On February 27, 1833, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord concerning priesthood holders’ use of tobacco in their meetings. In response, the Lord gave the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 89, known as the Word of Wisdom. In it, the Lord warned against the use of harmful substances and encouraged the consumption of wholesome foods. The Lord also promised that those who follow the Word of Wisdom will be blessed both physically and spiritually.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord introduces the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom
Write The Word of Wisdom at the top of the board, and ask the following questions:
Have you ever had to explain to someone why you do not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee or use tobacco? What did you say? How did the person respond? (If you prefer, you could write these questions on the board before class. At the beginning of class, you could divide students into pairs and invite them to answer these questions together. Then ask them to report some of their experiences to the entire class.)
Invite a student to read aloud the section introduction for Doctrine and Covenants 89. Ask the class to identify the circumstances that led to Joseph Smith receiving this revelation. Invite them to report what they found.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for words or phrases that describe the Lord’s purposes for giving this revelation.
According to verses 2–3, why was this revelation given? (You may need to explain that the phrase “temporal salvation” relates to our physical well-being and its influence on the well-being of our spirits.)
Point out that the Lord did not initially give the Word of Wisdom to the Saints as a commandment (see D&C 89:2). President Joseph F. Smith explained:
“If [the Word of Wisdom] had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 14).
Explain that because of this we should be careful not to judge some of the early Church leaders and members who, even after the Word of Wisdom was revealed, used substances that are prohibited today. Throughout the early history of the Church, leaders invited the Saints to more fully live the Word of Wisdom. In the fall general conference of 1851, Brigham Young proposed that all Saints formally covenant to abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, and whiskey. On October 13, 1882, the Lord revealed to President John Taylor that the Word of Wisdom was to be considered a commandment. In 1919 the First Presidency, under President Heber J. Grant, made the observance of the Word of Wisdom a requirement for receiving a temple recommend. The Word of Wisdom continues to be an important commandment today, and obeying it is a prerequisite for baptism, temple attendance, missionary service, and other worthy service in the Church.
On the board, just below The Word of Wisdom, write the phrase A Principle with Promise from verse 3, as shown below. You might also want to suggest that students mark this phrase in their scriptures. This phrase will serve as an outline for the rest of the lesson.
A Principle with Promise
The Lord warns the Saints not to use alcohol, tobacco, tea, or coffee
Show students a fishing pole and some flies or lures, or draw a picture of them on the board.
In what ways does a fisherman deceive a fish into biting a hook?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:4 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for who the Lord warned would attempt to deceive the Saints in the last days.
What did the Lord warn the Saints about in this verse?
Write the following principle on the board under the word Principle: Because of evil designs in the last days, the Lord warns us not to use harmful substances. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:5–9 silently and look for what substances the Lord warned the Saints not to take into their bodies. You might want to suggest that students mark what they find.
What substances did the Lord warn the Saints not to take into their bodies? (You may need to explain that Church leaders have stated that the term “hot drinks” refers to tea and coffee.) In what ways are these substances harmful?
Point out that alcohol and tobacco have proper as well as improper uses (see D&C 89:7–8). Today there are other substances that can be misused and consequently become harmful and addictive. Church leaders have warned against the use of any drink, drug, chemical, or dangerous practice that produces a “high” or other artificial effect that can harm our bodies or minds. Some of these include marijuana, hard drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medications that are abused, and household chemicals. (See For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 26.)
Why might some people try to persuade you to partake of substances the Lord has forbidden? (Some people feel it is popular to partake of these substances. Others seek to profit by selling addictive substances to others.)
In what ways is addiction like the hook that a fisherman uses to catch fish? In what ways is addiction damaging to our eternal progression?
Invite a few students to share how the warning to abstain from addictive and harmful substances has blessed their lives or the lives of their friends or family members. You may want to share your own experiences. Invite students to make a decision to never partake of substances that are contrary to the Word of Wisdom.
