“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”[i]
The whole purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to enable us to return to Him, to dwell in His presence forever, to become one with Him: to see Him “face to face . . . to know even as also I am known.”[ii]
To pass through the veil and to be embraced by the Father and the Son is the very definition of Atonement—and of eternal life. To this end, certain ordinances have been instituted which we must keep “as delivered” by the Apostles. We are not free to change the ordinances in any way. Isaiah warned, “The earth also is defiled under its inhabitants; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.”[iii]
In this lesson, Paul discourses on the importance of the ordinances of the Gospel and the spiritual gifts that accompany them—the greatest of which is charity. The spirit and saving power of God attend ordinances performed by the priesthood in righteousness. “Without the ordinances thereof, and without the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father.”[iv] Moreover, without charity, no one will see the face of God.
If the object of the Gospel is to see once again our Father’s face and to dwell in His presence, it is clear from these scriptures that we must receive the ordinances and develop a Christ-like love for others in order to do so.
Ordinances of Love
According to the third Article of Faith, we receive eternal life through the Atonement of Christ and by obedience to the ordinances of the Gospel. Why are the ordinances required? What do they signify?
In sum, the ordinances of the Gospel are expressions of the Savior’s love for us. Each ordinance bestows on us one of the blessings of the Atonement that He made possible for us. Through each ordinance we accept His expression of love and covenant to return His love by obeying his commandments.
Paul clearly understands the ordinances as expressions of charity, “the pure love of Christ” that “endureth forever.”[v] Each ordinance represents an act of charity performed by our Savior. The first thing we learn about charity from Paul is that it “suffereth long.”[vi] By suffering the exquisite pain of our sins, Jesus performed the greatest act of charity in the history of our Father’s creations. We also learn from Paul that charity “beareth all things” and “endureth all things.”[vii] Of course, Jesus bore all our griefs and endured all our sorrows.[viii]
The greatest of griefs is death. Because we are mortal we are also hopeless. The death of a loved one is often the most intense loss we will ever experience. At those moments, we realize how profound an act of charity is the Savior’s gift of resurrection. Through the ordinance of baptism, we re-enact the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and are ensured a place in His kingdom. Paul teaches:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”[ix]
Jesus Christ, the only person who ever lived who did not have to die, chose to die as an act of charity for us because in doing so He conquered death for each of us and ensured our resurrection. As we come out of the water of baptism, we experience a foretaste of the resurrection that empowers us to walk “in newness of life.” One day we will pass through the veil in the same way we break the surface of the water; our eyes will be opened and we will see the Lord and be embraced by Him. As resurrected beings, we will live forever the sinless and pure life He lives—always on condition of our faithfulness in this life. This is a gift from Him available to every single one of our Father’s children—even those who do not receive it in this life: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?”[x] The gift of the celestial kingdom will be withheld from no repentant soul who really wants it.
Another gift of charity from our Savior is the ordinance of the sacrament. We take the sacrament in remembrance of the supreme act of Him “who so loved the world that he gave his own life.”[xi] Paul emphasizes that the Lord’s body was broken for us, that His blood was shed to provide a new promise for us:
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”[xii]
Once a week in the ordinance of the sacrament we are invited to contemplate the pure love of Christ for us and to re-commit our hearts to him. We promise to remember Him—which is more than remembering what He did. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
The sealing ordinance represents our Savior’s ultimate act of charity, for through this ordinance we are sealed up to eternal life as co-heirs with Him and co-partakers of “all that the Father hath.”[xiv] It is His supreme charity because He literally gives it all; He can give each of us no more than all that He has. If you receive the sealing ordinance and remain faithful, He promises that you “shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.”[xv]
The sealing ordinance also puts us into the ultimate relationship of charity: “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”[xvi] Paul teaches that husbands are to love their wives, “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . they two shall be one flesh.”[xvii] The eternal oneness of husband and wife that is the greatest blessing of eternity is a gift from our Savior through his sealing ordinance.
We must have charity or the ordinances are of no force
As the ordinances symbolize our Savior’s charity for us, without an appreciation of this charity these ordinances are nothing to us.
If we lack charity ourselves, the ordinances become empty rituals without meaning. We can “go through” the ordinances robotically, without grasping the love of the Savior that the ordinance represents, and come out unchanged, unaffected, and unfulfilled.
