Sunday School lessons for Gospel Doctrine Class

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lesson 22 The Word of Wisdom

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This lesson is meant for us to evaluate whether we are treating our bodies the best we can. 

Like many revelations the Word of Wisdom came in response to a problem. Sometimes I hear people  say the word of wisdom was something made up by Joseph Smith because of the complaints of Emma Smith, his Wife, due to tobacco spitting on floors she had to clean.  Others say they don't understand it, and still others pick and choose what to obey and what not to obey.  The Word of Wisdom is a simple, straightforward law, and it is important to remember the consequences of not obeying it, but its also important to know of the physical and spiritual blessings we receive from it.  In order to better understand these elements lets take a look at the history of the revelation to bring a more full understanding of the counsel and commandment .

The Prophet Joseph Smith began the School of Prophets in Kirtland Ohio, in January 1833.  This was in response to the command of the Lord so that those being called to preach and cry repentance unto the people, would themselves be prepared to do so.  D&C 88

The School of the Prophets, was held on the second floor of the Newel K. Whitney mercantile store.   The revealed order of the School was designed in part to help the priesthood barers of the church rise above the shortcomings of their culture. Ritual practices of the meetings emphasised the need to become clean and unified.  Before each school day, the men washed themselves and put on clean linen.  After each elder washed his own face, hands, and feet, Joseph Smith then washed the feet of each, following the example set by Jesus.  As well, participants in the School of the Prophets also partook of the sacrament together.

In reading the full history of the School of the Prophets one can see that this was not only meant as a place of learning but also a place of great solemn assembly with spiritual Holiness; much like attending the temple today.  However, though the goal was to become clean and pure inviting the spirit in; it seemed increasingly hard to accomplish.  Brigham Young recounted:

 " The room was very small, and about 25 elders packed the space. The first thing they did, after sitting down, was “light a pipe and begin to talk about the great things of the kingdom and puff away,  The clouds of smoke were so thick the men could hardly even see Joseph through the haze. Once the pipes were smoked out, they would then “put in a chew on one side and perhaps on both sides and then it was all over the floor.”

 Emma, Joseph's wife told him that  the state of the room concerned her. He and Emma lived in the Whitney store, and the task of scrubbing the spit from the tobacco chewing off the hardwood floors fell upon her. 

 Brigham Young recalled that Emma, despite trying, could not make the floors clean.  The stains were impossible to remove from the hard wood floors and the situation seemed less than ideal for those who were called of God, as these elders were; especially when we remember that the room with the filthy floor was Joseph’s “translation room,” the same place where he received revelations in the name of God.  In this dingy setting, Joseph Smith attempted to teach the men how they and their converts could become holy, “without spot,” and worthy of the presence of God."  Maybe Emma did complain of being asked to perform this thankless task, but after learning how the men congregated with their pipes and chaw, for such a solemn assembly, it rings true that there was also a more practical consideration.  Thus Joseph began inquiring of the Lord about what could be done, and on February 27, 1833 he received the revelation which became Doctrine and Covenants 89.  the Word of Wisdom.  

It should be noted also that during this same time period, there was a massive transformation within western culture. In the 1700's personal cleanliness and hygiene were not widely practiced. Infrequent bathing in rivers and streams and occasional bath houses was the norm.  But by the 1900's regular bathing with soap had become pretty much routine.  As well, Tobacco spitting that had previously been a normal occurance shifted from being publicly acceptable to being seen as a filthy habit.   In the middle of this cultural shift, in the 1800's, people started to concern themselves more with their own cleanliness and bodily health, the Word of Wisdom arrived at this time to light the way.

However, Tobacco and tobacco spitting were not the only problems.  Drinking, Like tobacco had gotten out of hand and abuse of these substances became widespread.  At  this time in our country Americans, like Europeans, consumed large amounts of alcohol.  The Puritans called alcohol the “Good Creature of God,” a blessing from heaven and was consumed at nearly every meal. They did so in part due to not having purified drinking water, but it seemed that it in time after water was more readily available, the drinking continued as a custom and became more widely used.  During the American Reveloutin the use of spirits sky rocketed from from two and a half gallons a person in 1790 to seven gallons a person annually in 1830, the highest amount of any time in American history including today's figures.

