“A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion; to be sent greeting, not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom…” -Doctrines of the Saints 58:1-2
Section 58 of the Doctrines of the Saints is known as the Word of Wisdom and is an interesting doctrine of all Latter Day Saints and Mormons that accept some form of the Doctrine and Covenants share. While we all enjoy the blessing of the revelation, it seems that each sect interprets it very differently. What does the Fellowship do with it?
The Word of Wisdom is in the Doctrines of the Saints, thus it is included as doctrine for the Church of Christ. Unlike some other denominations, however, obedience to this revelation given to us by God “not by commandment or constraint” isn’t mandatory for the Saints of the Fellowship nor is it used to question one’s worthiness. Any questions asked of members or potential members are based on the baptismal questions.
The Do’s and Don’ts
The Word of Wisdom can be broken down into two lists: the do’s and the don’ts.
- drink wine for the sacrament
- use strong drinks to wash the body
- give tobacco to livestock
- use tobacco to heal bruises
- use all herbs for health and healing
- eat meat (sparingly)
- eat grains
- make drinks from grains
- give grains to livestock
- eat fruits and vegetables
- drink wine
- strong drinks
- use tobacco
- drink hot drinks
All things in Moderation
What should we do with this list? Reading the text it’s not always clear what is meant. For example, Hyrum Smith was asked to define “hot drinks,” and he is reported as stating this meant tea and coffee. But this was just his opinion without any context or revelation for the young Church.
We can’t cover here every different interpretation of every Latter Day Saint denomination over the years as they’ve grown and changed. And, if we did it would miss the point. There are a few ways of looking at the Word of Wisdom. Those that are strict in it will argue over the points; what they mean and how to live them. Those that are loose with them will nearly ignore God’s advice on our eating habits, cherry picking what they like while rejecting the rest. An over all view of the revelation gives us the best advice: all things in moderation. Don’t over do it.
Remember, the Word of Wisdom helps us gain “temporal salvation;” it’s not tied to our spiritual salvation. And, it is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all Saints.” Of course, for example, an alcoholic should avoid wine and strong drinks. This is their weakness. Thus it is clear that we are to study this revelation and interpret it personally, which is really the whole point.
As a young boy, I once asked my father about the Word of Wisdom, and he told me the following story. I do not know if it is true, but I believe it embodies the best example of how to use the Word of Wisdom in our lives.
One night a man had a dream, in the dream an angel of the Lord came to him and told him not to eat sugar, and not to give sugar to his family. The next Sunday he got up before the congregation and stated that the president of their church would be receiving a revelation, adding to the Word of Wisdom, forbidding sugar.
His congregational leader got up after the man stood up and asked him if he had spoken to their church president; he stated he had not. He told everyone that an angel had told him this. The leader stated that the man couldn’t speak for their church as he didn’t have the authority. The man grew angry.
From that time forward, he would share his revelation with anyone that would listen. Eventually he was no longer asked to preach, teachers wouldn’t call on him in classes. Feeling rejected, he left his church.
Then one day, years later, he came back. He stood up before the congregation and apologized. He learned that he and his family had hypoglycemia, which is hard to detect. Their personal Word of Wisdom had to include abstaining from sugar. The Lord warned them, and the family obeyed, but he took things a little too far by pushing the needs of his family on others.
Connecting with God
The Word of Wisdom isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s an opportunity. When it’s a list of things to do and not do, as we see above, it becomes too easy to point at the sins of others. This is in direct violation of Jesus’ teachings found in Matthew 7:1-5. The Word of Wisdom is for personal correction. It’s an opportunity to work with God directly; to gain personal revelation on it’s meaning for the individual, and for couples to work together with God to find its meaning for their families. This helps us grow in Grace, do God’s works, and deepen the relationship between ourselves and the Lord. This is the purpose of the Word of Wisdom for the Fellowship.
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” -Doctrine and Covenants 86:3c-d CoC, 89:18-20 LdS