The bishop called me early last week and asked me to speak on love. As I was doing my research for the talk, the theme of forgiving others as an expression of Christlike love surfaced again and again. I hope that if you take away anything from this talk it is that we must love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us in order to return to God’s presence.
The world’s definition of love
I thought I’d start with a little compare and contrast of the world’s definition of love to the Lord’s definition. I Googled “definition of love” and this is what I got: “1. an intense feeling of deep affection. 2. to feel a deep romantic attachment to someone.”
Further research of the world’s definition of love revealed that the Greeks are said to have four categories of love. Agape, which is unconditional or spiritual love. Philia, which means affectionate regard or friendship. Storge is the word for familial love and affection. And eros is romantic love.
None of these definitions of love are bad per se, but let’s look at how the word love is used in the scriptures.
God’s definition of love
Listen to these scriptural uses of the word love. As you do so, think in your mind how the scriptural definition of love compares to the popular way in which the world defines love.
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
- “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
- “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” 2 Nephi 1:15
- “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 Jn. 4:20–21
- “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them… But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest.” Luke 6: 32, 35
- “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation (i.e. atonement) for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
- “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34
- “Thou shalt live together in love.” D&C 42:45
- “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
- “Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” John 11:35-36
- “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:39
- “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” 1 John 4:18
- “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3: 16-18
I could go on and on. There are dozens of more scriptures about love, and particularly God’s love for us. There is no one, singular definition of love in the scriptures, but I think you get the picture.
The Pure Love of Christ
Most of us are familiar with Mormon’s declaration that “charity is the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). I’d like to examine that statement more closely. What is the pure love of Christ?
The footnote on love in that verse takes you to Ether 12:33-34: “And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men. And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.”
Two things stand out to me about this verse. First, it defines for us what the pure love of Christ means by explaining how Christ loved the world. Jesus laid down his life and took it up again. He performed the great atoning sacrifice. Second, it highlights the fact that each one of us must love the same way that Christ has loved in order to inherit the mansions of Heaven prepared for us. Through the power of the resurrection and redemption, Heavenly Father has prepared a place for each of us in the celestial mansions above, if we will but follow the Savior’s example of charity.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that pure Christlike love can change the world. In his April 2014 General Conference talk he said:
“At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” … Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. …Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world.” (The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, April 2014)
President Thomas S. Monson has said that “we cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.” In his April 2014 General Conference talk he said:
“Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love.”
He continued. “Forgiveness should go hand in hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals.” (Love—the Essence of the Gospel by President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, April 2014)
Christ’s Example of Forgiving Others
I’d like to take the next few moments and talk about President Monson’s statement that the Savior’s capacity to forgive is the crowning expression of his love.
During the Savior’s mortal ministry, we learn of this exchange in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
To the man sick with palsy, confined to a bed, Jesus said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Then, to answer the murmurings of the doubting scribes who witnessed the event, the Savior drove the point home saying, “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins…Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.” (Matt 9:2-7)
To the woman taken in adultery, “Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:11.
Through the Book of Mormon prophet Alma, the Lord said, “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” Truly the Lord’s capacity to forgive is infinite, and his examples and teachings are clear on the subject. We must follow the Savior’s example of love in order to inherit the celestial glory, and that means we much forgive as Christ forgives.
If we fail to forgive others, we are not following Christ. Perhaps this is why the Lord called not forgiving others “the greater sin.” In Doctrine and Covenants 64:9 the Lord says, “I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”
The Power of Forgiving
Great power comes to us, truly the power of God, when we forgive others their trespasses against us. Nephi experienced this power. His brothers, Laman and Lemuel, in one of their many rebellions, tied up Nephi and planned to destroy him. Nephi prayed in faith for deliverance, and the “bands were loosed” from off his hands and feet and he stood before his brethren. They were probably terrified and the scriptures tell us that pled with Nephi that he would forgive them. In 1 Nephi 7:21 it says that Nephi “did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness.” Nephi was a man of great spiritual strength. No doubt this was due to his ability to follow the example of the Savior in love, compassion, and forgiving.
My friend, the author Charles R. Hobbs, a great church leader and a patriarch in one of the stakes north of here, wrote a wonderful book on blessings of forgiving others called The Healing Power of Forgiving. In that book, he tells a couple of stories I’d like to share.
A Thief in the Night
I grew up in Preston, Idaho. When I was six years old, my father, Milo, put me to work bagging candy in the grocery store. I earned ten cents a day. By the time I was a teenager, Dad had his own grocery business, and I was stocking shelves at twenty-five cents an hour.
…Late one night our telephone rang. It was the police. The officer said, “Milo, a thief is breaking into your store through the back entrance. I am ready to apprehend him.” As Dad was beginning to pull on his trousers, he said, “Officer, let me take care of this. I will be there shortly. Watch him till I get there, then quietly drive away.” Concerned for my father’s safety, the officer nevertheless complied.
