Chapter 36: The Word of Wisdom: A Law for the Physical and Spiritual Health of the Saints

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, (2011), 322–30


Observance of the Word of Wisdom will strengthen our bodies, ennoble our souls, and bring us nearer to God.

From the Life of Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith taught that the Word of Wisdom was more than a prohibition against tea, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol; it contained practical counsel for good health and spiritual growth, and those Saints who obeyed it would draw nearer to the Lord and become more like Him. To remind the Saints of the importance of the Word of Wisdom, he sometimes read Doctrine and Covenants 89 in its entirety in a meeting. “Now, it may seem altogether unnecessary and out of place, perhaps, to many, for me to occupy the time of this vast congregation in reading this revelation,” he once said, but read every word of it anyway to emphasize the great value of the message.1

He said: “I recollect a circumstance that occurred three years ago in a party that I was traveling with. There were one or two who persisted in having their tea and coffee at every place they stopped. I preached the Word of Wisdom right along; but they said, ‘What does it matter? Here is So-and-so, who drinks tea and coffee.’ … I said at one time, ‘Oh, yes, you say it is a good thing to drink a little tea or coffee, but the Lord says it is not. What shall I follow?’ The Lord says that if we will observe the Word of Wisdom we shall have access to great treasures of knowledge, and hidden treasures; we shall run and not be weary, we shall walk and not faint; and the destroying angel shall pass us by, as he did the children of Israel, and not slay us. … I will pray for you and earnestly beseech you, my brethren and sisters, … to cease practicing these forbidden things, and observe the laws of God.”2

Teachings of Joseph F. Smith

We are to observe the Word of Wisdom for our benefit and prosperity.

Daniel refusing the king's meat and wine

Daniel Refusing the King’s Meat and Wine, by Del Parson. Daniel and his friends refused to eat the Babylonian king’s food and drink his wine because they knew it would not be good for them. They grew healthy and strong and were blessed with wisdom because they chose to eat food that was better for them.

We see great reasons for the principles contained in this chapter of the book of Doctrine and Covenants [section 89] being taught to the world, and especially to the Latter-day Saints. It is nothing more nor less than that simple Word of Wisdom that was given in 1833, for the benefit, the help, and the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, that they might purify and prepare themselves to go nearer into the presence of the Lord, that by reason of keeping this law they might fit themselves to enjoy the blessings that He is more than willing to bestow upon them, if they are worthy. …

I simply want to say to you my brethren and sisters, that there is no other course that we can take in the world, in relation to our temporal welfare and health, better than that which the Lord God has pointed out to us. Why can we not realize this? Why will we not come to a perfect understanding of it? Why will we not deny ourselves that which our craven appetites desire? Why can we not observe more closely the will of the Lord as made known to us in this revelation? … If this commandment were observed by the whole people, the vast amount of money that now goes out to the world for strong drink and these other things forbidden in the word of wisdom, would be saved at home, and the health, prosperity and temporal salvation of the people would be correspondingly increased. No man can violate the laws of God with reference to health and temporal salvation, and enjoy those blessings in the same degree that he could do and would do if he would obey the commands of God. …

No member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can afford to do himself the dishonor or to bring upon himself the disgrace, of crossing the threshhold of a liquor saloon or a gambling hall. … No Latter-day Saint, no member of the Church can afford it, for it is humiliating to him, it is disgraceful in him to do it, and God will judge him according to his works. The man or woman who truly believes in the doctrines of the Church or professing to have membership in the Church, who believes and practices the principles contained in this “Word of Wisdom,” will never be numbered among those who will bring this disgrace upon them, upon their neighbors or upon the Church to which they belong; they will never do it.

