Reproving with love

Whether as parents, leaders or friends, there will be times when we need to correct others. We can do it with love……..



…. or we can do it unrighteously.


A great scripture on reproof is D&C 121:43

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved’ lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

I want to look at the meanings of some of the key words in this scripture.


Reprove means ‘to criticize or correct, especially gently’ (

Kent P Jackson and Robert D Hunt suggest in their article ‘Reprove, Betimes, and Sharpness in the Vocabulary of Joseph Smith’ that Joseph used the word to mean ‘to correct’.

When we reprove we admonish, counsel or correct. We should not berate, scold or criticise. Whenever possible, reproof should be preceded by preliminary prayer.

Sometimes reproof, or chastening, is the only way to bring about happiness and obedience. Brigham Young said:

‘At times I may to many of the brethren appear to be severe. I sometimes chasten them; but it is because I wish them to so live that the power of God, like a flame of fire, will dwell within them and be round about them. These are my feelings and desires.’


Jackson and Hunt say:

‘The Oxford English Dictionary provides some illustrative definitions, including “at an early time,” “in good time, in due time, while there is yet time, before it is too late.” In the early nineteenth century, the word was generally understood to mean “seasonably,” “in good season or time,” and “soon,” as noted in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary.’


I take from this that we should reprove promptly, before it is too late. We should give corrective feedback early in a situation rather than delaying until the problem gets worse.


According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, ‘sharpness’ means ‘acuteness of intellect, the power of nice discernment, quickness of understanding.’ This seems to mean that ‘with sharpness’ does not mean that we speak harshly or severely but that we have to have a ‘sharp’ mind when we reprove. Elder Neal A Maxwell suggested that sharpness means ‘with keen perception, exactly, minutely’ and that reproof should be ‘specific’.


I like to think of sharpness in terms of a scalpel. We use reproof as precisely as a surgeon uses a scalpel to cut away only that which needs to be removed for the  health of the patient.


I think that sharpness also means that we don’t waffle – get to the point and be honest with the individual.

Elder Spencer J Condie indicated that the intensity of the reproof should also be appropriate to the cause. He wrote:

‘When Joseph Smith rebuked the guards in Liberty Jail, the intensity of his rebuke was justified by the filthy language of the his guards, who had profaned the sacred name of two divine beings. The same was true of the Saviour’s expelling the money changers from the holy temple; their blasphemy and sacrilege evoked an instant response. However, a four-year-old Primary child with muddy feet deserves more long-suffering and gentleness.’

Moved upon by the Holy Ghost

Robert L Millet and Lloyd D Newell suggested these indicators that will help us know when we have been moved upon by the Holy Ghost;

Moved upon by the Holy Ghost

Moved upon ​by Other

1. The reprove is love motivated. 1. The reprove is anger motivated.
2. The reproof is necessary. 2. The reproof may be unnecessary.
3. Showing love after the reproof is natural and easy. 3. Attempts at showing love after the reproof are difficult and labored.
4. Teaching moments occur during the expression of love. 4. Bitterness often prevents teaching during the expressing of love.
5. The reproof is person centered (“save soul”) 5. The reproof is reprove centered (“save face”).
6. The bond of love is strengthened between individuals. 6. The bond of love is weakened between individuals.

An increase of love

We should follow our reproof with an increase of love. This love should not be feigned. It should come promptly and  not after hours or days of the ‘cold shoulder’. This reassurance should be repeated often.

The phrase ‘increase of love’ implies that there was a certain quantity of love there in the first place. President Henry B Eyring said:

‘Before they receive your correction, they must have felt of your love early and steadily. They must have felt your genuine praise before they will accept your correction.’

The Book of Mormon tells us how we can get that love:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, 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. Amen. (Moroni 7:48)


I have found the following 4-step model a useful mental framework that can be used in lots of situations to correct ‘with sharpness’

1. I like

2. I don’t like

3. What I want

4. If/then (Consequence – can be positive or negative)

Here is an  example that my Pearl Among Women used recently when training FSY Assistant Coordinators:

1. I like the fact that you want your youth to have an exciting time

2. What I don’t like is that you tried to achieve that by letting of fireworks in the  halls of residence

3. What I want you to do is get your youth back into their rooms with lights out as soon as possible

4. If you do this, I will help you clean up the mess.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s