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Charity: The Greatest Virtue


1 Corinthians 13:8 and 13

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and charity. But the greatest of these is charity.

I have been speaking on various virtues that we are given through the Holy Spirit. Some of the fruits of Spirit, or virtues are: charity, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The word “charity” is often translated as “love,” but there is a distinction between the two. The Greek word Agape is most accurately translated as “charity.” Charity is Agape love; a distinct form of love that represents the highest form of love as a choice, without obligation, expectation, or created by attraction. Agape love is sacrificial, uniting, and healing.

1 Corinthians, often referred to as the “Love Chapter” is actually the “Charity Chapter”. But charity is never used as a verb; we don’t have an English equivalent, although it is used as a verb in Greek. So, it becomes difficult to translate the Greek word precisely. Matthew 22:37-39 commands us to “agapao” God and our neighbors. Matthew 5:43-46 instructs us to “agapao” our enemies. In each case the verb is translated as “love” because that is the closest word we have at our disposal as an action.

But more accurately we are instructed to express Agape love to God, our neighbors, ourselves, and our enemies. But because the generic word “love” has such a broad meaning, we sometimes are confused by what we are being told, which is to share charity, give charity, or express charity to God and all others, Agape love.

While the word “love” as used today has become broad and diverse in meaning and application, the word charity has become narrower. Our love for God, a significant other, a favorite food, and a friend are all different. However, English doesn’t lend itself well to making these distinctions. In contrast, the current colloquial usage of the word “charity” has become restrictive. Today, we think of charity merely as giving money or time. We “give to charity,” or make a “charitable contribution.”

This limited definition, although truthful, is incomplete. Charity embraces all that is Agape love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” That is Agape love; that is charity; that is the virtue indwelling us as a fruit of the Spirit.

Though other types of love can accompany agape, agape is not just a feeling but a choice. Charity does not come naturally but is infused in our soul by the grace of God. God gives us charity and it is revealed to us as we open our hearts and minds to Spirit. As we allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us, all the fruits of Spirit are realized. Therefore, we choose to exhibit Agape love through our focus on Christ and attunement to the Divine One.

Not all love is charity, of course. Charity is not an attraction or inner affection toward pleasing qualities, worth, or beauty. We may say, “I love music or hamburgers.” That is not charity. In John 3:19 Christ describes how some people “loved darkness rather than light.” This certainly is not charity. 1 Corinthians tells us that charity cannot love darkness.

Some people love to display their talents. While this can bring them recognition and a sense of achievement, this is not charity. 1 Corinthians 13:1 tells us, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” If we do not have charity our talents, gifts, and abilities are meaningless self-centered feats of self-aggrandizement. They glorify ourselves, not God. Release the ego.

Even when being paid for a living, when acting with the idea that God is expressing through us, that God is using our talents to reach the hearts of others, those same talents are supercharged with God energy. We don’t have to announce that we are performing for God; that can become a self-promotion as well. But when we are doing God’s work, living with our hearts directed by Spirit, people notice at a spiritual level. We need to realize that the payments, applause, and accolades we receive in life are always for God.

As we learned last week with Solomon, even Wisdom, a gift of Spirit, can deteriorate into chaos if we are not filled with charity, Agape love. Again in 1 Corinthians 13:2, we read: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

Charity is our superpower and inspires kindness and good work. Charity is kind when others ridicule us for our beliefs and stumbles. Charity does not seek its own, but the things of Christ. We are displaying charity when we give to those in need without seeking recognition, favor, or reward in return. If we fail to give because we can’t deduct it from our taxes, perhaps we need to reevaluate our motives. We can show charity by sacrificing our own desires and passions for God’s sake.

Giving, sharing, and serving are a large part of charity and has been shown to improve our health and mental well-being. When we give to someone, whether our time, money, or energy, our brain secretes Serotonin, Dopamine, and Oxytocin, chemicals that make us feel better and elevate our mood. When we display charity, endorphins are released, our blood pressure drops, we live longer, lower our stress, feel more engaged and more joyful. Perhaps this was part of Christ’s message in his words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25:35-36, 40, 45: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” Bottom line: What we do to others, we do to God, and God blesses us appropriately in return.

It is important to note that sometimes getting slapped "up side the head" can be a blessing. We call is the Cosmic 2x4. When we do something or say something, and it results in guilt, obstacles, conflict, or negative responses ... these reactions are opportunities for us to reevaluate our motives. Are we acting and thinking with charity in our hearts?

“So, Patrick, since charity is a choice, how can I make my thoughts and actions more charitable? How can I display unconditional care and love for all living beings?” First, no matter what we see or hear, try to see it from a positive perspective. The person is behaving exactly as they should for their level of knowledge, awareness, and spiritual development. Avoid casting blame and judging the person. We can ask ourself, “What is going on in their lives that may cause them to behave that way?”

Second, by using our own awareness, we can acknowledge that our lessons are different than their lessons. Our struggles and challenges are different than theirs. Avoid making derogatory statements about someone or even nodding in agreement when someone makes a critical remark. If appropriate, mention that it is difficult to know the background of the situation, or the motivations involved. Not that they are blameless, but have we “walked a mile in their shoes”? We need to accept that in truth, we do not know the causes for someone being in their situation.

Sometimes there are simple ways of giving. We always keep a few dollars in our ashtray so that when we see someone asking for financial help, we can give it. This church is very generous with its giving, and when we are giving from an attitude of Agape love, we are blessed as well as those who are receiving our gifts. When we give expecting something in return or with ulterior motives, our gifts may still do good, but we miss God’s direct blessing. It is better to give little with a heart filled with love, than donate a million dollars looking for accolades and tax breaks. Charity is a one-way choice: giving while desiring nothing in return.

Of all the spiritual virtues, there are three that are considered the Theological Virtues. These are faith, hope, and charity. Thomas Aquinas taught that these three virtues lead us directly to God, and we are made aware of them through communication with Spirit. These virtues allow us to know ourselves as children of God and behave according to His will.

As our opening verse claims, of those three virtues, charity is the greatest. Charity can resurrect the spiritually dead by helping us release our selfish desires and appetites and serve God and others with compassion and generosity.

I pray that we understand the importance of charity: it changes lives and the world for the better. In my humble opinion, charity is the only thing that can change the world. Charity helps people in need, supports causes we care about, and makes a difference in society. Charity also benefits us personally by making us feel good, strengthening our values, and improving our health and happiness. Charity is how we express our love for God and for our neighbors. Charity is how Christ loves us, how we love Christ, and how Christ asks of us to treat others.

And after saying all of that, I will continue to use the word ‘love’ to express Divine Love, because it just works better. I can love you, but English prevents me from 'charitizing' you. But I pray you feel the charity of Christ at all times. As you walk through your life fill your mind with Agape love, charity, and let it flow. Be filled with unconditional giving love.



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