Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 20: "Walking the Savior's Path of Charity"

by | Aug. 22, 2016

Lesson Helps

The first section of this lesson talks about President Hunter’s personal example of being charitable or loving. He was an attorney, and he was known for putting people before profits and help before an accounting of time. His concern was that people got what they needed, not that they were charged what he was owed.

We don’t all have the liberty to behave in this way while at work, but the principle is no different for all of us, even if the practice of the principle has to be modified. The point is that when it comes to people and their needs, there is nothing more important. People are always more important than things.

This means that even if we are required to collect a debt or deliver bad news, reclaim someone’s property or even have someone arrested, how we behave toward others in the course of our daily duties is all important.

The Touchstone

A touchstone is anything that defines the true nature of something. A literal touchstone can be scratched with gold or silver, and the resulting mark will tell you how pure the metal is. There are many touchstones in mortality.

Our spiritual touchstone is the two great commandments to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Charity, or the pure love of Christ, is how we demonstrate our love for others. Our behavior towards one another is the touchstone that shows how pure our motives are.

How pure is the love of someone who is a blessed saint among ward members, but is cold and controlling at home? How pure is the love of someone who teaches profound doctrines on Sunday, but withholds assistance to those in need outside of the classroom? (This list could get very long.)

The point is that our neighbors will have a say in our judgment when we stand before Christ to have restored to us the blessings we earned in this life through our behavior. Were we difficult to live with or work with? Were we stubborn or overbearing? Did we see their needs and not do anything about it? Did we ignore them altogether, so we didn’t have to see their needs?

There are a thousand such questions we could ask about our behavior. When the Lord says that all the laws of the gospel hang, or depend, on these two great commandments, he is making a literal statement.

Everything we hope to earn as a reward in the Day of Judgment is based on what we become as people in mortality. How much money we make, how much power we have, how much fame or influence we enjoy in mortality will make no difference in the Day of Judgment. All that matters on that great day is what kind of heart we have developed.

The commandments teach us how to think, feel, and live like God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Someone asked the question in social media recently, “Should we show respect to people who don’t deserve it, or should we withhold our respect for them until they have done something to earn it?”

Loving the Difficult to Love

Wondering how we should treat others is a great question. How would you answer it? How do you think Jesus would answer it? When the lawyer asked Jesus what was required to gain eternal life, Jesus asked him what the Law of Moses taught. The man said that we were to love God and our neighbor. He then asked Jesus who our neighbor is. Here is a quote from my commentary on this lesson:

Embedded within the question, “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29), is the hope that some people will be excluded, making it easier to live the commandment. The Savior’s reply was the parable of the Good Samaritan. He taught the lawyer that everyone is our neighbor, friend or foe. All of humanity make up our “neighbor.” Since we are all literally brothers and sisters, and part of the same human family, this would certainly make sense. How could anyone possibly be excluded?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we generally think of three main players, the Samaritan, the traveler who was beaten and robbed, and the “righteous” people who passed by on the other side of the road so they wouldn’t have to deal with the situation.

Who we often don’t include in our list of important players are the thieves themselves. A thief is the epitome of selfishness: someone is willing to rob from another so they can have something they were not willing to work for themselves.

How often have we taken advantage of someone in the name of “good business” practices? How often do we let someone give us more change than is our due, and we figure it is our lucky day? How often are we mean or unkind to someone emotionally or socially, and justify it by reasoning that they deserved it?

This is a day and time where rhetoric, politics, and anger are running hot. People are easily polarized, and they are often very unforgiving and even cruel in their treatment of others who don’t think and act just as they themselves do. These people are acting just like the thieves on the road.

Sometimes people see Christ’s reaction to the Pharisees and say that he was angry with them because he chastised them for their bad behavior. But when a parent chastises a child for their bad behavior, does that mean the parent hates the child? We must look behind the words to the purpose of the words.