… The Lord does not delight in intemperance, in drunkenness, nor can He have pleasure in the poverty, in the degradation and ruin that such practices bring upon their votaries and upon those who are dependent upon them, the ruin of manhood, the ruin of family organizations and the degradation of those that are engaged in it and that bring poverty, destruction, and death upon themselves and upon their families. Every member of the Church, male and female, ought to set his or her face as flint against intemperance and against anything that is in violation of the laws of God, that they might never be overcome or yield to the temptation of evil. We ought to have purer communities, communities that are not ridden by vice, by pernicious habits and practices. …

Perhaps those who are accustomed to these habits think this is a very trivial or very unimportant thing to talk about to a vast congregation like this, but I never see a boy or a man, young or old, addicted to this habit and practicing it openly but I am forced to the conclusion to the conviction in my mind that he is either ignorant of God’s will concerning man or he is defiant of God’s will and does not care anything about the word of the Lord, and that alone is sufficient to bring sorrow to the heart of any man who has any regard or respect for the word or will of the Lord and would like to see it obeyed. …

… We pray God to heal us when we are sick, and then we turn round from our prayers and partake of the very things that He has told us are not good for us! How inconsistent it is for men to ask God to bless them, when they themselves are taking a course to injure and to bring evil upon themselves. No wonder we don’t get our prayers answered more than we do, and no wonder our health is no better than it is, when we are addicted to practices that God has said are not good for us, and thereby entail evils upon our life and physical being; and then to turn to the Lord and ask Him to heal us from the consequence of our own folly, and pernicious practices; from the effects of the evil that we have brought upon ourselves and that we knew better than to do. How foolish it is!3

When I see a man professing to be a Latter-day Saint, or even professing to be a member of the Church, … befouling his breath with intoxicating drink, with the fumes of tobacco, or unnecessarily indulging in stimulants, it grieves my spirit, my soul goes out for him in pity and in sorrowful regret, and I wonder why it is that we, individually, cannot realize our own folly, our own degradation in yielding to these pernicious habits that are neither useful or ornamental, nor in the least degree beneficial, but indeed are harmful. Why cannot we rise to that degree of intelligence that would enable us to say to the tempter, “Get behind me,” and to turn our backs upon the practice of evil. How humiliating it must be to a thoughtful man to feel that he is a slave to his appetites, or to an over-weening and pernicious habit, desire, or passion.4

By putting the Word of Wisdom into practice, we will be able to appreciate it.

We should observe the Word of Wisdom that has been given to us. … The drunkard becomes a slave to his drink; others become slaves to the use of tea, coffee and tobacco, and therefore they consider them necessary to their happiness; but they are not really necessary to their happiness nor to their health. Indeed, they are injurious to health. … It is by putting the word of the Lord into practice that we will be able to appreciate it, not by simply looking upon it without doing it. When we do the will of the Lord, then shall we know of the doctrine, that it is of God; then shall we build upon the rock; then when the floods descend and the storms beat upon the house, it will not fall.5

In the mad rush of life for worldly honors and for the possession of the perishable things of this earth men do not stop before they get weary, and they do not rest before they become faint. They appear to think that what is necessary for them when they become weary and faint is to take stimulants to refresh themselves, that they may be able to run a little farther for a few moments. In this way the man of business braces himself up by taking strong drinks. The housewife and the mother who has the care of her family upon her hands, after she has toiled until she has become faint, feels that she must, in order to keep up her strength, take a cup of tea, and thus brace up her nerves and strengthen herself for a little while that she may be able to finish her day’s work. Now, if the pure intelligence of the Spirit of God were substituted for the stimulating influence of the tea and the liquor; if we could by some means get a sufficient portion of the Spirit of the Lord within us that would cause us to know just what to do when we felt weariness and faintness coming upon us, without resorting to the aid of stimulants and drugs that go far to injure our systems and make us slaves, to an acquired appetite, it would be a great deal better for us. …

I would rather feel tired and exhausted by labor, and let nature have a chance to restore itself, than I would attempt to doctor myself by the use of narcotics and drugs that would sap the foundation of my physical and spiritual health. But inasmuch as we do not observe the Word of Wisdom, how shall we have wisdom, knowledge and understanding by which we may be governed in our own conduct? The promise is that if we will observe this we shall have knowledge, and the destroyer shall pass us by, and we shall escape those evils that are coming upon the wicked.6

Abiding by the Word of Wisdom brings us nearer to becoming like the Lord.

