On February 17, 1833, Joseph Smith received a revelation found in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, generally referred to as the "Word of Wisdom." As part of the requirements for faithful membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members are expected to refrain from smoking, drinking coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages. Although not specifically stated, many within the church also refrain from drinking any beverages which contains caffeine, such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Dr. Pepper. Still others eliminate any kind of chocolate from their diet because that too has caffeine in it.

To bolster the reason for following this revelation, many members, especially in leadership positions, have pointed to medical and social studies which affirm the benefits of avoiding these substances. There have been many studies which show the health risks associated with smoking, not to mention the ever increasing financial cost. Alcohol has been the cause of much human suffering in terms of physical and mental health, both on the individual and to those who are associated with them. Although caffeine doesn't have near the health problems associated with smoking and alcohol, many physicians recommend avoiding products containing this substance.

Another reason often given for following the Word of Wisdom is that our bodies are the temple of God and anything we take into our bodies which is not good for it defiles the temple in which the Holy Ghost dwells.

However, both within and without the church, there are many arguments against the need for following the Word of Wisdom revelation. One is that this was never given as a commandment, but was meant merely as a word to the wise. That's why this revelation is referred to as the Word of Wisdom. It wasn't until 1930 that the church made it a mandatory commandment for the membership to follow. The argument used by some is that if God didn't give this as a commandment, what right does any man have for making it one?

Then there are those who point out that the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants also states that meat should be eaten "sparingly," yet that part of the revelation is not included in the Word of Wisdom commandment. They therefore ask, why is it wrong to violate one part of the Word of Wisdom and okay to violate another part?

Another argument is that there are other medical studies which show that small amounts of alcoholic consumption is actually good for health and vitality. One shows that a glass of wine a day helps prevent certain diseases. A more recent study published in the May 23, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that drinking caffeine may help prevent Parkinson's disease. In fact, this study found that the greater the consumption of caffeine the better the effect is in preventing this crippling disease

Still another argument is that the Lord promises that those who "keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones, andů the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them." However, there are those who have strictly followed this commandment and still have not had good health.

Perhaps the most famous example is Spencer W. Kimball. Although he had kept the Word of Wisdom throughout his entire life, he still developed throat cancer. There are others in the church who have kept the Word of Wisdom and have died of leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood cells. And blood cells are produced in the marrow of the bones.

But perhaps the most common argument comes from those who do not belong to the LDS faith. They can't understand a doctrine which teaches that God will not save a person if they don't eat the proper foods. They further wonder at a doctrine which states that's God's Spirit will not remain with someone who violates the Word of Wisdom. They question how drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette, or even drinking alcohol in sensible moderation can make someone less spiritual, or diminish God's love for them.

The most common answer to this argument is that, since people outside the LDS church have not made the same covenants with God as those who belong to the church, this commandment doesn't apply to them. However, what that means is that only members of the LDS church can offend God if they smoke, drink coffee, tea or alcohol. But those who haven't made such covenants, whether or not they smoke or drink, can't be blessed by God to the same extent as faithful Latter-day Saints are. To some, such an explanation is not very convincing or persuasive.

The reason why all these arguments exist is because of a faulty understanding of why we keep the Word of Wisdom in the first place. Those who focus on just the temporal benefits, or take a legalistic approach to their understanding, miss the spiritual significance of why we are asked to keep this commandment. But, before we can comprehend the real answer to all these arguments, we first need to understand why God gives us any commandment.

In the third chapter of Abraham, the Lord explained that the purpose of our life on earth is to "prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abraham 3:25). In other words, commandments are given as a test of our faithfulness. And the reason for the test is to gauge our worthiness, because it is our worthiness which will determine our reward in the kingdom of God.

Let's look at this from a different perspective. Suppose a man owned a business and had five sons. The man knows that at some point in time he will have to turn control of his business over to someone else. Preferably, he'd like that person to be one of his sons. The question he ponders is, which son should he entrust the leadership of his business to? The decision he makes will not be based on which son he loves the most, because, as a father, he loves all of his children. Therefore, the only basis upon which he can make his decision is by determining which son is best qualified, or worthy to keep the family business successful. As long as the business is successful, he knows that it will continue to provide work and a good living for all his children and grandchildren. So the selection of who will replace him is a very important decision to him.

Through the years the father tries to train and prepare each of his sons to eventually take his place. By observing how each son performs their duties, how well they learn the business, and how committed they are to making the business successful, the father begins to see which son has the potential to take over the company reigns once the father can no longer fill that role.

