An Introduction to the Word of Wisdom (Gospel Essentials Lesson 29)
Posted by BrianJ on November 5, 2007
These are the notes from a lesson I taught almost two years ago. I’ve been thinking of posting some of my old notes since we don’t have any Gospel Essentials material on this site (yet).
1 Cor. 3:16-17 – How are we the temple of God? What is a temple? What did the temple/tabernacle signify to Paul/children of Israel?
D&C 29:34-35, 40 – Why are there no temporal commandments? Does that mean that there are no temporal consequences? How do you reconcile your answers, if necessary?
An example: D&C 88:124. What is the commandment? (Don’t stay up late or sleep in.) What is the temporal consequence? (Being groggy or being alert.) What is the spiritual blessing? (Invigorated mind, open to inspiration.) Notice the pattern—commandment:temporal:spiritual.
More examples: Exodus 20:9 and D&C 10:4.
D&C 89 contains additional instructions regarding the care of our bodies. This was revealed in 1833, early in Church history. The Church was very new, had recently moved members to Kirtland, OH, and was rapidly attracting more members. As the preface states, this was a response to Joseph Smith’s inquiries to the Lord about the Saints’ use of tobacco.
89:2 – What is the difference between a commandment and a greeting from the Lord? What does it mean to say that it is the “will of God” but not a “commandment”? Why is God interested in our “temporal salvation”?
89:3 – We’re told that this was “adapted to the capacity of the weak”, but not in what way. Some will say that it is the “least restrictive as possible, so that the weak members can still live it.” While that’s possible, that’s not what the text says. It is possible that God wanted to reveal something less specific, but knew that the weak members would miss the point, so he included more detail and restriction for their benefit (i.e. a well-behaved dog is allowed to run in the yard, but an untrained animal is always kept on a leash). Without taking a stand, what could we learn from both of these interpretations?
89:4 – This is a warning against what? Can you think of examples?
89:7-17 – No alcohol, tobacco, or hot drinks (which is interpreted to mean “tea and coffee,” where “tea” refers to the leaf, not to the style of drink; i.e. warm water with cinnamon and lemon in it is not “tea.”) Herbs refers to plants, not just “herbs and spices.” I explicitly stated that we would not be discussing the particulars of the “eat meat sparingly” debate. This is a Gospel Essentials class, so I wanted the students to be introduced to the essentials—and since no modern prophet has chosen to make meat consumption an essential issue, I chose not to make it one either. All of this I mentioned to the class, explaining that there is disagreement between members about what this means; I don’t want new members to get blind-sided by a caffeine/meat doctrine ‘enthusiast’.
This was a good time to discuss more of the history of the Word of Wisdom, as it came to be called, or Lord’s Law of Health, which seems to becoming its more modern name. As mentioned previously, it was not given as a commandment. Some members chose to follow it (refrain from alcohol and tobacco), but many did not. It wasn’t until much later that the Word of Wisdom was widely observed among the Saints, and later still (~100 years) that adherence became a requirement for temple attendance. Interestingly, one aspect of living the Word of Wisdom that concerned Brigham Young was economic: the Saints were spending (in Young’s opinion) extravagant amounts of money importing tobacco, tea, etc. all the way to Utah. (For a Gospel Essentials class, I think this is enough general history.)
I wanted to close by thinking about the Word of Wisdom not as a health code, but as a principle with a promise that must be taken on faith.
Certainly modern medical research validates the physical benefits of obedience to the Word of Wisdom. The evidence is so great that many will be taught the right things for only half of the right reasons. With that limited understanding, could they then try a smoke, a drink, or a drug, rationalizing that “just one won’t hurt”? Could the prospect of only future physical rewards even be bait for foolish dares of defiance now? Or to phrase these questions another way, how many would be determined to obey the will of the Lord even if physical benefits were not assured? When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice, did they first seek scientific confirmation that their choice to obey was medically advisable? (Russell Nelson, Ensign, Nov 1988, p6, emphasis in original)
I think Elder Nelson brings up an important point: some members talk as though the Word of Wisdom is scientific. The problem with that, if you follow medical science, is that recent research shows that moderate amounts of alcohol is cardioprotective, heavy coffee drinkers are far less likely to get type II diabetes, and green tea is good for pretty much everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer*. The bottom line: we shouldn’t reduce the Word of Wisdom to prohibition of _______, or approach it from only a scientific standpoint.
89:18-21 – The last four verses follow the pattern of commandment:temporal:spiritual established at the beginning of the lesson.
It would be great to talk about those promises, but since Sunday School is only ~35 minutes long, you have to make cuts somewhere. I chose to “short-change” the final verses—not because they are least important, but because I think they need the context of the preceding verses. (To lessen the negative of this catch-22, I incorporated some of the “hidden treasures of knowledge” concepts into later lessons. If my class hadn’t had so many really-new members, I could have divided the material differently.)
As you make comments, please keep in mind that this is a lesson for new members and investigators. My intent was to introduce the Word of Wisdom in a way that would allow new members to appreciate it on a spiritual level, but also to prepare them to think about: the in-church debate, personal application decisions, etc.
* You can make the “scientific research is just the evils and designs of conspiring men” argument, but I’ll tell you now: I don’t buy it. Anyway, that doesn’t change Elder Nelson’s or my point.