Sunday, June 9, 2013

Elder Maxwell on D&C 121:43

Elder Maxwell had a significant amount to say about reproof. I will not cover everything here, but some of his interpretation of D&C 121:43 deserves examination. The basic scripture is:
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; (Doctrine and Covenants 121:43)
In 1987, Elder Maxwell observed the following of the passage:
There are, for instance, a number of words in the scriptures that we assume we know the meaning of, but in our casualness we fail to search them. One such word occurs in the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. It declares that true leadership requires "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." (D&C 121:43. Italics added.) Most of us casually assume the word betimes means "from time to time," or occasionally. Betimes actually means "early on."

If we both identify a need early and are moved upon by the Holy Ghost to act before pride has hardened our attitudes, we have a greater likelihood of success. Our effectiveness in working with others depends not only upon our meekness but also upon theirs, and mutual meekness is more apt to be present "early on" rather than later. (Meek and Lowly, [1987], 40.)
His observation about betimes meaning early would be an observation he would make on multiple occasions.

Elder Maxwell does not deal much with the meaning of sharpness. In Joseph Smith's day sharp could mean:
With keen perception; exactly; minutely
So reproving with sharpness meant reproving with exactness and keen perception, not necessarily severely. Still he was aware of the general need. He wrote in 1967:
One of our needs in Church leadership is to legitimatize the necessity of giving specific reproof and commendation. (A More Excellent Way [1967], 90.)
He elaborated on the need for specific reproof a few pages later:
If we seek to administer reproof properly, we must also be willing to listen and to respond after we have issued our reproof. The receiver will often need some time to test the accuracy of our reproof and the implications of that reproof. He needs to reassure himself that we care for him, that he is still safely within our circle of concern. Thus even when we give deserved specific criticism in the spirit of love we must be willing to take added time, if necessary, to do some "maintenance" work, another reason why timing and setting are so crucial at times in the administration of reproof.  (A More Excellent Way [1967], 94.)
He illustrated the concept with examples:
Joseph Smith knew what it was to be corrected by the Lord (see D&C 10:1-3). So did Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 9:7). Their reproofs were not vague but very specific: the Prophet Joseph Smith's for not following original instructions concerning the Book of Mormon manuscript, and Oliver Cowdery's for not continuing as he had commenced and for thinking he merely needed to ask for revelations without making intellectual effort. (Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], 113.)

One of Elder Maxwell's concerns was the second part of the verse:
In the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants we are all given clear instructions in this regard. When we are reproving betimes with sharpness, clearly he who is the reproof-giver has the responsibility to demonstrate an increase in the love shown for him who has been reproved. So many times as leaders we give out criticism without providing even the basic reassurances, to say nothing of the need to give added assurances. Those we seek to lead will venture more in testing and developing their strengths and skills, if the climate we provide is one in which our love and trust is clear, and the risks of their losing our love are low. (A More Excellent Way [1967], 40.)
Elder Maxwell also took note of the motivation for the reproof:
But sharp reproof should come as a matter of inspiration, not to meet an ego need which requires putting someone else in his place! (A Time to Choose [1972], 78.)

So, for Elder Maxwell, D&C 121:43 means that reproof should be early, specific, inspired, and accompanied by credible reassurances.