When my dad pulled up to the back of the store, he saw the door open. Now out of his car, he came face to face with the thief, who was carrying an armful of groceries to his old clunker.
Recognizing the man Dad called out, “Burt, why are you doing this?” Embarrassed and with bowed head, Burt answered, “My family is hungry, and I have no money to buy food for them.”
My father said, “Here, let me help you.” They put the stolen groceries in the car. Then my father said, “Now let’s go get some more. You have a large family.”
Once the car was filled with food, my father said, “Burt, I think it’s time you and I have a talk. It’s wrong to steal anything from anybody, even when in desperate need. It can get you and your family in a lot of trouble. The next time you are in need, come to me. I will do what I can to help you.”
To sincerely forgive an offender by showing mercy and compassion is truly an act of spiritual nobility. And, if done in the right way, it will lift both wrongdoer and forgiver closer to the joy of Christ’s pure love. (The Healing Power of Forgiving, Charles R. Hobbs)
Teaching Forgiveness to Our Children
Another lesson on forgiveness Charles wrote about in his book involved his grandmother, Marinda Skidmore, who went by the nickname “Rinda.”
Rinda [was] persecuted by bullies at school. She was small and easy to pick on. However, being a studious pupil, she rapidly advanced ahead of older and larger students. The school bullies called her the “teacher’s pet.” The ringleader of the persecutors lived in a little shack. Her name was Tad B. She was 14 and “the biggest girl in the school.”
One time bullies at school hoisted Rinda at half-mast on a flag pole. She said, “A man passing by saved me from injury that time.”
Suffering much physical and mental torment, Rinda wrote: “The seeds of hate were sown in my heart, germinated, and grew especially toward Tad B.”
One summer day, one of Tad B.’s legs was severely injured at her father’s sawmill when she fell onto a big, moving saw. Rinda wrote:
My mother [Ellen Persson-Monson] displayed great sympathy as she told me about the accident. I shrugged my shoulders and said with a disdainful sneer, “Wish her leg was cut clean off.” Mother was horrified. “You wicked little girl,” she said. “You surely don’t mean that.”
“I hate Tad, and I do mean that. I wouldn’t care if both her legs were cut off.”
I started to run away, but mother caught my arm and held me. . . . She told me to go away and think about it. When mother had a few moments to spare she called me to her, and she talked to me of Jesus and the example of forgiveness he set for us. She cried as she talked, but still it did not interest me. I hated Tad and that was that.
Again she sent me away. No girl of hers could be so unforgiving. I was so miserable that I lay for a long time in my playhouse. Then mother called me. She handed me a quart cup and told me to go out and pick raspberries. . . . I picked about one pint. . . . She told me to take the berries over to Tad. I refused and went out again. Mother did not call me to [lunch].
After the men were gone, I went in and offered to help wash the dishes. She refused my proffered help; such a girl as I was not fit to help her, she told me. I was heart broken.
At three o’clock that afternoon, I told mother I was ready to take the berries over to Tad. Slowly, I walked until I reached the shack where Tad lived. There were two doors on the shack, and I knocked on the one where there were no steps. I did not intend to go into the house. Tad’s mother opened the door.
“I brought these for Tad,” I said.
“Come in. Come here. Put your foot up high, and I will give you a lift.”
She caught my hand while she spoke and almost dragged me into the house.
“Look,” she said to Tad who was lying facing the wall. “Rinda brought you these.”
“Not Rinda, not her! I’ve been meaner to her than anybody I know,” she said.
“Why Tad, how could you be mean to her? She’s such a little girl, and you are so big!”
Then Tad blurted out in a way that I understood, “Rinda’s got everything. I ain’t got nothin’. Even the teacher likes her best.” Tad was jealous of me.
My heart was touched at the sight of her pale face, her body shaking with sobs. I put my hand on her shoulder and said softly, “I forgive.”
Then I ran home as fast as I could go, rushed up to mother, slipped my arm about mothers neck, and said happily, “Mother, I forgived.”
Tad B. and Rinda were the best of friends from that day on.
Testimony of Forgiving with Christlike Love
I know that the Savior’s capacity to forgive is the crowning expression of his love. I know that if we are to follow Christ, as all of us who are baptized have covenanted to do (2Ne 31:13), we must follow his example of forgiving and obey his teaching to forgive unconditionally (D&C 64:10). When we do so, we will experience a change of heart and we will have Christ’s image in our countenance.
It is no wonder that Moroni, in some of his final words in The Book of Mormon, included an injunction 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; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48) Then we will be worthy to dwell with God in the celestial glory. This is my testimony.