This massive amount of alcohol use raised much concern in religous communities; and by 1784, both Quakers and Methodists were advising their members to abstain including the manufacturing and sale of alcohol.  A temperance movement, organized in Boston in 1826, was developed to help set limits and control the use of alcohol which had now become viewed as a dangerous substance rather than a gift from God. 

Members of the  temperance organization were encouraged to sign a pledge not just to moderate their alcohol but to abstain.   A capital “T” was written next to the names of those who signed the pledge to abstain, and from this the word “teetotaler” was derived.

Kirtland in 1833 had its own temperance society and because alcohol reform was so often discussed and debated, the Saints needed a way of deciding which opinions were right.  The Word of Wisdom, lighting the way, came down against alcoholic beverages as well as tobacco and hot drinks. 

The saints required, however, time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in tradition and culture, especially when alcoholic beverages were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term “strong drink” was known to include distilled spirits such as whiskey, which after the Word of Wisdom Latter-day Saints shunned.  But they took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and “pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.”

"For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early 20th century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a stronger standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient.  In 1921, the Lord inspired President Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco.." - (church History "Word of Wisdom"

Now, lets talk about the term "Hot drinks."  The temperance organizations, in order in part to be successful decided to come up with a substitute for alcohol.  In the 18th century coffee was considered a luxury item and people drank tea.  But after the Revolution, tea drinking came to be seen as unpatriotic, so this opened the door for a replacement, which was coffee; and in 1830, reformers persuaded the U.S. Congress to remove the import duty tax on coffee.  One pound of coffee fell to 10 cents a pound, making a cup of coffee the same price as a cup of whiskey.  Whiskey drinking then declined and by 1833 coffee was the main daily consumption for nearly all familes rich or poor including the medical community. There were a few radical reformers though, that like the word of wisdom, preached against the use of any substitute stimulant including coffee or tea, but for the most part, coffee was the new whiskey. 

Now, some may wonder Did Joseph Smith simply take the ideas already existing such as the temperance organizations and put them forward as revelation?  No he did not and here is the difference.  Temperance organizations operated from a point of fear by linking alcohol consumption with  horrific diseases or social ills, using fear to control the choices of people.  The Word of Wisdom rather than using fear, asks for confidence and trust.  The revelation invites hearers to trust in a God who has the power to deliver great rewards, spiritual and physical, in return for obedience to divine command. Those who adhere to the Word of Wisdom, “recieeve health in their navel and marrow to their bones & shall find wisdom & great treasures of wisdom & knowledge even hidden treasures.”  This links body to spirit elevating the care of the body to a spiritual level. 

In 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17 its says: "know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."  1 Corinthians 3: 16-17

In our previous lesson, "The Plan of Salvation" we learned that our bodies were given to us as a divine part of Father's plan for eternal progression.  We have been given stewardship to care for them, therefore when studying or questioning the Word of Wisdom  one can look at the light and knowledge God was pouring down from heaven, upon all people during this time period to lead his children to better live and care for the body given them.

Just like the Lord had prepared the ground for the restoration , He also prepared the ground for change in American culture and habits.  Temperance organizations, made people less dependent on addictive substances, prompting humility and righteous action, the movement surely was inspired by God.  We as Latter-day Saints can gratefully contemplate how God’s Spirit touched so many, so widely, and with such force; knowing that The word of Wisdom came from God to Joseph Smith to light the way continuing the progress. 

Reports from others who were present at the School on Feb 27 1833 said that Joseph received the revelation on that date in the presence of two or three others in an adjoining room where the Prophet received revelations.  "Soon after receiving the Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith appeared before the elders of the School of the Prophets and read the revelation to them. The brethren did not have to be told what the words meant. They “immediately threw their tobacco pipes into the fire,” Since that time, the inspiration in the Word of Wisdom has been proven many times over in the lives of the Saints.  In some ways, the American health movement with temperance organizations has faded from the view of society.  The Word of Wisdom however, remains to light our way. 

