Whenever three of God's servants declare the same principle, using nearly identical words in scripture, we should pay extremely close attention. Nephi, Paul, and Moroni, all said the absence of charity reduces a person to "nothing." (2Nephi 26: 30, 1Cor. 13: 2, Moroni 7: 46)
It is good from time to time, (certainly much more often than we actually do,) to be reminded that no matter what great doctrines we learn or know, what level of knowledge we attain to, what hours of study and temple attendance we log; Regardless what miracles we may be involved in, what gifts of the spirit are bestowed on us, no matter what position, office, or title we hold, if we have not acquired the attribute of charity, all else, EVERYTHING else, is for naught. (1Cor. 13: 1-3)
My daughter and her fiancé were recently at the church office-building complex in downtown Salt Lake City. While there, they watched as several security people detained, and turned over to police, a homeless man who had been found on the premise. There happened to be another homeless man standing nearby. My daughter made an offering to the man named Joel and struck a conversation with him. He said, "Did you see what just happened there?" referring to the arrest of the first homeless man. My daughter acknowledged they had witnessed the arrest.
The homeless man told a story of his own experience. He said he was in the church office-building lobby one day waiting for a man who worked in the building. The man, who worked there, had offered to buy the homeless fellow some lunch but needed to go to his office upstairs for his wallet. While waiting for his friend to go upstairs and retrieve his wallet, the homeless man was approached by security people. He tried to explain he was waiting for his friend to go to lunch. Against his protests he was summarily escorted out and away from the building.
The man was embarrassed and infuriated by the treatment he received. He told my daughter he could never be a part of, or have anything to do with, a "religious" organization that was so heartless and rude to a person in need. Meanwhile, a good man inside the tower, the man's friend, would have fed the poor man.
As I listened to my daughter relate these events I was compelled to ask, who among all these was neighbor to the man? (Luke 10: 36)
Does an institution, particularly one claiming to be the Lord's have the same requirement to have and administer charity? Can an institution be rendered "nothing" by a lack of Charity?
We live in a mean and merciless day. The accepted and prevailing attitude toward the less fortunate is, "the man has brought upon himself his misery," I have no obligation toward him, "his punishments are just." (Mosiah 4: 17) Paul saw in our day a people who would be lovers of their own selves, unthankful, without natural affection, fierce, high minded, despisers of those that are good. (2Timothy 3: 1-5) We live in a place and time when it is viewed as weak and gullible to think with mercy of others and their needs before our own. We do not believe that a merciless existence on our part will result in judgment from our God without mercy for us. (James 2: 13) It would horrify us if we actually believed and understood this truth.
Those that give alms to homeless persons outside the temple or on the church office complex are often despised for their acts of charity. They are viewed as foolish and naive. We are taught instead to give to humanitarian funds or other donated funds managed institutionally by others. Thereby, it is supposed, the poor among us will be discouraged from bothering us as we enter the house of the Lord full of intentions to beg for the Lord's mercy and blessing upon us poor creatures. (Mosiah 4: 19-20) We “adorn ourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by us, and notice them not.” (Mormon 8: 39) Those are Moroni's words in scripture.
This modern lyric by Phil Collins says the same thing.
She calls out to the man on the street
"Sir can you help me?
It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep.
Is there somewhere you can tell me?"
He walks on doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there
She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she's been crying
She's got blisters on the souls of her feet
Can't walk but she's trying
Oh Lord, is there nothing more anyone can do?
Oh Lord, there must be something you can say.
Phil Collins "Another Day in Paradise"
The poor, even the unthankful, (Luke 6: 35-36) or those that may take advantage of us in our giving, are to be served whenever they put up their petition to us. (Luke 6: 30) We should learn that in being charitable to those that put up their petition to us, it is us we are blessing, not them. (1Peter 4: 8) Since this is the case, it should matter little to us what the beggar does with what we give them. It simply doesn't matter what they do after the alm is given. That is not any of our concern either before or after the gift is given.
On a trip to California recently, our family encountered an enterprising beggar. He set himself up at a stop light in the median of a major roadway. As we approached the traffic light the beggar held up a sign that made us all laugh. His sign said, "Not going to lie - Just need to buy beer." Because he had put up his petition, he was given a small token. It was not much, certainly not enough to buy a lot of beer if that was the man's intention. But, perhaps he could have purchased a few beers if that was what he needed. The man was grateful. We felt grateful and blessed for having kept the commandment. I don't know if he bought beer or went to McDonalds for some food with what he had received. I don't care. It doesn’t matter. He was blessed and so were we.
Since we may bestow all our goods to feed the poor and still not have charity, (1Cor. 13: 3), we ought to carefully consider our motives in providing for the poor. (1Cor. 13: 4-7) Charity is, as we all know, the "pure love of Christ." (Moroni 7: 47) Therefore, we should understand and apply the meaning of the Lord's commandment to love one another "AS I HAVE LOVED YOU" as the only acceptable standard when giving alms. (John 13: 34) This standard precludes any judgments by us beforehand of the recipient of our alms. It also allows for no pretenses or self-serving on the part of the giver. (Mark 12: 41, 44)
Great and huge sums are "cast into the treasury" for the poor by institutions and men alike. Rarely is as much cast in as is required by the Lord, though they that are rich "cast in much." (Mark 12: 41) Rarely is any alm (or all of our alms together) by men, or by institutions, sufficient to meet the standard of the widow's mite. What more could, perhaps should be done but for selfishness, concerns for personal or institutional gain, and unwillingness to hear and obey the counsel of the Lord?