How is it possible to have charity for all people?
December 1995

“How is it possible to have charity for all people?” Ensign, Dec. 1995, 51–52

How is it possible, as D&C 121:45 counsels, to have charity for all people, including our enemies?

Mary Ellen Edmunds, former director of training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and member of the Relief Society General Board.

During his mortal ministry, the Savior issued the call for us to love others, including our enemies, and he set the example for us to follow.

“With twelve legions of angels at his command, he would yield himself and his armed, courageous apostles by his side,” said President Spencer W. Kimball of the Savior’s arrest. “He would accept this manhandling and these humiliating indignities without retaliation. Had he not said, ‘Love your enemies’?” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 167.)

The Savior said his disciples would be known by their love for each other and by their treatment of their enemies (see John 13:34–35; Matt. 5:44). President Brigham Young exemplified the attitude and actions that reflect a truly Christlike love—kind, charitable feelings that extend beyond our families and friends to include even our adversaries: “I feel at peace with all the inhabitants of the earth; I love my friends, and as for my enemies, I pray for them daily; and, if they do not believe I would do them good, let them call at my house, when they are hungry, and I will feed them; yea, I will do good to those who despitefully use and persecute me” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, p. 457).

As we remember in our prayers those who hurt or offend us, it becomes easier to overcome bad feelings toward them. The more we pray for those who mistreat us, the less likely we will continue to consider them our enemies.

We can acquire and develop the gift of charity by doing good for others, praying for them, and by filling our hearts first with pure love so that we instinctively respond to their needs. It is as much for our own good as for the good of our enemies that the Lord asks us to love them.

“Why does the Lord ask you to love your enemies and to return good for evil? That you might have the benefit of it. It does not injure him [your enemy] so much when you hate a person, especially if he is far removed and does not come in contact with you, but the hate and the bitterness canker your unforgiving heart,” said President Kimball (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 103).

“We pray for our enemies,” he commented elsewhere. “This will soften our hearts, and perhaps theirs, and we may better seek good in them. And this prayer should not be confined to national enemies but should extend to neighbors, members of the family, and all with whom we have differences. This is also required of us by the Redeemer, who said:

“‘… Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“‘For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?

“‘And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?’ … (Matt. 5:44, 46–47.)” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 203).

Developing this level of charity cannot happen without help from our Heavenly Father. That is why Mormon asks us to pray earnestly—so that we might be filled with charity, which he calls “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47).

“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” (Moro. 7:48).

Our Heavenly Father has given us commandments to help us become as he is. Being filled with charity and acting in a charitable way toward others help us reach our potential. Without charity, we are nothing (see Moro. 7:46).

When the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prisoner in Liberty Jail, he received important instructions on how Heavenly Father’s children are to treat each other: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all” (D&C 121:45). The Prophet, who knew well the suffering that can come from the uncharitable acts of others, taught the Saints that love can become a powerful motivation: “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 174).

Charity for others comes in the doing, the serving, and the praying. We can have charity for all because our Heavenly Father has given us, his children, the ability and because his Son has shown us the way.

Photo by Welden Andersen