At the end of one fall semester I remember working on a project at my University in which I was responsible for coordinating an effort to gather and donate canned foods and other food items to the local food bank. That winter was particularly cold, and with the rising cost of food, heating and other commodities, the need for food was especially high. I remember looking in my own kitchen cabinet to scavenger for food items that I could donate to the cause that I had organized. Being a poor college student, I remember being fairly reluctant to donate the higher end, better tasting items to the food bank. Instead, I found it was easy for me to donate canned lima beans, spinach, and other less delectable items. As I went to bag up and gather the food that other students had donated, I realized that many other students had followed my lead. There were very few items that one would eat out of pleasure, rather than necessity. After dropping off the food at the donation center, and seeing the needy people there who were in need of food, I knew that the food we had provided would definitely be very helpful for those who were in need of food for themselves and their family, but what I had done didn’t really feel much like charity.
Growing up as a Christian, I have always been taught how important it is to cultivate the attribute of charity. But at this time, I really wondered if the service I had provided could be considered charity. In my faith charity is always taught as the highest and noblest form of love, and as the pure love of Christ for all mankind. My mother often told the story of Paul claiming that charity is the greatest of all the attributes that we can possess. As I thought about these things, I came to the conclusion that the service I had provided, although helpful and still meaningful, was definitely not a great effort to cultivate true charity. What I had done was still very important, and nonetheless a service to those who less fortunate and needy. However, it was not the same love that I would have had for say my mother or my wife. I came to realize that there is a difference between helpful service and charity. Charity is the helpful service that we would provide to ourselves if we were the ones who were in need. It is the service that would be rendered if it was our own spouse or family member that was in need. It is ultimately the service that I know the Messiah would want us to render to each other when we are in need.
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