The greatest gift

So, what did you get for Christmas?

Was it what you hoped for? Do you anticipate a year from now that it will hold the same appeal for you that it does today?

Part of the joy of Christmas is the childish sense of novelty and delight we feel when we receive a gift that perfectly matches our desire. But we are fortunate, indeed, if the charm lasts very long into the new year. Years ago, advertisers popularized the phrase "The gift that keeps on giving," yet, for most gifts, that seems to be a concept that exists more in theory than in reality.

Try this exercise: Recall, if you can, all the things you received for Christmas five years ago. How many do you remember? If you still have any of them, are you still enjoying them?

Try another one: Think of your most valued material possession, then realize that the day will come when either it will disintegrate into oblivion or you will have no further need, use or desire for it.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). That Paul was employing this imagery to teach matters of an eternal nature is clear from the next verse: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

What Paul seems to be saying in these verses is that our mortal perspective is limited, murky, immature. This suggests that the material, transitory items and pursuits that hold such intense appeal for us in mortality one day will have little or no attraction, just as a teenager is not apt to take much pleasure in the action figures, stuffed animals or video games he played with as a 6-year-old.

What will matter to us in the future? To answer that question, it is instructive to view the context in which Paul wrote the above passages. In verse 13, he declares: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (italics added).

Charity. That is the enduring quality, the constantly regenerating motivator to righteousness, the gift that keeps on giving. In his discourse, Paul cites some of the marvelous gifts of the Spirt that a benevolent Father bestows upon His children, but he asserts their finite character and limited application (see 1 Corinthians 13:8). Not so with charity. "Charity never faileth." Charity has such indispensable significance that Paul exclaims: "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." Indeed, he goes on to say, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, faith, generosity have no profit or efficacy without charity (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3), what Mormon characterized as "the pure love of Christ" (Moroni 7:47).

How can we as individuals tell if — or to what degree — we have charity? Paul gave some indicators and measures when he wrote: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

"Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

"Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

"Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (1 Corinthians 13:3-7).

Consider for a moment your most enduring and cherished possessions: family relationships, beloved friendships, a testimony of the truth, the covenants made at baptism and in the temple with their associated promises. These are all associated with charity.

The good news is that, at any time of year, we can seek and receive the gift of greater charity. It is listed among the gifts of the Spirit, and we are to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). Mormon, in fact, said 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" (Moroni 7:48).

The Prophet Joseph Smith, whose 200th birthday anniversary we will be observing precisely a year from now, had charity. He lived and died for his people. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

On one occasion, the Prophet Joseph taught: "The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 241). May we, by drawing closer to God and through fervent, heartfelt prayer, seek that quality in the new year.