In turning to the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89:4 what does this teach about the Lord's reason for giving the Word of Wisdom?  D&C 89:4 

His reason: " because of the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days."

What does that mean?

President Joseph Fielding Smith tells us:  "We, today, have before us abundant evidence of the evils and designs of wicked men. It is seen in the advertising of tobacco, tea, coffee, liquors and beers and wines. It is also seen in the advertising of prepared foods. So bad did this condition become some decades ago that the National Government had to take the matter in hand and Congress passed laws to control the evils which had arisen." - (Church History & Modern Revelation, 1:384)

The Lord knew in 1833 that these evils would arise and that the use of these substances would not only affect the physical health of the Saints, but also their spirituality, for them then and for us in our day as well so he provided the Word of Wisdom to guide and counsel us.  

How is the Word of Wisdom a manifestation of God's love for us? 

The Lord revealed this revelation long before the accurate documentation of the harmful nature of these substances.  This revelation anticipated the current epidemic of substance abuse and forewarns and protects us against the specific problems of our time.  God loves his children, he wants them to live, to be happy and healthy. 

What does this revealed principle teach us?

In our study of the Word of Wisdom its important to remember that the Lord has not has not specified everything that we should and should not partake of.  President Joseph Fielding Smith teaches: 

"The Word of Wisdom is a basic law. It points the way and gives us ample instruction in regard to both food and drink. … If we sincerely follow what is written with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, … we will know what is good and what is bad for the body” (“Your Question: The Word of Wisdom,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1956, 78–79).

So what's not good for the body? 

1.  Wine or strong drink.  D&C 89: 5-7

"That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.  And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies."

The First Presidency declared: “Drunken with strong drink, men 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” ( Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 8).

2.  Tobacco  D&C 89:8

"And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill"

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 approximately 3 million babies each year. These babies have lower birth weight and increased risk for neurological and intellectual delays and for premature death. Other innocent victims include nonsmokers who regularly inhale secondhand 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 secondhand smoke. Smokeless tobacco is just as addictive as cigarettes, and users of smokeless tobacco have cancer rates up to fifty times higher than those who do not use tobacco. (See James O. Mason, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 59–61.)

3.  Hot Drinks defined as Coffee and Tea  D&C 89

"And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly"

Remember here that temperance organizations used coffee as a substitute to alcohol, the Word of Wisdom does not use substitutions but rather asks for complete compliance.  The substitutes offered during that time such as coffee and tea are also habit forming, so using these substances could not be in harmony with the principle.  Likewise we are instructed today to refrain from habit forming substances, and use things in moderation. 

4.  In addition to these we include the use of any substance that contains illegal drugs, Misuse of prescription drugs, and any habit forming substance except under the care of a physician. 

How can seemingly small violations of the Word of Wisdom be damaging? 

My answer to only takes a little.  I am a previous smoker.  When asked by physicians if I smoked I would say I'm just a social smoker, only when I'm out with friends and everyone else is doing it or when I'm stressed.  The Docs would tell me a smoker is a smoker, but I didn't listen until I was in the emergency room  and was told I was in the first stages of emphysema.  I was told then if I quit now it will stop, the damage already done won't heal, but it won't go further.  I thought this was insane, how could someone who smoked less that a pack of cigarettes a day have this trouble?  It only takes a little I was told.  I was a "social smoker" I worked night shift at the hospital, heavily drank Mountain Dew, and I used Sudafed twice daily for allergies.  I had my first cardiac episode at the age of 34.  I had to be treated in an ambulance and was given medication to stop my heart and restart it.  I thought I was going to die and I didn't want to die like that.  I had to take cardiac medication for several years before I was well; but it wasn't until I stopped all these substances that my body began to heal and I no longer needed medication.  Now I'm not advocating that Sudafed, Soda and working night shift are bad for you, but for me they were and had I followed the counsel the Lord had given more fully, as well as the physicians he provided for me I would not have suffered.  

How can we better follow the counsel in the Word of Wisdom?  How can we strengthen ourselves?

