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While helping a man through addiction, here’s what 1 bishop learned about charity

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In the King James Version of the Bible, Peter implores the Saints to “above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8; emphasis added). Let’s reflect for a few moments on what those words might mean. Many years ago, my wife, Shauna, and I became acquainted with a sweet Latter-day Saint couple who were about our age. Let’s call them Ann and Richard. Ann and Richard were blessed with a lovely family of four children, the oldest of which was a beautiful little girl, who happened to be the same age as our oldest daughter. Sadly, this daughter, whom we’ll call Cindy, was born with numerous physical ailments that caused very serious brain damage. It became necessary for Ann and Richard to wait on her constantly—to bathe her, dress her, and help her walk. In addition, Mom and Dad were the only ones who could understand Cindy when she tried to speak. The hospital expenses incurred through the years were enormous, and even though Richard had a good job, the cost of regular, periodic hospital visits and inordinately expensive medication required him to work long, long hours of overtime in order for the family to simply stay afloat financially. We watched that sweet couple labor and serve in such a patient, painful, yet Christlike manner for over forty years before Cindy’s release from this life came mercifully.

Ann and Richard were very strong members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and both of them accepted Church callings willingly. Unfortunately, Richard struggled off and on with a Word of Wisdom problem throughout their married life, a problem he desperately tried to overcome. He would be free of the addiction for several months and then, largely as a result of the pressures of life, the anxiety associated with providing financially, and the exhausting need to care for Cindy, he would slip up and have to start over. One more thing about Richard: he was always the first to raise his hand to volunteer for service projects, to clean the Church building, to set up and take down chairs, and to clean up after ward socials. For a time I served as Richard and Ann’s bishop and met with them periodically since they regularly needed encouragement and priesthood blessings.

More than once as bishop I wept as I witnessed the highest form of Christianity that was manifested by this saintly couple. As I thought of Richard’s challenge with addictive substances, the impression that weighed upon my soul again and again was that God, our Heavenly Father, would be far less troubled by Richard’s “thorn in the flesh” than He would be of our occasional acts of impatience, our biting sarcasm, or our condescending unkindness—that is, those sins against charity. Now both of these dear souls have died and gone on to what I earnestly believe to be a glorious reward. Why? Because they spent their mature lives in constant and godly service to one of their children. As both Jesus and King Benjamin taught, when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of God (Matthew 25:31–40; Mosiah 2:16–17). When I reflect specifically on the Apostle Peter’s words, I think of Richard, for truly charity covers a multitude of sins.

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In the Epistle of James, the brother of the Lord, are these fascinating words: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20). Whose soul? The one who is converted? Yes, of course. And what about the one who helps the wanderer return? Is his or her soul saved? Yes, of course. In a modern revelation given to the elders of the Church, we read that “ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you” (Doctrine and Covenants 62:3; emphasis added; compare 84:60–61).

In the Joseph Smith Translation, Peter’s words convey a slightly different message: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity preventeth a multitude of sins” (JST, 1 Peter 4:8; emphasis added). This does not mean that one filled with charity is too busy, too involved, to sin. Rather, possessing charity is evidence that a person enjoys the presence and enduring influence of the Holy Ghost. Mormon taught that charity also provides the spiritual strength and fortitude that enable one to remain faithful. “The first fruits of repentance is baptism,” he taught, “and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; and the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God” (Moroni 8:25–26; emphasis added).

Whole in Christ

None of us can live flawless lives, but we can progress on our pathway to perfection, or wholeness. Becoming a Christian is a work in progress. We will make our way up the holy mount of wholeness line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. And the more we reflect on and trust in our Divine Redeemer, the more often He will lighten our heavy burdens and comfort our troubled hearts.

This is a book about becoming better—much better—than we are. Though we may stumble at times, we can center our lives on the Son of God, stay on the gospel path, increase our service and love for one another, and find comfort and sanctification that comes from the pure love of Christ. This book illustrates how we can begin to emulate the Savior in mortality and how, through the power of His Holy Spirit, the Lord can help us develop a Christian character, thereby preparing us to dwell happily with Him forever.

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