Unless we are willing to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light . . . to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,”[xviii] the ordinance of baptism is of no force in our lives. In fact, without charity, we might lose the remission of sins: “To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little”[xix] and “love covereth all sins.”[xx] A person who takes the sacrament and still “despises and shames” others, according to Paul, “eateth and drinketh unworthily,” which is “damnation to himself.”[xxi] Unless we have charity for each other in marriage, the sealing ordinance is of no force in our lives; a husband or wife unwilling to give themselves for the happiness of the other cannot qualify for that kind of union that “never faileth.”
Spiritual gifts are given so we might show love
So that we may exercise charity—“the pure love of Christ”—toward each other, the Lord blesses us with spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and tongues. This “diversity of gifts” is not given so that one may become “puffed up” over another or to produce a “schism in the body,” but rather so that we might help one another with our unique strengths. Unfortunately, giftedness can become a source of pride. Some people use their gifts to “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”[xxii] President Ezra Taft Benson warned against using our talents and gifts to put others down rather than to lift them: “Christ wants to lift us to where he is. Do we desire to do the same for others?”[xxiii]
Paul teaches that spiritual gifts are given so that we might act toward each other as Christ acts. Jesus manifested all the spiritual gifts in His ministry to His beloved brothers and sisters, thus showing us the example of pure love. He blessed others with his wisdom and knowledge, He exemplified for us faith in His Father, and He healed and performed miracles to benefit others. Gifts are given to the Church so that “the members should have the same care for one another. And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”[xxiv]
Charity is the supreme gift of God
Of all the spiritual gifts, charity is supreme. Without charity, none of the gifts and ordinances of the gospel have any force. Tongues, prophecy, knowledge, even generosity—unless we have charity, they are all “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” profiting no one.[xxv]
Charity is long-suffering, kind, humble, “seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil . . . rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”[xxvi]
To the extent that we become more charitable, we become more like our Savior. To do so we must overcome impatience, pride, selfishness, and contentiousness in ourselves. Above all, we must forgive all people. These are supremely difficult challenges for many of us. I believe that my wife was born with a “charity reflex,” but for me it’s a lot harder.
Comfort comes when we realize that charity, like other spiritual gifts, is truly a gift. We can qualify for this gift by pleading with the Lord for it: “Charity is the pure love of Christ . . . wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart that ye may be filled with this love.”[xxvii]
In the end, it is charity that enables us to enter into eternal life, the kind of life Christ lives. It is the eternal virtue that “endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”[xxviii] Until we have this pure love of Christ in our hearts, we continue to be discontented. Until we develop the reflex to seek out and serve others in their need as Christ did, we continue to serve pettiness in ourselves.
But once God blesses us with this pure love of Christ, we are at last ready to pass through the veil into His presence, to be embraced by Him and to know the true meaning of the Atonement—to be “At One” with him. As Paul teaches in that great chapter on charity, 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see through a glass [the veil?], darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”[xxix] It is charity that enables us to know the heart of Christ because his heart is all charity. “When he shall appear we shall be like him” because our hearts are all charity; “for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope, that we may be purified even as he is pure.”[xxx]
[i] 1 Cor. 11:1-2.
[ii] 1 Cor. 13:12.
[iii] Isaiah 24:5.
[iv] D&C 84:21-22.
[v] Moro. 7:47.
[vi] 1 Cor. 13:4.
[vii] 1 Cor. 13:7.
[viii] Isaiah 53:4.
[ix] Romans 6:3-6.
[x] 1 Cor. 15:29.
[xi] D&C 34:3.
[xii] 1 Cor. 11:23-26.
[xiii] 1 Cor. 11:28.
[xiv] See John 16:15.
[xv] D&C 132:23.
[xvi] 1 Cor 11:11.
[xvii] Eph. 5:25, 31.
[xviii] Mosiah 18:18-19.
[xix] Luke 7:47.
[xx] Prov. 10:12.
[xxi] 1 Cor. 11:22, 29.
[xxii] Phil. 2:21.
[xxiii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4.
[xxiv] 1 Cor. 12:25-26.
[xxv] 1 Cor. 13:1-3.
[xxvi] 1 Cor. 13:4-8.
[xxvii] Moro. 7:47-48.
[xxviii] Moro. 7:47.
[xxix]1 Cor. 13:12.
[xxx] Moro. 7:48.