Jesus loves all of us equally, the sinner and the saint. He can only bless the saint, the person who obeys the commandments, but that doesn’t mean there is no desire to bless the sinner. If anything, there is a greater degree of personal sorrow for the sinner, because they cannot receive the blessings of obedience, and must suffer needlessly because of their unwillingness to obey.

Serve Others

In James 1:27, we read, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” This definition is simple in words, but rich and complex in execution.

To spend our time visiting the fatherless and widows means that we must get involved in other people’s lives. Note that the requirement is not to send a donation to them, but to visit them in their affliction. This means going to their homes, working in their yards, giving blessings, being a blessing to them. This takes time and energy. This requires that we learn to love them and serve them like they were our own immediate family.

The second part of the definition is to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. This is difficult to do. The world is corrupt in every form that it can be corrupted. Do we espouse the philosophies of the world in any part? Do we live as the world lives? Do we behave toward others like those in the world do?

Learning to free ourselves from the trappings of the world takes a lot of time, energy, study, prayer, pondering, and self-reflection. It requires a deliberate choice to change ourselves, with the Lord’s help, into something different than the world, something holier.

Here is a quote from the manual. I include it so as to make a specific point.

These two virtues, love and service, are required of us if we are to be good neighbors and find peace in our lives. Surely they were in the heart of Elder Willard Richards. While in Carthage Jail on the afternoon of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, the jailer suggested that they would be safer in the cells. Joseph turned to Elder Richards and asked, “If we go into the cell will you go with us?”

Elder Richards’ reply was one of love: “Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you—you did not ask me to come to Carthage—you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for ‘treason,’ I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.”

It must have been with considerable emotion and feeling that Joseph replied, “But you cannot.”

To which Elder Richards firmly answered, “I will” (see B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 2:283).

The reply and feeling of Elder Richards’ heart is what is meant by the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. It didn’t matter that death was involved; he was ready to lay down his life for someone he loved. This is what Christ did for each and every one of us, both sinner and saint. The difficulty of the service, and the sacrifice love required to perform the service were not an issue. He was willing to do whatever was needed to save someone else.

The touchstone of compassion is a measure of our discipleship; it is a measure of our love for God and for one another. Will we leave a mark of pure gold or, like the priest and the Levite, pass by on the other side?

Walk More Resolutely the Path of Charity

We need to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We need to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We need to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. In short, we need to love one another with the pure love of Christ, with genuine charity and compassion and, if necessary, shared suffering, for that is the way God loves us.

Ask yourself when you last shared in someone else’s suffering? When was the last time you saw someone who appeared to be suffering—whether from just an off day, or someone who genuinely appeared to be unhappy—for whatever reason? What did you do about it? What effort did you make to lift them up and share hope with them?

Most of what we do from day to day is small. We cannot expect that our contribution to someone else’s life will equal that of our Savior’s contribution. That isn’t what He expects from us. What He wants from us is to be concerned enough with one another that we are willing to put each other’s needs ahead of our own for a while and help them feel hope and the love of God through our small actions.

Charity Does Not Fail

Charity, the expression of God’s love for us, is the one thing that will never change. It will never fail. Even those who spit on God are loved equally with the rest of humanity. His love is not dependent on our behavior; it is unconditional. It is part and parcel of who God is. He cannot be any other way. His own joy and happiness are derived from the love he is so able to show to others.

Our ability to experience peace and joy is based on the same laws. This is why Jesus said that men will know if we are His disciples because they will see that we have love one for another (John 13:34–35). Notice that he didn’t say that we were supposed to love those who were easy to love. The requirement is to love (and treat kindly) anyone with whom we come into contact.

A More Excellent Way

This part of the lesson recites a story about how a young man learns a lesson in charity from his sick father when a young boy tries to steal from the family business. The father shows the same kind of concern and love for this perfect stranger that President Hunter does at the beginning of the lesson.

The point in both instances is that the love of people is more important than the behavior of people. We all do stupid things at some point in our lives. Can’t we hope that there will be someone there at those times to forgive us or help us learn a better way to be or to act? This is what the Savior would do. This is what the Savior requires of those who want to be like Him.

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