I believe that we are coming nearer to the point where we shall be able to observe that great and glorious law of temperance which the Lord Almighty has given unto us, wherein He has said that strong drink is not good, that tobacco is not for the habitual use of man, not for the stomach. … We are coming to the conclusion that the Lord knew best, when He delivered to the Church, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that “Word of Wisdom,” contained in the book of revelations from the Lord. … The great majority of the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are coming nearer and nearer to a proper observance of the law which the Lord has given to us for our health, for the preservation of our lives; that we may be in harmony with His Spirit and His will, that we may be clean and undefiled, that we may be nearer like unto Him Who was without sin, Who was indeed pure and holy as God is pure and holy.7

The young man who would cope with the world, who would be full of vigor, and fresh for the battle of life, will find his strength in living according to the word of the Lord; for the promise is that all “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; 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.” [See D&C 89:18–21.]8

Are these glorious promises not sufficient to induce us to observe this Word of Wisdom? Is there not something here that is worthy our attention? Are not “great treasures” of knowledge, even “hidden treasures,” something to be desired? But when I see men and women addicting themselves to the use of tea and coffee, or strong drinks, or tobacco in any form, I say to myself, here are men and women who do not appreciate the promise God has made unto them. They trample it under their feet, and treat it as a thing of naught. They despise the word of God, and go contrary to it in their actions. Then when affliction overtakes them, they are almost ready to curse God, because he will not hear their prayers, and they are left to endure sickness and pain.9

Now, I do wish with all my heart—not because I say it, but because it is written in the word of the Lord—that you would give heed to this Word of Wisdom. It was given unto us … for our guidance, for our happiness and advancement in every principle that pertains to the kingdom of God, in time and throughout eternity, and I pray you to observe it. It will do you good; it will ennoble your souls; it will free your thoughts and your hearts from the spirit of destruction; it will make you feel like God, who sustains even the sparrow, that it does not fall to the ground without his notice; it will bring you nearer to the similitude of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who healed the sick, who made the lame to leap for joy, who restored hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind, who distributed peace, joy, and comfort to all with whom he came in contact.10

Suggestions for Study

  • For what purposes is the Word of Wisdom given to us? (See also D&C 89:1–4.)

  • How do habit-forming substances or practices chain our bodies and dull our sensitivity to the Spirit’s influence?

  • What kinds of “degradation and ruin” often accompany disobedience to the Word of Wisdom? When people disregard the counsel in the Word of Wisdom, how do their loved ones often suffer?

  • How does observing the Word of Wisdom help us have “purer communities, communities that are not ridden by vice, by pernicious habits and practices”?

  • In what ways have you learned to appreciate the Word of Wisdom by “putting the word of the Lord into practice”? (See also John 7:17.)

  • How have you seen the promises given in Doctrine and Covenants 89 fulfilled in your own life or the lives of others? (See also D&C 89:18–21.)

  • How does observance of the Word of Wisdom help us have the “wisdom, knowledge and understanding” by which we can govern our conduct?

  • How does observance of the Word of Wisdom ennoble our souls? How does it free our thoughts and hearts from the spirit of destruction? How does observance of this law bring us “nearer to the similitude of the Son of God”?

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:180–81.

  2.   2.

    Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 366–67.

  3.   3.

    In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:179–80, 182–85; paragraphing added.

  4.   4.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1908, 4.

  5.   5.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 20 Nov. 1894, 1.

  6.   6.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 7 Apr. 1895, 1; paragraphing altered.

  7.   7.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1908, 4.

  8.   8.

    Gospel Doctrine, 241.

  9.   9.

    Gospel Doctrine, 366.

  10.   10.

    Gospel Doctrine, 365–66.