For ourselves I think we should remember that the Lord may reveal additional information or advice to us personally for our own benefit, as he did for me in my experience.  But I also think its important to remember not to judge or preach. The principle of the Word of Wisdom allows the Saints to use their own best individual judgment in keeping the will of the Lord in the use of meat, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.   Focus on the principle, follow the guideline, if we are in harmony with the revealed revelation, we will be strengthened and led for all our needs. 

"there is no prohibition in Section 89 for instance as to the eating of white bread, using white flour, white sugar, cocoa, chocolate, eggs, milk, meat, or anything else except items classified under the headings, tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor. "- Bruce R McConkie (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary Stephen E Robinson)

The harmful substances that are prohibited in the Word of Wisdom cause addiction.  How can people overcome addiction to drugs and other harmful substances?  How can we strengthen ourselves against temptations to use harmful substances?

If we or ones we know have been beguiled and have partaken of or use substances that are addictive and/or harmful, it is important to not let Satan make us think we are unworthy to change.  Go to the Lord, and ask for help.  Pray to Him sincerely, talk to your Bishop, and if needed seek professional help.  At any point in our lives we choose to make a change for the better it is not too late, the Lord loves us all and waits upon us...we only need to ask.  When I quit smoking it was a very hard thing to do, I had to choose between my spirituality or the addiction.  As I sincerely asked the Lord for help with full purpose of heart and full intentions of completely giving up the habit, the addiction, I was able to quit, cold turkey, and to this day never have the desire to smoke again. Other addictions are harder to overcome, but there is help and it can be done. 

We've talked about what's bad for the body but what about the good.  The Word of Wisdom gives much counsel about the good things, so what does the Lord tell us is good for the body? 

1.  Wholesome herbs—nourishing vegetables and plants  D&C 89:10.

"And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—"

2.  Fruit  D&C 89:11

"Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving"    
What does it Mean to use food with prudence and thanksgiving? 

We should eat food that nourishes our bodies and use moderation in the kind and amount of food we eat.  D&C 89:11  D&C 59:18–20

3.  Flesh of beasts and fowls  D&C 89:12  

"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly"

What guidelines has the Lord given for using meat?

"For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance...And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need."  D&C 49:19, 21

   "While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man's food [Sec. 49:18-19], yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. The designated grains for the use of man, beasts and fowls, is scientifically correct." (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:148)

4.   Grains  D&C 89:14–17

"All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground— Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain."

5.   Retiring to bed early and rising early—getting adequate sleep  D&C 88:124

"Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated."

What counsel has the Lord given regarding sleep?  How does getting adequate sleep affect us physically and spiritually?

“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” (Brigham Young Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 187).

For me personally this is a struggle.  I have worked nights and evenings most of my life, I get home around 2am or so and then stay up to wind down and take care of things, meaning my bedtime to be about 3-4am.  11am is my rising early, I know this is not good, my new goal for the year is to try to spend less time winding down, go to bed and get up earlier to do the things I need to do.  I have found when I do this, I'm not so worn out when I wake up and my day goes much better.  I have also found that I am healthier or feel healthier when doing this.  

Promised Blessings Come With Obedience to the Word of Wisdom

What Promises have been given to those who obey the Word of Wisdom?

1.  Physical health  D&C 89:18

A 14-year selective study conducted by UCLA epidemiologist James E. Enstrom tracked the health of 10,000 moderately active LDS Church members in California and ended in 1987. Of these non-smoking, monogamous non-drinkers, Enstrom concluded from the study "that LDS Church members who follow religious mandates barring smoking and drinking have one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases—about half that of the general population. ... Moreover, the healthiest LDS Church members enjoy a life expectancy eight to eleven years longer than that of the general white population in the United States." -(Health Practices (Wikipedia Word of Wisdom Enstrom, 1989.)

2.  Wisdom & knowledge  D&C 89:19

"No man who breaks the Word of Wisdom can gain the same amount of knowledge and intelligence in this world as the man who obeys the law. I don't care who he is or where he comes from, his mind will not be as clear, and he cannot advance as far and as rapidly and retain his power as much as he would if he obeyed the Word of Wisdom." -(Heber J Grant CR, Apr 1925)

"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." ( Boyd K Packer Ensign, Nov 1979, p20)

3.  The ability to run and not be weary and walk and not faint.  D&C 89:20

"And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint."

