Lesson 128

Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46

“Lesson 128: Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)


Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46 is a portion of Joseph Smith’s inspired letter from Liberty Jail. In this portion of the letter, the Prophet teaches principles about the power and authority of the priesthood. He explains why many are called but few are chosen and how priesthood holders can draw upon the powers of heaven to serve others.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–40

Joseph Smith teaches that the rights of the priesthood are connected with the powers of heaven

Display a lamp that is not plugged in. Be sure the lamp switch is in the “off” position so the lamp will not turn on when it is plugged in. If you cannot bring a lamp, draw the accompanying diagram (without the words) on the board.

lamp diagram

Explain that in today’s lesson, the lamp represents a priesthood holder. Light from the lamp represents blessings people can receive from God through the service of a priesthood holder. If you have a lamp with you, label it Priesthood holder. If not, write this phrase in the appropriate place on the diagram.

As students begin their study of Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46 today, ask them to consider how a priesthood holder’s personal righteousness affects his ability to help other people receive the blessings of the priesthood. Point out that although these verses are directed to priesthood holders, they contain principles that apply to all Church members.

Remind students that Doctrine and Covenants 121 contains portions of an inspired letter that Joseph Smith dictated when he was in Liberty Jail. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:34 aloud. Ask the class to notice the question in this verse.

To help students ponder and discuss what it means for a priesthood holder to be “called” and “chosen,” invite a student to read aloud the following statement, which President James E. Faust of the First Presidency made to priesthood holders:

President James E. Faust

“We are called when hands are laid upon our heads and we are given the priesthood, but we are not chosen until we have demonstrated to God our righteousness, our faithfulness, and our commitment” (“Called and Chosen,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 55).

  • According to President Faust, what does it mean for a young man to be “called”?

Point out that being “called” is not the same as being “chosen.” To become one of God’s “chosen,” a priesthood holder must live in a way that enables him to draw on the powers of heaven to help others receive the blessings of the priesthood.

Explain that in Doctrine and Covenants 121:35–39, we learn why some priesthood holders are not chosen. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:35–36 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a lesson every priesthood holder should learn.

  • According to verse 36, what lesson should every priesthood holder learn?

To help students understand the lesson in verse 36, refer to the source of electricity in the classroom or in the diagram on the board.

  • What phrase in verse 36 might electricity represent? (“The powers of heaven.” Write Powers of heaven on the board next to the picture of the outlet, or place a label next to the actual power source.)

  • In verse 36, what do you think the phrase “the rights of the priesthood” refers to? (Students’ answers should express that a man receives the right to exercise the priesthood when priesthood authority is conferred upon him by the laying on of hands.)

Label the cord Priesthood authority. If you are displaying a lamp, invite a student to plug the cord into the power source.

  • Why didn’t the lamp turn on? (Because the switch is turned off.)

  • What phrase in verse 36 might the switch be compared to? (“The principles of righteousness.” Explain that this phrase refers to the responsibility of priesthood holders to live righteously.)

Label the switch Principles of righteousness. Invite a student to turn on the switch.

  • In this analogy, how is living righteously like turning on the switch?

Invite students to state in their own words a principle from verse 36. Summarize their answers by writing the following principle—or something like it—on the board: Priesthood holders can draw upon the powers of heaven only if they live righteously. You may want to suggest that students write this principle in their scriptures.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:37–38 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happens to a priesthood holder’s ability to draw on the powers of heaven if he does not live righteously.

  • What happens when a priesthood holder does not live righteously? (The powers of heaven withdraw, and his authority becomes useless. You may want to explain that the phrase “kick against the pricks” refers to an animal resisting a sharp stick used to guide it toward a desired destination. For us, this phrase refers to resisting direction from the Lord or His servants.)

To help students understand the principle on the board, invite a student to read the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

President Boyd K. Packer

Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants. It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness” (“The Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 9).

Write the following on the board:

Weakens the connection Strengthens the connection

Invite students to reread verses 35 and 37 silently, looking for unrighteous attitudes and actions that weaken a priesthood holder’s connection with the powers of heaven. You may want to suggest that they mark what they find. After sufficient time, ask them to report what they have found. Invite a student to act as scribe, writing the responses under “Weakens the connection.” After students’ responses are listed, read the following examples. For each example, ask students to identify attitudes or actions they have listed on the board.

  1. To fit in with some of his popular peers, a priesthood holder joins them in making fun of a classmate at school.

  2. A teachers quorum president loves sports, and he refuses to participate in the planning of any quorum activity that does not involve soccer or basketball. Whenever the quorum participates in an activity or gives service, he demands that the other young men do as he says because he is the quorum president.

