How Pure Is Your Heart? The Test of Giving In Zion
Not only do we find the promise repeated in scripture that the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8; 3 Nephi 12:8; D&C 97:16), we also know it is one of the definitions of Zion. “Verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART.” (D&C 97:21) To these are extended great promises such as returning with everlasting joy “to build up the waste places of Zion” and seeing “the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance.” (D&C 101:18; 56:18)
But just how pure are our hearts? One of the greatest tests in answering this question is the way we give of our substance, our time, our resources, our love, etc. to others. By “way” I mean the spirit we carry out the act with—meaning the thoughts and feelings we hold and dwell on while giving.
In Deuteronomy the Lord gave the Israelites a preparatory law to purify their hearts and make them more holy, and more like him. Consider the verses with this commentary by Hugh Nibley:
“The cornerstone of the whole economy is “the Lord’s release.” At the end of every seven years, every creditor must cancel all debts (Deut. 15:1-2). Because you get into the whirlpool of debt, this policy puts things on a new basis. It wipes the slate clean, the only way you can possibly break out, by an absolute law that cuts debts right off. With all men, either debtors or creditors, this is not a convenient arrangement; yet it is the only way. Only God can draw the line and say: “Here the business of exploiting each other must stop.” The Lord guarantees to make up any losses to those who keep the law, “for the Lord will greatly bless you” if, but only if, you “carefully hearken to observe and do these commandments” (Deut 15:4-5).
Now comes the important part of the business, which is the spirit in which it is all done: “If there be a poor man of your brethren living anywhere within your knowledge,. . . thou shalt not harden thy heart nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, of whatever he is in want” (Deut. 15:7-8). Since it is a loan, “beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, the seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; if I give anything to him now, he will not have to repay it, and I will never get it back; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou gives him nought, and he cry unto the Lord, . . . and it be sin unto thee” (Deut 15:9) This is not to be regarded as a business operation: “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou gives unto him” (Deut. 15:10). (I hate to do this, but it is the law! — however fiscally unsound. You shouldn’t give if that is the way you feel about it.) If you give in the spirit God requires, you will not be without your reward, “because . . . for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee [no amount specified] in all thy works” (Deut. 8:10).” (The Law of Consecration, Approaching Zion, p. 428-429)
What a test this would be! Would you give to your brother in need a large sum of money “sufficient for his need” in the last month of the sixth year just before the release? And would you do it willingly, without a thought of the release, without worry of whether or not you would be repaid? Would you trust that for doing so “the Lord thy God shall bless thee”? The measure of the purity of heart, or the most important part here, as Nibley says, is the spirit in which this is done. The Lord has made it very clear to us how we are to give.
Before instructing the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle, He told Moses to “speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart.” (Ex 25:2) As he sent his disciples out to preach, he carefully reminded them “freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8) In Luke’s account of the sermon on the mount we read the Lord’s invitation to “love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great.” (Luke 6:35)
Paul understood the spirit of the law of giving. He invited us “to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) He also taught ““Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
Mormon explained that the peaceable followers of Christ, who had “obtained a sufficient hope by which [they] can enter into the rest of the Lord,” or in other words those who had made sure their calling and election, would be known for their good works. (Moroni 7:3-4) He then famously taught:
“For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.” (Moroni 7:6-8)
Clearly we are to give to others willingly, cheerfully, without expecting anything in return; not grudgingly. But what exactly does it mean to give grudgingly? And what does it look like?
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines grudgingly: “unwillingly; with reluctance or discontent.” More insight is found when we look up the word grudging: “envying, being uneasy at another’s possession of something which we have a desire to possess. Uneasiness at the possession of something by another. Reluctance, a secret wish or desire.”
Aha! To give grudgingly is to give with reluctance or discontent, meaning deep down we don’t really want to give. We do so being uneasy about delivering something we desire to possess to someone else, secretly wishing we didn’t give, or desiring to have back what we supplied. In this mode, it is counted unto us “the same as if [we] had retained the gift; wherefore [we are] counted evil before God.” It is better to simply hold back, because in our hearts, that is exactly what we were doing.
We sometimes give hoping to be recognized for our generosity and sacrifice. Elder Maxwell observed: “Alas, even when you and I do place something on the altar, we sometimes hang around as if waiting for a receipt.” (Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ) For many, the receipt is the praise of men received when good works are published or posted. For those who give in this spirit, Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” (Matt. 6:2)
Giving willingly, or cheerfully is doing so without expectation, without strings attached. It is giving without secretly wishing we did not give, or that we had back what we gave. It is giving without thinking about what we could have done with the money, or whether or not we will be repaid.
When we consecrate money, whether in formal tithes and offerings or giving to the poor, do we, like Judas, think in our minds about what could have been done with the money? Do we offer conditional service, love, and affection in our marriage relationship, hoping to receive something specific in return? And then reluctantly hold a grudge when our hopes are not granted. Or do we desire to keep a spouse or loved one indebted to us, withholding our love or mercy because they have not “repaid” what we have given? Can we give even when the energetic or emotional exchange is not balanced? Can we give love in the most meaningfully received way, even when it is the end of the sixth year and the release is just around the corner? When we know that we will not be repaid. . . How pure is our heart?
Jesus, the ultimate giver, invites all to partake of His salvation, saying “come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price” [without strings attached, or any conditions of payment]. King Benjamin observed that all He requires in return is to repent and “keep his commandments.” (Mos. 2:22) This is not done as a form of repayment to Him, for even “if [we] should serve him with all [our] whole souls yet [we] would be unprofitable servants,” (Mos. 2:21) but rather His way of inviting us to make the most of His gift so we can truly be changed.
What is it that keeps us from giving the way He does? It is a lack of trust in the Lord and His abundant ability to repay us. When we give grudgingly, or refuse to give, we fail to exercise faith in the promise that He will bless us in all our works. (Deut. 8:10) It can be helpful to remember the entire reason why He invites us to give is so that He CAN bless.
After commanding the saints to be equal in temporal things, “and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld,” the Lord explained that He gave this commandment “for their benefit while they remain, for a manifestation of my blessings upon their heads, and for a reward of their diligence and for their security; For food and for raiment; for an inheritance; for houses and for lands, in whatsoever circumstances I, the Lord, shall place them, and whithersoever I, the Lord, shall send them.” (D&C 70:15-16)
We can also find motivation to give willingly and cheerfully as we look at others as if they were the Savior, remembering that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mos. 2:17) We close with the Lord’s words to the righteous in the parable of the sheep and goats:
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have adone it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:35-40)
Would Jesus give his brother in need a large sum of money in the last month of the sixth year just before the release without worrying whether or not He’d be repaid? Yes. . . Yes, he would. How can I answer with such surety? Because He has done so for me…over and over and over again. Let’s be like Him—pure in heart—that Zion may go forth!