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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Charity never faileth

5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
(2 Peter 1:5-7)

This list of attributes is a sorted description of a stairway to becoming like Christ. The list is ordered. While it is true that each attribute can be experienced out of order, each attribute is harder to obtain and deeper in nature when the preceding attributes are obtained first. While more detail on this is given in context of the attributes described below, a simple analogy is that of a runner. Running is so simple that a toddler picks it up shortly after learning to walk. However, there are many situations that can make it difficult enough that adapting to them is more like learning a new skill than an expansion of an old one. The toddler has to adapt when it gains weight. It has to adapt when attempting running with a parachute. It has to adapt when running as a heavier adult with a parachute and developing asthma. So it is as we proceed through these attributes. Each introductory attribute becomes more difficult as we acquire advanced attributes.

Faith

Although much could be said about faith, we focus on the overarching purpose of faith: obtaining eternal life. We learn from Joseph that “faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.” (Lectures on Faith 1:9.) From Paul we learn that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17.) If we put these two statements together, we see that faith is believing in God's word enough to act on it. It requires, first, the receipt of God’s word, and second, action. As an example, a person exercises faith in baptism by hearing God's instruction about baptism, then repenting and being baptized, believing he will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as promised.
Faith, then, is not mere belief, nor can it be exercised on commandments of men that are incorrectly assumed or purported to be God’s word. When men understand faith as mere belief, or when they attempt to exercise it on commandments of men, they engage in vain religion; their efforts will never bring them closer to God. At best, they distract them from those actions that would bring about salvation. At worst, they move away from God through beliefs and actions that are antithetical to the gospel of Christ.

Virtue

Virtue is quite a strange word. Its two primary meanings, depending on context, are "Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies" and "conformity of life and conversation to the moral law."

The only description of virtue in the scriptures is found in the book of Abraham, where we are told:

Now, this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time, who were the daughters of Onitah, one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham. These virgins were offered up because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone, therefore they were killed upon this altar, and it was done after the manner of the Egyptians. (Abraham 1:11)
These three women were considered virtuous because of their resiliency to God's word in the face of opposition, even threat of death.

If faith is believing in God's word enough to act on it, virtue is the resiliency to reconcile yourself to your understanding of God's word in the face of opposition.

Knowledge

Faith is a principle whose practice becomes successively more difficult as one progresses. The reason is simple: as an individual heeds the word of God as they understand it, God teaches them new and increasingly difficult commandments. Similarly, one must increase in their determination to reconcile themselves to God (virtue) as God asks more and more difficult things.

Knowledge is the term used to describe the acquisition of higher truth. Once faith and virtue have been attained at a naive level of understanding, knowledge must be acquired in order to ascend to higher levels of holiness.

Temperance

In other scriptural translations, this is rendered "self-control." What is self-control? It is "the ability to control oneself, in particular one's emotions and desires or the expression of them in one's behavior, especially in difficult situations." In a spiritual context, temperance is the submission of self to spirit. This includes common concepts, such as avoiding anger, as well as concepts that are not commonly contemplated, like avoiding emotional outbursts.

Temperance is coming to the point where you do not allow your body (mind, flesh, emotions, desires) to control your spirit. It is dictating your behavior from the spirit and only the spirit.

Patience

Patience means to consistently and calmly adhere to God without murmuring, even when you encounter affliction, including long perceived silence from heaven. Affliction makes temperance, knowledge, virtue, and faith more difficult. It is harder to subdue the flesh to the spirit when you are in pain or destitute of basic necessities. It is harder to learn truths that can only be learned in affliction. It is harder to be courageously determined to obey God's will when the opposition includes great affliction or does not include obvious interaction with God. It is very difficult to continue to have faith when you perceive the heavens to be unresponsive to your efforts.

Godliness

Godliness comes from the Greek word "eusebia." It is a terrible attempt at distilling a more-than-one-word concept into one English word. "Godliness" means two things: 1) A relationship with God, and 2) doing the things that gods do.

A relationship with God. The term "godliness" in the New Testament is used to distinguish relationship with God from rites of worship. The Greek roots imply incredible reverence and awe. This kind of reverence and awe come from a face to face encounter with God, an encounter that comes normally only when the individual has decided to embark on a personal journey to reconcile themselves with God instead of using an outward vehicle (churches/spiritual mentors/ordinances) to do so.