God encourages the use of herbs, fruits, meat, and grains
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:10–17 silently and look for what the Lord encourages us to eat. You might want to suggest that they mark what they find.
What foods does the Lord suggest we eat as part of the Word of Wisdom?
According to verse 11, what type of attitude should we have as we partake of these healthful foods? (We should partake of these foods with prudence and thanksgiving. You may need to clarify that “with prudence” means wisely and carefully. An overabundance or imbalanced diet even of good food can be unhealthy.)
Based on what we learn in these verses, what principle about healthful foods can we add to the board? (After students respond, write the following on the board under the principle about harmful substances: We are to use herbs, fruits, meats, and grains wisely and thankfully.)
Explain that one example of the prudent use of food can be found in the instruction the Lord gave concerning meat in verses 12–13. The word sparingly suggests that meat is to be used in a moderate way.
The Lord promises health, wisdom, and protection to those who obey the Word of Wisdom
Write the following on the board under the word Promise: If we follow the Word of Wisdom and the Lord’s other commandments, the Lord will bless us with …
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:18–19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify blessings that could complete the sentence on the board.
What blessings does the Lord promise to those who keep the Word of Wisdom? (Write students’ answers on the board to complete the sentence.)
You may want to explain that the Lord’s promise of health in verse 18 does not mean that the Word of Wisdom is a cure for chronic or debilitating illnesses. Instead, it helps people have the best health and strength of which their bodies are capable.
How can observing the Word of Wisdom help us obtain wisdom and knowledge?
Help students understand that obeying the Word of Wisdom allows us to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who reveals wisdom and knowledge to the faithful. As part of this discussion, you may want to invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“I have come to know … that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation. …
“If someone ‘under the influence’ 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” (“Prayers and Answers,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 20).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 89:20–21 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for additional blessings that come from following the Word of Wisdom.
What additional blessings does the Lord promise to those who follow the Word of Wisdom?
To help students understand the phrase “the destroying angel shall pass by them,” refer them to Doctrine and Covenants 89:21, footnote a. Explain that this promise of divine protection can refer to physical as well as spiritual safety. Complete the sentence on the board so that it reflects the following principle: If we follow the Word of Wisdom and the Lord’s other commandments, the Lord will bless us with health, wisdom, strength, and protection.
When have you seen the promise in verses 18–21 fulfilled in your life or the life of someone you know?
Ask students to share (either with the class or with a partner) what they learned or felt about the Word of Wisdom as they studied Doctrine and Covenants 89 today. Invite them to ponder the principles and the promises written on the board and to set a goal to live the Word of Wisdom more faithfully. Testify of the blessings that will come to them as they live this law.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 89. Historical background
In the winter of 1833, about 20 priesthood holders met in the upper room of Newel K. Whitney’s store in Kirtland, Ohio, to attend the School of the Prophets. As was common in those days, many of these men smoked and chewed tobacco during the meetings. Brigham Young recalled that “often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 263). These circumstances and the complaints of Emma Smith, who had to clean tobacco spit from the floor, prompted Joseph Smith to question the use of such substances. Joseph Smith prayed for direction and received the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 89.
Doctrine and Covenants 89:3. “A principle with promise”
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared his personal feelings about and experience with the Word of Wisdom:
“Because of childhood polio, I was not able to participate in sports and was left with a feeling of inferiority when compared to my friends.
“My patriarchal blessing counseled: ‘Guard and protect [your body]—take nothing into it that shall harm the organs thereof because it is sacred. It is the instrument of your mind and the foundation of your character’ (patriarchal blessing of Boyd K. Packer, 15 Jan. 1944, 1).
“I found in the Word of Wisdom a principle with a promise. The principle: Care for your body; avoid habit-forming stimulants, tea, coffee, tobacco, liquor, and drugs (see D&C 89:3–9). Such addictive things do little more than relieve a craving which they caused in the first place.
“Even the severe tests of health or a handicapped or disabled body can refine a soul for the glorious day of restoration and healing which surely will come.
