene into issues which God Himself is fully capable of handling. Quit having faith in your own infinite wisdom and give God a try:
"And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:" (Acts 5:38)
When we do that, we let God do what He does best, while we do what we are asked to do: be the highest form of influence by being a model, not a critic; a light, not a judge. In so doing, we exercise faith (in God), then discernment (in seeking to bring about the best in others -- anybody), then charity (where you love them as the Savior did, without exception).

When we know another’s heart, we are different. We don’t judge them. We simply love them.

I invite you to not only love each other more but love each other better. As we do this, we will come to know with a surety that “charity never faileth.” (Moroni 7:46)

I've learned that the best way to reclaim charity is to uncumber myself and simply love and serve the Lord.

How do we do that? We start each day kneeling in prayer to our Father in Heaven. We hear His words through daily scripture study, and we follow the guidance He freely gives us. In other words, we put Christ first, restoring charity’s circular love.
“We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
He gives to you, then you give to others, then He gives to you some more. This is the reciprocating cycle of charity.