  • What are some examples of people trying to cover their sins?

  • What are some examples of people setting their hearts on the things of the world and aspiring to the honors of men?

  • Why do you think these attitudes and actions prevent priesthood holders from drawing on the powers of heaven?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:39–40 aloud, and ask the class to look for a reason why some people exercise unrighteous dominion. Have them report what they find.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–46

Joseph Smith teaches how priesthood holders should conduct themselves

Explain that after teaching about attitudes and actions that weaken the connection between priesthood holders and the powers of heaven, Joseph Smith taught about attitudes and actions that strengthen that connection. Divide the class into pairs, and ask them to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–45 together. Ask them to look for attitudes and actions that help priesthood holders draw on the powers of heaven to help other people. (Before they read, you may want to point out that in verse 41, the word only means “except.”)

After sufficient time, ask students to report what they have found. Invite a student to act as scribe, writing responses under “Strengthens the connection.” As students list principles of righteousness, you may want to ask them to explain or give examples of each principle. If needed, ask the following questions:

  • What do you think it means to act with love unfeigned and without hypocrisy or guile? (Answers may include that it means to love people sincerely and genuinely and to have righteous motivations.) Why are these characteristics important for priesthood holders?

  • In verse 43, the word reproving refers to the act of telling someone that he or she is doing something wrong, usually in a gentle or kind manner. The word betimes means “early” or “in a timely manner.” The word sharpness could refer to the need to express ourselves clearly. Why do you think it is important for a priesthood leader to reprove clearly, at the right time, and according to the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Why do you think it is important to show increased love after reproving someone? When have you benefited from receiving such correction?

  • What do you think it means to let your bowels be full of charity toward all men? (See verse 45.) Why do you think it is important for priesthood holders to be gentle and kind in the way they interact with others?

  • What do you think it means to let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly? (See verse 45.) What are some things we can do to keep our thoughts virtuous?

  • Why do you think priesthood holders need to follow these principles of righteousness in order to draw on the powers of heaven?

Point out the word then in verse 45. Explain that this word points to the results of living according to the principles of righteousness found in verses 41–45. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the blessings that come to priesthood holders who draw on the powers of heaven through righteous living. (Before the student reads, you may want to explain that a scepter is a staff carried by a king or queen. It is a symbol of authority and power.)

  • What are some of the blessings of living by principles of righteousness?

  • Think of a priesthood holder you know who lives in a way that helps him draw on the powers of heaven. How have you been blessed through his service?

Share your testimony about blessings you have received through priesthood authority and priesthood power. Invite students to share their testimonies as well. Invite them to choose one principle of righteousness mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–45 and to set a goal to live that principle better.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 121:36–37. The “rights of the priesthood” and the “powers of heaven”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the need for priesthood holders to live so that they possess both the authority and the power of the priesthood:

Elder David A. Bednar

“The power of the priesthood is God’s power operating through men and boys like us and requires personal righteousness, faithfulness, obedience, and diligence. A boy or a man may receive priesthood authority by the laying on of hands but will have no priesthood power if he is disobedient, unworthy, or unwilling to serve. …

“… Priesthood holders young and old need both authority and power—the necessary permission and the spiritual capacity to represent God in the work of salvation” (“The Powers of Heaven,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 49).

Doctrine and Covenants 121:34, 40. “Many are called, but few are chosen”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

Elder David A. Bednar

“To be or to become chosen is not an exclusive status conferred upon us. Rather, you and I ultimately determine if we are chosen. …

“I believe the implication of these verses [D&C 121:34–35] is quite straightforward. God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit ‘the chosen’ to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen” (“The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 101).

Doctrine and Covenants 121:43. “Reproving betimes with sharpness”

Elder H. Burke Peterson of the Seventy taught:

Elder H. Burke Peterson

“Perhaps we should consider what it means to reprove with sharpness. Reproving with sharpness means reproving with clarity, with loving firmness, with serious intent. It does not mean reproving with sarcasm, or with bitterness, or with clenched teeth and raised voice. One who reproves as the Lord has directed deals in principles, not personalities. He does not attack character or demean an individual.

“In almost every situation in which correction is required, private reproof is superior to public reproof. Unless the whole ward is in need of a reprimand, it is better for a bishop to speak to the individual rather than to use the collective approach. Similarly, a child or spouse has the right to be told privately of mistakes. Public correction is often cruel or, at the least, misguided” (“Unrighteous Dominion,” Ensign, July 1989, 10).