Chapter 19 of the Teachings of President George Albert Smith, a manual being studied this year in the LDS Church, deals with the Word of Wisdom. This is the famous Mormon restriction against the use of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. It is found in section 89 of Doctrine and Covenants, one of their scriptures. Although that section talks about “hot drinks” later prophets interpreted that as coffee and tea.
The Word of Wisdom holds a prominent place in Mormonism. Not only does it affect every Mormon’s daily life, but keeping it is also one of the criteria for becoming worthy to enter the temple.
There are three things that I have observed about their keeping it. One is that many struggle to keep it. It is not uncommon to hear someone having a “Word of Wisdom problem”. The second thing is that many ignore the rest of what is said in section 89 especially the command to eat meat sparingly. Here are the pertinent verses from section 89.
“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.” (12,13)
The third thing is how many Mormons are now calling the Word of Wisdom good advice but something that is not binding on them. They make that claim even though church manuals, like the one mentioned above, consistently describe it as a law and talk about how obeying it will bring not just earthly blessings but spiritual ones as well. In spite of all this, however, the Word of Wisdom continues to be important in Mormonism.
That is in keeping with Mormonism’s emphasis. It emphasizes commands rather than promises. It focuses people on what they are to do, rather than on what God has done for them. In the Old Testament, God did give the Israelites many dietary laws. But, as Paul makes clear in Galatians, that was because God was treating them as small children. Since Christ’s coming, God now treats us as mature children. One thing that means is that all those dietary laws are no longer in effect. Paul made that clear in Colossians 2:16-17. “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
The true word of wisdom is the stupendous news of what God has done for us. It focuses on Christ’s perfect obedience – obedience that he offered God in our behalf – obedience that is credited to our account through faith. It focuses on Christ’s sacrifice for us – the sacrifice that made us worthy to enter his presence. Being worthy has nothing to do with what we take into our mouths. Being worthy has everything to do with what is in our hearts. Being worthy is all about despairing of our own works and trusting completely in Jesus’ works for us. That, my friends, is the true word of wisdom.