(Parts of this article were adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
A friend recently spoke to me of his preparation to marry. I found his approach to be both unique and refreshing. Although he has not yet met the woman whom he hopes to take to the temple one day, he nevertheless prays for her night and day with the expectation that the Lord will bless her. In other words, he is beginning to serve her now in anticipation of offering her a lifetime of service. How many women would love to meet such a man and know that he had cared for her in advance?
My friend’s example lifted my remembrance to a little-known principle in the scriptures: the go’el. Anciently, the Lord provided a means of rescue for widows in Israel. This rescue came in the form of a “levirate marriage” (not to be confused with the tribe of Levi). (i) A kinsman of the deceased husband was to marry the widow to provide her love, security, and to bless her with children, even knowing that those children might eternally belong to the deceased husband. We cannot imagine such a sacrifice! This extraordinarily selfless man was called a go’el or literally redeemer.
The word here rendered ‘redeemer’ we translate literally from Hebrew go’el and this is its proper translation. It is rendered merely ‘kinsman’ in the King James English translation. The function of a go’el was to make possible for a widow who had lost home and property to return to her former status and security and to have seed to perpetuate her family.
It is easy to see why the later prophets borrowed this word from the social laws of Israel and used it to describe the functions of Him who would become the Divine Redeemer. Think of what He does to restore us to proper status with God, and to give us future security and eternal ‘seed.’ (ii)
It is interesting to note that Jesus, the Great Go’el, chose to be born through at least two significant levirate marriages. In each case, the lesser go’els selflessly stepped forward to redeem despairing and at-risk women, who would otherwise have forfeited love, safety and security. Perhaps the most famous of these levirate marriages was that of Boaz and Ruth, who became the great-grandparents of David. But we also recall that Joseph the carpenter was a kinsman of Mary. He acted as her go’el by stepping in to redeem her and rear another Man’s (The Man of Holiness) Son.
I see in my friend the attitude of a go’el. His focus on finding his eternal companion is not centered on what she can do for him, but what he can do for her. And he is making good on his commitment by praying for her now. Imagine the kind of husband he will be to her when the Lord finally introduces them. I wonder how many single men would similarly find their eternal sweethearts by changing the focus of their prayers and dating.
I am surrounded by people who take the attitude of a go’el. For example, I recently served in a bishopric with Steve. Whenever he greeted me, he was wont to ask, “How can I bless your life today?” And he meant it. In the 20+ years that I have known Steve and his wife, I have ever known them to be serving someone. I’ve wondered if they ever pray for themselves. They seem to view life through the lens of giving charitable service. I think they pray for such opportunities constantly, and the Lord blesses them with those opportunities.
And there are other go’els. My friends, Blaine and Kathy, sold everything and moved into a mobile home so they could afford to serve full-time in the temple. My friend Paul emptied his fortune to build orphanages, feed the poor, and create refuges of hope. Two artist friends have anonymously donated millions of dollars of art to beautify Church locations and to honor the Prophet Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ. Additionally, when they have some extra money (which is seldom), they go to the temple and ask who might need a little help. They always step forward at Christmas time to bless struggling families with exquisite art. I can recall times of slender means when I have been the beneficiary of priesthood blessings from Ted, and occasionally some Band-aid money.
These people are like the selfless go’el, who sacrifices his life to redeem the despairing woman.
Vain Prayers, Vain Fasts
Perhaps by our following the example of the go’el we could experience greater results from our prayers and fastings. We might ask ourselves, Upon what principle does prayer become mighty prayer or fasting draw down the promised blessings? I submit that the simple act of charity transforms prayer and fasting into principles of power. In fact, the scriptures teach us that prayer and fasting are rendered impotent unless they are coupled with charitable service. Here are two examples:
I say unto you, do not suppose that this [prayer] is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (iii)
Is [fasting] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I [am]. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness [be] as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. (iv)
Notice the qualifiers: “then,” “if.” In both of these scriptures the criterion for answered prayers and receiving the Lord’s notice and blessings is charitable service. Without extending charity, our prayers are “vain and availeth [us] nothing.”
Charitable Service—The Lifeblood of Zion
President Hinckley called charity “the lodestar of life.” Citing the Savior’s reference to the Final Judgment, President Hinckley reminded us that Jesus will say to those on his right hand that they shall inherit his kingdom because they effectively “fed, clothed, and visited Him” by blessing his children.
President Hinckley wrote: “One of the greatest challenges we face in our hurried, self-centered lives is to follow this counsel of the Master, to take the time and make the effort to care for others, to develop and exercise the one quality that would enable us to change the lives of others—what the scriptures call charity. . . . Best defined, charity is that pure love exemplified by Jesus Christ. It embraces kindness, a reaching out to lift and help, the sharing of one’s bread, if need be.” (v)
Zion people become go’els or angels to the poor and afflicted. We are taught that there are “angels round about [us], to bear [us] up.” (vi) As much as angels are instruments in the Lord’s hands to sustain and help us to carry our heavy burdens, so we, by our charitable service, become angels to God’s children and instruments in the Lord’s hands to steady the weak and to heft their weighty load. (vii) President Kimball said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.” (viii)
Progressing from One Grace to a Higher Grace
It is upon the principle of giving charitable service that we progress toward perfection. According to John the Baptist’s testimony, Jesus progressed in this manner. John employed the word grace to explain this principle of progression: “And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at first, but received grace for grace.
