Often when we think of charity, we limit our definition to the doing of charitable works-- donating money or time to the poor and needy. The Bible Dictionary, however, defines charity as:
"The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ. It is never used to denote alms or deeds of benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive."
I'm going to break that down a little.
- More than affection, charity is the highest, noblest and strongest kind of love-- completely selfless and unending.
- Charity is the pure love of Jesus Christ. Pure means: untainted, uncontaminated, undiluted and without anything added to it. What does that mean for love? There is no underlying motive, no selfish desire attached to it, it is simply love. Think of the way a child (or a dog) loves their parents, especially when they are little--they just love them. There's nothing else to it, it's pure, it's clean and it's intensely strong.
- Although charity may prompt acts of kindness, donated money, etc., in the scriptures, the word is never used to mean those acts.
Okay, now that we have a definition of what charity is, let's look at the list of things found in the scriptures that describe charity, making it slightly more tangible, and instructive of how we should act if we are to be truly charitable to others.
- Suffereth long- I've struggled with this one. I have some personal relationships that are a challenge, and it's frustrating to have to "suffer long" because of someone else's choices. It's difficult to not see an end to the suffering. But "suffering" long, doesn't necessarily mean being miserable or unhappy forever. In fact, the word "suffer" in the scriptures has a different meaning than just the modern connotation of being in pain or misery.
- Back to the Bible Dictionary: Suffer- "To permit, allow. Also used in its current meaning of enduring and tolerating pain, affliction, or an uncomfortable situation"
- Is kind- This is a relatively self-explanatory one. Are we kind? Are we kind even when someone else is being unkind? When someone gestures rudely to you on the freeway, do you react or do you pray for them? Do you apologize when you are in the wrong? Kindness and humility go together. If you aren't humble, you might struggle to be kind.
- Envieth not- Another rather obvious one- are you satisfied with what you have, or do you covet what another has? Whether that's material things, relationships, or other blessings, you cannot feel pure love for someone if you are also allowing yourself to envy them.
- Vaunteth not itself- vaunt is defined as "boast or brag about". So charity does not brag about itself. If you have to share on social media or with friends or at the pulpit about how charitable you are, or about your great accomplishments, maybe you aren't feeling charity. It's easy to get caught up in this-- we love to feel praised, admired and cheered. But one who is charitable won't boast or brag excessively about your life.
- Is not puffed up- this indicates conceit or arrogance. Similar to vaunting oneself, being puffed up doesn't allow for pure love to exist within your heart.
- Is not easily provoked- in my mind, this goes hand-in-hand with suffereth long. In order to maintain my relationships with a couple of difficult people, I have to keep myself in tight control when they try to provoke me to anger or upset or argument. I have a co-worker who is very different from me politically, and now and then he will throw out comments in what appears to me to be an effort to being a debate. I'm never baited, though, because my social anxiety comes with a powerful aversion to conflict. I like to think this helps me to not be easily provoked. However, I think provoking could mean more than just being pulled into an argument. It could be the triggering of negative thoughts, judgments and unkind feelings. If I truly have charity for others, I will not be easily provoked to these kinds of feelings.
- Thinketh no evil- this is pretty self-explanatory, I think. Are your thoughts clean, pure, kind, quick to forgive, patient and pure?
- Rejoiceth not in iniquity- think of the rebellious teenagers (and adults...), reveling in their rebelliousness, laughing at the frustration of their elders, mocking the standards of the faithful-- they rejoice in iniquity. Maybe we less "rebellious" types do this, too, though. Do you cuss and take a moment to revel in the feeling of it? Do you break the Sabbath and enjoy it? Or worse-- do you look at pornography, abuse your spouse or children, or other sinful behavior done in secret?
- Never faileth- Charity never goes away, never stops and never gives up on someone. Charity is pure and good and will always exist. Christ will love us no matter what we do, what we are, or how we behave. Even if we aren't charitable toward others, He loves us.
What do you do to increase your feelings of love and charity for others? Can you recommend any daily practices that will help? (Besides the obvious prayer & scripture study, I mean.)