We will have increased mental and emotional strength, self-mastery, and self-sufficiency.

4.  Protection from the destroying angel  D&C 89:21

"And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen"

Just before the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, the destroying angel passed over the Israelites’ firstborn sons because the people obeyed the prophet Moses and marked their doors with lamb’s blood.  As we walk in obedience to the commandments including the Word of Wisdom, the destroying angel will pass by us, meaning we will be saved from spiritual death and blessed with eternal life through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 24; or Ensign, May 1996, 19.)

"From this promise in the Word of Wisdom and other scriptures, it appears that there are destroying angels who have a work to do among the peoples of the earth in this last dispensation. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that because all flesh was corrupted before him, and the powers of darkness prevailed upon the earth, these angels were 'waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned.'  That was in 1831. In 1894, President Woodruff said: 'God has held the angels of destruction for many years lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now, those angels have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day they shall be poured out. Calamities and troubles are increasing in the earth, and there is a meaning to these things.' (President Marion G. Romney Improvement Era 17:1165.)

"Now . . . in view of this revealed knowledge and understanding which the Lord has given concerning what is transpiring about us, is it not a glorious thing to have the assurance that if we will clothe ourselves with bodies purified through observance of the Word of Wisdom, these destroying angels will pass us by, as they did the children of Israel, and not slay us? Well, this is one of the blessings to follow observance of the Word of Wisdom." (CR, October 1952, pp. 32-33.)

What about those who are sick or afflicted?

Those who obey the Word of Wisdom will generally live longer and have a better quality of life than if they did not obey it. However, some people have severe illnesses or disabilities despite obeying the Word of Wisdom.  These people can receive the spiritual blessings of obeying the Word of Wisdom even if their physical difficulties continue. Moreover, the Lord’s promises are for eternity, and those who do not receive all the promised blessings in this life will receive them hereafter.  

I feel impart that I am one of these people, I have severe food allergies that for many years have not allowed me to eat the way I would like.  I have a family history of Diabetes that has caused trouble with my system though I eat and exercise correctly, I suffer from Migraines and anxiety that cause me to use medication among other things that can be disabling.  But, the blessings I have received from making a choice to live as commanded in regards to the Word of Wisdom has made a total difference and turned my life around both spiritually, mentally and physically.  I am able to handle my circumstances better and care for myself in such a way that yes, I have issues,  but I am generally healthy and can rely on the Lord for the help I need.  The Word of Wisdom for me, saved my life.


The Lord has given us the Word of Wisdom because He loves us and is concerned for our physical and spiritual well-being. The Word of Wisdom is more than a code of physical health; it is also a key to great spiritual blessings.  This lesson is meant for us to evaluate whether we are treating our bodies the best we can.  As we follow the counsel in the Word of Wisdom the Lord will fulfill His promises to bless us physically and spiritually. 

Record your thoughts about the Word of Wisdom in your Journal be sure to remember the blessings and education it has brought to you.


Church History The Word of Wisdom  The Word of Widsom
Church History School of Endowment  School of Endowment 
Beardall Gospel Doctrine Beardall Gopspel Doctrine
Church History & Modern Revelation Vol 1 and 2
Improvement Era, Feb. 1956, Improvement Era 17  Improvement Era
Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 1925, 1952, 1996 Conference Reports
Ensign, Sept. 1986  I Have A Question James O Mason
Ensign, Nov 1979 Boyd K Packer
Ensign, May 1996 Ensign 1996
Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 187  Read this Free Here
Health Practices  Health Practices
Wikipedia Word of Wisdom Enstrom, 1989  Word of Wisdom
Personal Hygiene in America  Personal Hygiene In America
Temperance Reform in the Early 19th Century  Temperance Reform  Temperance Reform Part 2
Doctrine and Covenants Commentary Stephen E Robinson

The Fall of Adam and Eve

  Scriptures are hyperlinked to Scriptures at Resource quotes have been highlighted in blue and are noted at the end...