The Word of Wisdom

President Gordon B. Hinckley once said “I recall a bishop’s telling me of a woman who came to get a [temple] recommend. When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee. She said, “Now, bishop, you’re not ging to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?” To which he replied, “Sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord””
What this bishop said was very true, we shouldn’t allow anything to stop us from going to the House of the Lord – we can’t even allow a cup of coffee because “…no unclean thing can dwell with God…” (1 Nephi 10:21) 

The ‘not allowing’ of drinking coffee relates to the Word of Wisdom, which can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why was it revealed? Part of the answer is linked to a question, which was often the case in the early days of the restoring of the Lord’s Church. It was revealed as a result of a question from Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma Smith. However, the counsel that our body is sacred and should be respected is not new. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Our spirits are the offspring of God (see Acts 17:28) and so, we need to keep the tabernacle in which they reside in pure.

Not only does the Word of Wisdom protect us, but it is further evidence that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God. When this revelation was received in 1833, the principles given about what not to take into our bodies were far advanced for their time – most of the items and substances prohibited  had not yet even been thought of as harmful, never mind proven as harmful. In fact, some doctors, when faced with a patient with a cough, would ‘prescribe’ them to smoke tobacco! Therefore, at the time, the Word of Wisdom would some counterproductive in protecting the body – although today’s scientific evidence proves the potential danger of these items.

Even D&C 89:4 is a prophecy that has been fulfilled. It says “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…” This revelation was given in part because people will be tempted. Some of the items listed will not have significant damage to the body if taken in the correct moderation. However, because of ‘conspiring minds’ wanting to sell their wares, they make their products seem desirable for consumption, making people tempted to partake more than they should.

I will not attempt to make an exhaustive list of items suggested for consumption and items prohibited here but those wanting to find out can look on, or in Doctrine and Covenants 89.

The First Presidency in October 1942 declared “Drunken with strong drink, man have lost their reason; their counsel has been destroyed; their judgment and vision are fled…Drink has brought more woe and misery, broken more hearts, wrecked more homes, committed more crimes, filled more coffins, than all the wars the world has suffered.”

James O. Mason in the September 1986 Ensign put these statements forward regarding another prohibited item in the Word of Wisdom:
“Each year tobacco use causes nearly 2.5 million premature deaths worldwide. Tobacco use also harms millions of innocent victims. For example, smoking by pregnant mothers passes on toxic chemicals that interfere with fetal development, afflicting apporximately 3 million babies each year. These babies have lower birth weight and increased risk for neurological and intellectual delays and for premature birth. Other innocent victims include non-smokers who regularly inhale second-hand smoke. These people have much higher rates of respiratory illness and are three times more likely to die of lung cancer than those who do not inhale second-hand smoke.”

We see the  damage that not following the guidelines of the Word of Wisdom has. These quotes mention only the fatalities and impact on families. Consider the economic effects too:
President Heber J. Grant outlined “Consider the amount of land, money, and other resources that are used to produce harmful substances, advertise them, purchase them, and treat the consequences of their use. For example, in 1985 the cost in America of health care and lost productivity related to the use of tobacco was approximately $65 billion. The costs of the production and use of alcohol are also very high.Consider the potential economic impact of using these resources for beneficial purposes rather than destructive ones.”

It could be argued that the revenue brought in from producing tobacco pays up for it (I haven’t done the research myself so I have no idea), however, the fact that it could be used for greater purposes is still extremely valid.

Of course, the Word of Wisdom is not just a list of don’ts. There are many things listed that are recommended for us to eat as well as this counsel found in D&C 88:124 which says “…retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” President Brigham Young commented “Instead of doing two days’ work in one day, wisdom would dictate to [the Saints] that if they desire long life and good health, they must, after sufficient exertion, allow the body to rest before it is entirely exhausted. When exhausted, some argue that they need stimulants…But instead of these kind of stimulants they should recruit by rest.” Very simple guidance but can be hard to do – but this wise counsel will help us lead a happier, healthier life.

Having said all this, do all people who live the Word of Wisdom live a perfectly healthy life? Of course, some who live by it’s principles do suffer from physical ailments produced from the prohibited substances (although it is arguably a much smaller proportion). Two points answer this issue. First – why raise the chances? Second – even if they struggle with a physical issue, they will still receive the spiritual blessings of living the Word of Wisdom. Elder Boyd K. Packer said “I have come to know…that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation…If someone ‘under the influence’ [of harmful substances] can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.” Keeping the Word of Wisdom can help us be more in tune with the Spirit – allowing greater ability to receive personal revelation. Not only that but it gives us greater self-mastery and emotional strength.

Just look at King Benjamin’s address to the Nephites in Mosiah 2:41 “…consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” Through the Word of Wisdom we are blessed spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally – what a great blessing to have this principle and be able to receive the promised blessings!


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