The way Peter described it:
"Divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness (eusebeia), through the true (full, personal, experiential) knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet 1:3)
Eusebeia is something that comes as a result of personal, experiential knowledge of God--something that can only be obtained through meeting him in the flesh. 

Doing the things that gods do. Godliness means doing things that gods (plural) do. It does not, however, mean perfect behavior, as in doing the things that God (singular, capitalized) does. Paul said there are gods many and Lords many (1 Corinthians 8:5). Any of those who are in "Abraham's bosom" are "gods" in a sense. However, that does not mean they are equal to God in fashion, attribute, or power. In Mormon vernacular, Godliness is angelic behavior. It is celestial, but not exalted behavior. It falls short of that.

In order to meet God, you need to live celestial law. Thus, a relationship with God and doing the things that gods do go hand in hand.

Brotherly kindness

Brotherly kindness is the essence of the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you. What is the difference between godliness and brotherly kindness? Is brotherly kindness required to get into the celestial kingdom? Can you be an angel with justice only? Brotherly kindness is the first transition from justice to mercy. It is the change from what they deserve to what you desire.

Charity

The simplistic common definition of charity is to do good to others. In a gospel sense, charity is service to others when the cost to you exceeds the benefit to them.

Paul says all other gifts will pass away, but charity "never faileth." What does that actually mean? In Paul's discourse, he uses the other gifts to demonstrate that they are inconsistent. No one prophesies all the time. No one speaks in tongues all the time. But when you have charity, you have charity all the time. That's actually what it means--not just to have those qualities but to have them all the time. No matter how stressed, how busy, how ridiculous the situation--always. Charity never faileth--it doesn't mean that it is some gift that is less perishable than the others. It means it is the only gift that is always active when possessed. Charity is not an act, but a characteristic. Part of the definition of charity is that it must be consistent and all-encompassing.

What is the difference between brotherly kindness and charity? It is the distinction in cost. If brotherly kindness is service to others when the benefit to them is greater than the cost to you, charity is service to others when the cost far outweighs the benefit.

Charity is the last attribute we must obtain to become like God is.
48 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; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:48)
It is interesting that charity is "bestowed" upon us. Does this gift entail a forced modification to our behavior? No. Instead, it consists of a dispensation of knowledge that helps us see ourselves as God sees us and to see God's experience as it really is. That is not a positive experience. Instead, it is humbling beyond description on our part and can be quite sobering on his part. It's not something that can be reduced to English, but to get a rough approximation, you should think about what it is like to be God for minute.

God knows us perfectly. He knows we do not deserve his kindness. He knows that what he goes and went through to provide what we ask far exceeds the benefit we will receive from his granting our desires. He knows we will never appreciate what he does enough to justify his doing it. He is the creator of the universe and all things in it. He always has something infinitely more important to do than what he will give up on our behalf. Yet, he does it anyway.

If we expect God to bless us, we ought to bless others in the respective scope we occupy.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2)
Charity is a fullness of the law of consecration. We obtain blessings beyond the reach of our peers, and then we distribute them even though our cost far, far exceeds their benefit.

Charity is incredibly hard to attain. Some mistakenly think they have it. They either are partial in their charity (they don't have it all the time), and therefore don't actually have charity, or they demonstrate it without the possession of the preceding attributes.

It is easy to have charity when you lack faith. It is easy to have it when you lack virtue. And so on. It is incredibly, incredibly difficult to attain to charity when you have attained the other attributes discussed here. This is because the more you have (or have been through), the harder it is to give it away. I am not principally talking about temporal possessions (though that can be a part of it), but rather spiritual ones. For example, it is hard to willingly endure a trial simply to bless someone who probably will not accept the blessing. Again, the most difficult dimension of charity is its consistency: You have to be this way at all times, in all places, just like God.

Most people I know who are Christians would be very unhappy if they had God's duties. Very, very unhappy. They are not doing things like God here, and they wouldn't be happy doing so hereafter. "...charity is the pure love of Christ." (Moroni 7:47). It is the love that Jesus has for us. It is also the love we must have for others when we love Jesus. We should have and practice that now if we expect to have it hereafter.

Conclusion

At every stage in this ladder, people freeze (stop progressing) and people fall away. The challenge is to accept the new dimension of progress, embrace it, and overcome it.