Upon the altar of virtues, before which all men should willingly kneel, the summum bonum is Charity, and to be charitable is to aspire to the most heavenly of diadems, set with the jewels of Humility, Faith, and Hope. True charity cannot exist without those other virtues, but as it is recorded in First Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 13, "the greatest of these is charity."
The definition of charity as "Christ-like love" refers to the idea that Christ came with one purpose; to serve, bless, and save others. So too, charity cannot be self serving, or it ceases to be charity. True, good works may be done for selfish reasons, and the recipient may receive a full benefit thereof, but the benefactor will not. They may receive superficial praise, or the support of those they have tried to impress, but they will not experience the true soul-ennobling rewards of performing charity.
Robert Macoy's "A Dictionary of Freemasonry" contains the following entry under "Charity": "This is the brightest ornament of our masonic profession. Happy is the brother who hath sown in his heart the seeds of benevolence, the produce of which will be charity and love. He envieth not his neighbor, he believeth not a tale when reported by a slanderer, he forgiveth the injuries of men, and blotteth them out from his recollection. Whoever would emulate the character of a good and worthy Mason ought ever to be ready to assist the needy as far as lies in his power; and if, in the most pressing time of necessity, he does not withhold a liberal hand, the most heartfelt pleasure will reward his labours, and the produce of love and charity will most assuredly follow."
Colossians, chapter three, verse 14, enjoins us to "above all. . . . put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." Charitable actions unite us with perfection. The more time we spend in concern for the welfare of others, the more we grow in all the virtues that are subsidiary to charity: We think less of ourselves, and become humble. We begin to feel the bonds that link us all as a human family, and our hope grows. Through service we begin to love those we serve and feel nothing but kindness toward them. We become more aware of our own failings and thus we learn patience. And as we practice charity we begin to feel a portion of the love that Deity has for us, and that causes our faith to become immutable.
Charity is far more than giving monetary support to the poor and distressed. It is to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees," to "visit the fatherless and widows." It is to drive negative thoughts and attitudes toward our brothers out of our minds and permit them no place in our hearts. Charity is to be always patient with others and ourselves.
By living charitably we live the whole of the Law and the highest expression of our fraternal bonds: We find ourselves, almost inadvertently, growing in light, waxing in purity, and maturing in truth, building on a solid foundation that cannot crumble away, for charity never faileth.