Charity and Discipleship



All men throughout the ages of the world, both Christian and non-Christian, are by instinct expected to be charitable, benevolent, and cooperative toward their fellowmen.  Because this instinct comes from the light of Christ “which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), all will be judged by God according to their works and the laws which they were given.    

With every revelation we are given, we are held to a higher level of obedience.  Those who claim to be true disciples of Christ, with the laws and light of his teachings to guide them, have a special obligation to manifest Christian virtues and be charitable to all men.  We can pray daily to ask the Lord to lead us to someone we can help. 

The purpose of life for Christians is to learn the will of God, and do it. (Exodus 16:4)  The Lord has established a life-long standard of conduct for his disciples.  He marked the path and led the way; and now, he asks that we live the same kind of life that He lived—a life of meaningful service to others, developing a heart like Christ’s with unconditional love for all others.  

Those who profess to know Christ must be willing to follow his counsel to love and feel compassion for others—to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, care for the destitute, heal the wounded, visit the sick and afflicted, bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, and do good to all men.  The scriptures remind us that compliance with the counsel to love and serve others is so important that it is made a test of true discipleship.  

“A new commandment I give unto you,
that ye love one another; as I have loved you,
that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples,
if ye have love one to another.”  
(John 13:34-35)

The last parable given by the Savior on the Mount of Olives, compares the judgment at the Savior’s Second Coming to a shepherd separating his flock of sheep and goats.  Jesus speaks of sitting in judgment of Christians who have known his laws and who are under covenant to divide their substance with the poor, and to visit the sick and afflicted.   Of all the words that could have been used to describe these two groups— these words will judge all Christians:   
        
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory…Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.  And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:  but the righteous into life eternal.”   (Matthew 25:31-46)

The parable of the sheep and the goats is a great lesson in agency and consequences.  It foretells a great day of division among Christians, whose eternal destiny is to be determined on the basis of their earthly works—the one group going to the right hand of honor, the other to the left hand of disgrace.  Only those who have "done it unto one of the least of these my brethren" are set on His right hand to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.  

In this parable, both the righteous and the wicked were willing to serve the Master himself, but the key difference between those on his left and right hands is the degree to which they helped others. The righteous served their fellowman without thought of reward.  It seemed to just be part of their humble nature, not even realizing that they were indeed serving the Master.  

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40)  

Those who will inherit the kingdom where the Father and his Son dwell have developed the habit of making personal sacrifices to help others; and they have experienced the joy of giving and the satisfaction of serving. They responded in selfless service to the needs of the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and those in prison.  They showed their love for God by truly loving and compassionately serving their fellowman, as though they were serving Christ himself.    

The Christians compared to the sheep are invited to sit at the right hand of God to inherit “life eternal” (Matthew 25:46), because they have done 6 specific things for Him.  The Christians compared to the goats are separated from the sheep and placed on the left hand of God.  Alarmed and confused, those on His left will demand to know why they will not enjoy eternal life with God.  The Lord will then respond that they will “go away into everlasting punishment,” because they have not done 6 specific things for Him.  

What are those 6 things we must do to be among those on Christ’s right hand?  

“give drink to the thirsty,
 feed the hungry,
 take in the stranger,
clothe the naked,
visit the sick,
(and visit) those in prison.”

This passage suggests that one criterion by which we will be judged will be how we have served and ministered to the various needs of the needy within our reach, including the elderly, widows, fatherless children, our own family and loved ones.     

Christianity extends beyond the opportunity to pray, read the scriptures, and participate in church meetings.  How we relate and interact with each other is a measure of our willingness to follow the Savior.  Jesus expects those who take upon them His name, to serve one another in the same manner He would if he were here.  He is depending upon each of us to serve and lift one another.  Then, He will bless those on His right hand because they felt compassion for and ministered unto those in need.   

Regardless of the great personal sacrifices we have made, if we do not acquire a Christlike charitable heart, whatever else we do will be of little eternal consequence.   
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Giving drink to the thirsty may mean more than giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty.  Although thirst is defined as “a sensation of dryness in the mouth and throat caused by need of liquid,” it is also defined as “a thirst for knowledge.”  Therefore, this most likely refers to the water which will permanently take away a person’s thirst—the words and teachings of Christ which are like “living water.”  Jesus told the woman at the well,

“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”  (John 4:14)

Living water is symbolic of the words of eternal life, the message of salvation, the eternal truths about God and his kingdom, and the doctrines of the gospel.  Many scriptures refer to Christ as water, and his atonement as the water of life.  Those who thirst, or eagerly desire, are invited to come unto Christ and drink.  