“Your body really is the instrument of your mind and the foundation of your character” (“Ye Are the Temple of God,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 72).
Doctrine and Covenants 89:4. Evil designs and conspiring men
Evil and conspiring men seek to profit by selling addictive substances to others. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“The Lord foresaw the situation of today when motives for money would cause men to conspire to entice others to take noxious substances into their bodies. Advertisements which promote beer, wine, liquors, coffee, tobacco, and other harmful substances are examples of what the Lord foresaw. But the most pernicious example of an evil conspiracy in our time is those who induce young people into the use of drugs.
“My young brothers and sisters, in all love, we give you warning that Satan and his emissaries will strive to entice you to use harmful substances, because they well know if you partake, your spiritual powers will be inhibited and you will be in their evil power. Stay away from those places or people which would influence you to break the commandments of God. Keep the commandments of God and you will have the wisdom to know and discern that which is evil” (“A Principle with a Promise,” Ensign, May 1983, 54–55).
Doctrine and Covenants 89:5–9. What if something is not specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom?
Doctrine and Covenants 89 does not mention every drink, food, or substance that is forbidden. Sometimes questions arise about items not mentioned in the revelation or why tea and coffee are prohibited even though they are not mentioned. The following statement helps explain this:
“There has been no official interpretation of [the] Word of Wisdom except that which was given by the Brethren in the very early days of the Church when it was declared that ‘hot drinks’ meant tea and coffee.
“With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided” (Priesthood Bulletin, Feb. 1972 [volume 8, number 1], 3–4; see also “Staying Healthy: Welfare Services Suggests How,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 15–16).
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the need for us to live by the principles in the Word of Wisdom and trust the promises:
“Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it. It has not been spelled out in more detail. Rather, we teach the principle together with the promised blessings. There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation.
“Everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance—certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, ‘is a slothful and not a wise servant’ (D&C 58:26).
“In some cultures, native drinks are claimed to be harmless because they are not specifically mentioned in the revelation. Yet they draw members, particularly men, away from their families to parties which certainly offend the principle. Promises made in the revelation will be denied to the careless or the reckless.
“Obedience to counsel will keep you on the safe side of life” (“The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996, 17–18).
Doctrine and Covenants 89:21. “The destroying angel shall pass by them”
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the spiritual symbolism of the destroying angel passing by those who follow the Word of Wisdom:
“There is special significance in the last verse of section 89, which states, ‘The destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them’ (v. 21). This reference to the Passover emphasizes the precedence of spiritual faith. When Abraham indicated his willingness to offer Isaac in sacrifice, there was no suggestion that obedience would necessarily bring physical benefit. When Joshua led the Israelites across the River Jordan swollen at flood time, confirmation of physical reward was not a prerequisite for faithful followers. We obey the Word of Wisdom because it represents the will of the Lord for our spiritual preparation to be his worthy sons and daughters. Achieving spiritual supremacy over the appetites of the flesh is part of our testing process” (“Twenty Questions” [address to CES religious educators, Sept. 13, 1985], LDS.org).
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the spiritual significance of the promise that the “destroying angel shall pass by”:
“It is not from mortal death that we shall be spared in such a passover if we walk in obedience to these commandments, for each of us in time shall die. But there is spiritual death which you need not suffer. If you are obedient, that spiritual death will pass over you, for ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,’ the revelation teaches (1 Cor. 5:7)” (“The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996, 19).
Supplemental Teaching Idea
Doctrine and Covenants 89:4–9. Video presentation—“You Will Be Freed”
In place of the readiness activity at the beginning of the lesson, you may want to show the video “You Will Be Freed,” which is available on LDS.org. Before you show the video, ask students to watch for how the fisherman seeks to deceive the fish into biting his hook.
Pause the video after Elder Ballard says, “These artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.” Continue with the lesson, and then show the rest of the video after the class has finished discussing Doctrine and Covenants 89:4–9.