“Under what circumstances do we reprove sharply?” New Era, Jan. 1975, 13
Answer/Brother Paul G. Grant
To answer this question we must first return to the ultimate basis of life. Our purpose is to find the truth, live the truth, and share the truth with our fellowmen.
To reprove comes within the last of these foundation principles. To reprove is a very common human experience. It occurs as an informative or disciplinary measure to correct the actions of another. No one enjoys being told he is wrong, so it is in this area that the greatest strain exists between people.
Our ability to recognize when we need to reprove another is limited only by our lack of knowledge of the truth. The greatest problem in “warning our brother” is not when but how.
A person does improper acts for one of two reasons. Either he doesn’t know better, or he rebels against that which he knows to be right. It is absolutely essential that the reprover knows into which category the wrongdoer falls.
Everyone has heard “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Under such circumstances it is generally sufficient to inform the wrongdoer of his erroneous behavior and, where applicable, to provide him with the opportunity to repair the damage and make restitution.
The Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to reprove “with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 121:43.) I am sure “with sharpness” does not mean yelling and carrying on in a highly emotional manner. When the Savior reproved, he did so with clarity, exactness, and calmness. Consider his reproof when the senior apostle challenged his prophecy concerning his crucifixion. “Get thee behind me Satan.” Why the sharpness? Because Peter relied upon the things of man instead of God immediately after testifying by the Spirit of the divinity of Jesus. (See Matt. 16.)
Or consider one of his many reprovals of those who sought to destroy him.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27.) As you can see, some of the Savior’s sharpest rebukes were for hypocrites.
The voice of the Lord is described at the time of the attempted slaying of Nephi and Lehi when they were protected by a ring of fire.
“… it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul—
“And notwithstanding the mildness of the voice, behold the earth shook exceedingly. …” (Hel. 5:30–31.)
We must follow the example of the Master, speaking calmly and mildly but with plainness and with the power of truth ever present.
Reproving with sharpness is necessary for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Men often rationalize and need to have a clear confrontation with the truth to recognize the folly of their own mental inconsistencies.
2. In our time the standards of truth are becoming very hazy, and a decisive, clear statement as to proper action acts as a beacon to those in troubled waters.
3. There are those who act with such persuasiveness that many are led astray; thus the truth must be strongly asserted for the protection of the unwary.
4. Some need to be warned of far-reaching consequences that will result from current actions that cannot be perceived because of the inexperience of the actor.
5. It is needed as a basis for judgment so that the wrongdoers may not stand without guilt before the bar of justice on judgment day.
May I share with you a personal experience to illustrate the above. There is, in the ward I just recently moved from, a group of teenage boys. Only one, a younger member of the group, had committed himself to serving a mission. As an older member of the group reached 19, he stated that maybe a mission wasn’t the best thing for him. Many interested members of the ward did “reprove” this young man for his decision. My opportunity came on a ski lift on a cold December day. In jest I said, “What are you going to be, a ski nut or a missionary?” He laughed and then proceeded to give me his reasons for staying home. On each subsequent trip up the lift we discussed his position, the fallacy of his reasons, his hazy standards and goals for life, the effect of his decision on the other members of his group, the long-range consequences of his decision, and ultimately what his explanation would be to the Lord for the lost opportunity to serve.
After prayerful consideration, more “reproving with sharpness,” and a sincere effort on his part, he decided to complete the application for a mission call. A short time after his departure I received a letter from him stating how great it was to be on a mission.
In this day when it is acceptable to “not get involved” and to let each person “do his own thing,” it becomes imperative that we hold the banner of truth high for all to see.
For society to function properly, correction should come from all three of the following sources: (1) the family (we are now reaping the rewards of permissive parents, with increased crime, drug addiction, wasted lives of the young people, and frustrated, divorced older people); (2) the authoritarian relationship of schools, church, employers, and government; (3) the peer group of an individual. If any of these groups fail in its responsibility to reprove, the wrongdoer then finds a harbor from the truth and does not have the opportunity to change his ways.
Now is the time to stand with Peter: “… when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.)
In conclusion let us again return to the basic premise of life. To help another we must know the truth to know when he has erred. We must live the truth to give authority to our utterances, and we must be willing to share and have the Holy Ghost to know how to reprove.
We must never forget the second part of the Lord’s instruction, to show increased love and concern, lest we be esteemed an enemy.