"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”   (John 7:37)  

“I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”  (Revelations 21:6)  

“Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.”   (Isaiah 55:1)  

“Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”   (Isaiah 12:3)  

“I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”   (John 6:33,35)

When Christians are converted, they should strengthen and teach others how to drink from the wells of living water found in the Savior’s teachings.  Many are weary of trying to satisfy their thirst for truth, knowledge and understanding of such things as faith, hope, charity, pain and suffering, where we came from, the purpose of life, and life after death.    

“For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.”  (Isaiah 44:3)    
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Feeding the hungry causes immediate reflection upon all who are experiencing a shortage of food, and the homeless.  A person does not have to be completely homeless to need food and clothing.  There are many low-income families who just aren’t making it.  
    
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat.”  (Matthew 25:35)

“Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty” may also refer to those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matthew 5:6)   Many people hunger for the things of the Spirit and hearing the word of the Lord.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”  (Amos 8:11)

“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?  And your labour for that which satisfieth not?  Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.  Incline your ear, and come unto me:  hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you...”   (Isaiah 55:1- 3)

It has been said that when one possesses charity, the ultimate result is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who have been stricken with a spiritual famine.  Teaching others how to love God and keep his commandments is feeding them spiritually.  Jesus declared himself to be the Bread of Life, thereby transforming the life of whoever accepts him and his teachings.  

“…I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”   (John 6:33,35)

Jesus taught his disciples that his meat or food was doing Heavenly Father’s will.  

“I have meat to eat that ye know not of…Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”   (John 4:32, 34)
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Taking in the stranger refers to assisting a person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance.  The dictionary further defines the word stranger as “a guest, visitor, or a newcomer in a place; a person who does not belong to or is outside of the family (including in-laws), a particular group, or community; a person unacquainted with, unfamiliar, or unaccustomed to something.”  

“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself."  (Lev. 19:34; see also Ex. 22:21; Deut.10:19)

Taking in the stranger can also refer to using our talents and means to reach out to those who are distressed and homeless, including foster children and adoptable children.  

“I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”  (Matthew 25:35)
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Clothing the naked refers to reaching out to the poor by sharing clothing with those who are in need.  A person doesn’t have to be completely homeless to need food and clothing.  There are many low-income families who just aren’t making it.  

The dictionary defines the word naked as not only “being without clothing or covering,” but also “defenseless; unprotected; without the customary covering, protection or support.”  Those who are naked would include those who are experiencing abuse or homelessness, or are in need of medical care or financial assistance.  

“Naked, and ye clothed me…”   (Matthew 25:36)
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Visiting the sick refers to visiting not only those who are physically sick with ill health or disease, but also visiting and serving those who are emotionally, mentally, spiritually or morally wounded or unsound. This includes those who are in need of friendship or forgiveness.  

"I was sick, and ye visited me…”  (Matthew 25:36)
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Visiting those in prison refers to ministering unto those who are confined in a place of restraint, such as a jail or prison, or kept in custody as a result of the legal process.   

“I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”  (Matthew 25:36)

Adam S. Bennion once told of an incident that occurred when he was speaking to hundreds of inmates at the Utah State Penitentiary.  After asking the inmates what occurred in their lives which resulted in their imprisonment, they answered almost without exception— “We are here in the state penitentiary, because there came a time in our lives when we were made to feel that nobody cared what happened to us.”  Harold B. Lee, BYU Speeches of the Year, February 13, 1963, The New Era, p.5   

Visiting those in prison may also refer to helping those who are in a spiritual prison.  As they repent and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, repentance enables them to loose themselves from the spiritual darkness of unbelief, ignorance and sin, and to feel a greater closeness to God.
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Few things come to an end faster than the spirit of Christmas when the giving ends, along with the magic of the season.  

The Christmas season is a time when most in the world feel greater love, peace, and “good will towards men.”  The spirit of Christ fills the world so people are full of love and thinking of others.  Hearts are more generous, compelling them to act upon their love, doing for others that which they cannot do for themselves.  In so doing, we give Christ the gift of gratitude by living as he lived, as he ‘went about doing good.”  (Acts 10:38)  

Spokane can become the town where it is Christmas all year long—as we remember to reach out to others with love and forgiveness. 

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May we learn to live like Christ,

“give drink to the thirsty,
feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
take in the stranger,
visit the sick,
and visit those in prison”

so we may one day live with Christ.
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