Chapter 19, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith
I gave the lesson today. I have included it below. I have made some modifications to it to improve on where I failed in delivery or where I ran out of time to include all of the material I had prepared.
How many verses in the Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89) talk about alcohol, tobacco, and coffee? There are five out of twenty-one verses and yet this is where we tend to focus all of our time. When we talk about the Lord’s law of health that is what we mention. When the media reports on our health practices that is what they focus on, with an occasional mention that we don’t drink caffeine, which is not specifically in the Word of Wisdom, even though it is a drug that I believe we are abusing when using it for recreation.
Potentially, the reason we spend all the time there is because those substances are easily quantified. Alcohol - NO. Tobacco - NO. Coffee - NO. To make sense of the rest of the chapter we have to use our brains, the spirit, and more of our agency to get the benefits.
“I sometimes wonder if Latter-day Saints realize that [the Word of Wisdom] has been given to us for our exaltation; not only for our temporal blessing, but to prepare us for spiritual life. … “( In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, 19)
“… I firmly believe that by reason of neglect of this simple requirement, faith has diminished in the hearts of some of our people—that, by a more general observance of the Word of Wisdom, faith will be increased among the Latter-day Saints, and greater knowledge will flow to us as a result; for by obedience to it, there will come a disposition to obey other laws of our Father, and compliance with each insures a blessing.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1908, 83–84)
He mentions developing a disposition to obey. What does that mean?
I believe this life is to learn to mold our character, making us do what is right out of reflex and not by having to think about it at every decision. I think this is a disposition to obey.
Doctrine and Covenants 89:4
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
Do we have men that conspire to make a profit on selling us stuff they know is bad for us? Do those men hide the dangers under artificial flavors and additives to make us crave their products more? “Once you pop, you can’t stop.”
I believe these conspiring men are more than just the obvious drug dealers of alcohol and tobacco. Keep in mind that some of the same men that own alcohol and tobacco companies also own food companies that supply a lot of what we eat.
Does God spell it out exactly for us in the Word of Wisdom or does he teach us a general principle and expect us to apply it more specifically to our lives and add our own guidelines?
Doctrine and Covenants 58:26
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
When I was on my mission we had the white handbook. These were rules over and above the commandments. The rules were described to me as the fence that helps keep us off the commandment wall. We never had to worry about trying to climb the commandment wall if we stayed behind the fence of the missionary rules.
Just like the missionary rules, we should set personal standards for ourselves that go beyond the standard the commandments set for us. In the case of the Word of Wisdom, we should read it and find out what it is saying beyond the high level of don’t drink and don’t smoke.
I hear lots of debates about caffeine or no caffeine. Can we drink herbal tea? Can we drink soda pop? Hot chocolate is a hot drink, isn’t it?
Elder Oaks said, “As a general authority, it is my responsibility to teach general principles.”
I think the Word of Wisdom also teaches us general, baseline principles and we need to figure out for ourselves the more specific principles that build on the general principles to make us strong and not just baseline. While doing this we should realize that some have only understood the baseline and are not necessarily accountable for what you found in your search.
We have been given general principles. We have also been given the Holy Ghost. Once we put our personal agenda aside and what we want, then the Holy Ghost can tell us what our standards should be. So long as we keep putting our lusts before the will of the Lord, the Holy Ghost is not going to be able to penetrate our heart to show us what is true.
Doctrine and Covenants 89:1-3
1 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—
2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—
3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.
“...adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints,” What does that mean? To me it feels like the Word of Wisdom was given to be the minimum acceptable performance and not the end goal.
“I look upon the Word of Wisdom as kind advice of our Father in heaven, who desires to see His children become more like Him. … I take it as the fatherly counsel of one who, knowing what I needed, said to me: “My son, these things are not good for you, and if you will avoid them I will give you the companionship of my Holy Spirit and joy while you live in the world and in the end eternal life.” How foolish I would be then to partake of these forbidden things, having the assurance that it is the counsel of the Lord I should abstain therefrom. I would feel under condemnation if I should partake of them, when He who knows better than anybody else says that they are harmful, and has warned me against them. …
“… He thought it of enough importance to give it unto us, and to warn us, and if He who knows all things thought it necessary to give advice and counsel upon these temporal matters, how carefully we, who know not what the morrow has in store for us, should observe that divine counsel. I feel that the Latter-day Saints have in the Word of Wisdom a law that will exalt them and lift them above those who fail to keep it.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, 19–21)
“Do you believe that the Lord gave to us the Word of Wisdom? Do you really think that he knows what is good for us? Do you think it would please him if we would observe that law? He says it would. Do you think he meant it?: (In Conference Report, Oct. 1935, 121)