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.(ix) ” In other words, Jesus grew in grace (light, truth, power, and perfection) by giving grace (service and blessings to others). Likewise, we progress from one grace to another by giving grace to others.
Progressing grace to grace by giving grace for grace!
Commenting, the Lord states: “For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” (x)
Charitable Service is the Key to Prosperity
The promise of charitable service is that of an abundant return. President Marion G. Romney taught the following truth: “You cannot give yourself poor in this work; you can only give yourself rich.” (xi) His statement is a confirmation of the ancient prophet’s teaching: “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (xii)
This suggests both a boomerang effect and a germination period. Bread that is cast upon the water will most certainly float back to land on the tide or a current; that is, our charitable actions will always return to bless us. Moreover, the seed that makes the bread that is cast upon the water will eventually find land, set down roots, sprout, and grow; that is, charitable acts carry the potential of life within them; charitable acts might take time to find ground and take root, but in time, those acts will become a beautiful and fruitful tree. We can no more become impoverished by casting the seeds of our charity upon the water than we can consecrate ourselves poor.
Charity Is an Absolute
Few scriptural absolutes are as stunning as those describing charity:
• “If ye have not charity, ye are nothing.”
• “Charity never faileth.”
• “Charity . . . is the greatest of all.”
• “Charity . . . endureth forever. (xiii)
In a world where everything fails, only those things that are built upon the foundation of charity will not fail. When we seek charity first, as exemplified by our seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, we are promised that all else will fall into place and be added unto us. (xiv) Because of charity, the blessings of the priesthood will flow to us forever without compulsory means. (xv)
Charity Is a Gift—the Greatest Gift
Despite our best efforts, we never will obtain charity or know its power in our lives unless the Holy Ghost delivers it to us. Charity is a spiritual gift that must be sought. Like the principle that states that we are saved by grace only after all we can do, (xvi) we receive charity as a gift only after we do all we can to obtain it. Therefore, because salvation is impossible without charity and because charity is delivered to us as a gift of the Spirit, Mormon pleads with us to “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.”
When charity finally enters our souls, Mormon continues, this love becomes the vehicle to make of us “sons of God.” Charity has the power to make us “like him.” Ultimately, upon the principle of charity, we will become “as he is” – Zion! This is our “hope; that we [through our charity] may be purified even as he is pure.” (xvii) This is the principal aim and the ultimate destination of the royal law, the celestial law of love upon which a Zion life is built.
Charity is the quality of love that propels Zion’s foundational law of consecration and fulfills the first and second commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” We consecrate because we love, and when love motivates all we do, we become Zion people.
Assuming the Attitude of the Great Go’el
Imagine a single woman in a distressed situation. Perhaps she has young children to support. She struggles to find work, and often she must take a job that pays poorly.
She is barely making ends meet, and she prays that nothing in the house breaks down to threaten her tenuous budget.
She lives in whatever place she can afford, but not necessarily in a place where she feels safe. She is lonely, overwhelmed and feel hopeless. She begins and ends each day looking in the mirror and saying, “Who would ever love me? Who would ever come into my life and rescue me?”
Then a man enters her life unexpectedly. He genuinely loves her and her children–-the whole package! He offers to lift the burden, take her into his life and gives her a home, safety and security. Now looking back, she recalls times when she had thought that she could go no further. It was then that she was somehow lifted and supported. Now looking at her go’el, she realizes that her support came from this man, who had been praying for her all along. Can you imagine her relief?
Each single man has this opportunity. He can pray for his future spouse and ask the Lord to introduce him to someone to bless. If the man is older, he might be introduced to someone like the woman described above, who is desperately in need of rescue. My friend, Ron, was such a man for Bonnie. My father-in-law was such a man to my widowed mother-in-law. Or perhaps the single man is young and has never married. Has not every worthy young woman prayed that a selfless, worthy man will enter her life, someone who will love her, bless her with safety and security, and provide for her and her future children? Is it not interesting that marriage is a saving ordinance?
On a daily basis, we have the opportunity to become go’els for someone in need. Our sacrifice might not be life-long, as in the case of the go’el husband, but our aid might lift a distressed soul until more help arrives. May we see life through the lens of charity: “Whose life can I bless today?” May we modify the focus of our prayers from exclusively self interests to asking for opportunities and resources to bless those who are in need. Then, in the similitude of the Great Go’el, may we go about rescuing and redeeming some anguishing soul.
Parts of this article were adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.
i. See Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
ii. Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:157.
iii. Alma 34:28, emphasis added.
iv. Isaiah 58:7-11.
v. Hinckley, Standing for Something, 6.
vi. D&C 84:88.
vii.Tanner, “All Things Shall Work Together for Your Good,” 104.
viii. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 252.
ix. D&C 93:12–13; emphasis added.
x. D&C 93:20; emphasis added.
xi. Romney, “Welfare Services: The Savior’s Program,” 92.
xii. Ecclesiastes 11:1.
xiii. Moroni 7:46–47.
xiv. 3 Nephi 13:33.
xv. D&C 121:46.
xvi. 2 Nephi 25:23.
xvii. Moroni 7:48.