During all of this time the father will give instructions, impose rules, and make decisions which he feels are necessary but with which the sons may not always agree. Yet they will still be expected to obey their father's edicts. Those sons who disregard the wishes of their father, or are lax in following his direction, or who openly oppose his bidding will not be looked upon with favor. Unless they repent of their ways and show a willingness to work for the good of the company with all their heart, mind and strength, they will not be considered for positions of authority in the organization.

Although the father may strongly desire to pass the business on to one of his sons, if none of them show sufficient promise, he may be forced to find someone else outside of the family to give his business to. If there was another employee who showed a strong commitment to making the business succeed, and who obeyed the owner's wishes with full fidelity, in the end, the father might give him the reigns of leadership instead of one of his sons.

The same is true of our Father in heaven. He has a work to do, and has established an organization here on earth to accomplish that labor. Although all people everywhere are His children and He loves each of them just as much, those who have covenanted to serve Him with all their hearts, mind, strength, and energy will receive a much greater reward than those who merely profess their love for Him.

We know that everyone will be rewarded according to their works. Those who show their allegiance by fully keeping our Father's commandments, ordinances, rules, regulations, directives and wishes, by definition, are performing greater works than those who do not. Therefore, they are entitled to receive greater blessings and rewards, both here and in the hereafter.

If our Father in heaven said that we should stand on one foot for ten minutes each day, then that's what we're expected to do. It doesn't make any difference whether it makes sense to us, whether we agree with it, whether we see the value in it, or whether it has any purpose. Whatever God asks of us is a test of our faithfulness. That's the reason for our life here on earth - to see if we will do whatsoever things we are commanded to do.

Since the President of the church and the Quorum of the Twelve are God's representatives on earth, they have the responsibility of passing on and implementing God's directives to those who have willingly agreed to work in God's kingdom. Therefore, whatever counsel, rules or commandments they give, it is the same as though it came from God. Without that conviction, there is no reason for following anything they tell us. And if that's the case, then it doesn't matter which church we belong to.

But God doesn't just arbitrarily give us commandments. Everything He requires has a purpose. The problem is that we don't always know or see what that purpose may be. Therefore, we tend to make assumptions and guess at why we need to keep certain commandments. When we base our faith on our own assumptions, and those assumptions eventually prove to be wrong, potentially it can shake our faith. The reason for this is because human nature being what it is, more often than not, rather than admit the mistake as our own, we tend to blame God, or the church leaders.

For example, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. Why? What was the purpose of having him do that? According to the Bible, it was to test Abraham's faithfulness (Hebrews 11:17). But if God knows everything, why did He need to test Abraham in the first place? Furthermore, Abraham was 100 years old when his wife conceived Isaac. By all estimates, Isaac was at least in his teens, and perhaps in his early 20s when God gave this commandment. That means for approximately 120 years Abraham had already proven his faithfulness many, many times. Then why did Abraham's commitment to obeying God need to be tested again, especially at this late date in his life?

There are a couple of possible answers. The first is that it was done for future generations. We can only imagine how many times that story has been told for almost 4,000 years. Undoubtedly there are countless number of people who have been positively affected by that story and have relied upon it to give them strength and courage when they've had to face tough challenges in their life. Another reason could be as a example of how God, the Father would someday sacrifice His own son. That symbolism has been pointed out many times, and helps give us a sense of what our Father in heaven endured when He offered His Son for our sins.

However, the correct answer to our question is that we don't really know. We only assume we know. And if we base our faith on a wrong assumption, then it is built on quicksand. When our assumptions collapse, so does our faith.

Why does God ask us to keep the Word of Wisdom? Certainly there are health benefits associated with it, but if we think that's the only reason He gave it to us, we set ourselves at the mercy of every conflicting medical study that comes along. What we need to remember is there are greater blessings that come to us than just physical health when we keep the Word of Wisdom as directed by our church leaders. It is our obedience which brings forth the blessings of heaven.

Jesus told His disciples, "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:15-17).

Those of other faiths who have not entered into a solemn covenant to remember the Lord always and keep all of His commandments which He has given us are not entitled to those additional blessings which the Lord showers upon the faithful. In reality, whether someone lives the Word of Wisdom or not, in and of itself, has no spiritual significance. It's when someone who has entered into a covenant with God and then reneges on the commitment they've made that God is offended and feels mocked. On the other hand, someone who has not made such an agreement can neither delight nor displease God by what they eat because their actions are not intended to honor His commandments.

The apostle John counseled the early saints, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he [Christ] walked" (1 John 2:3-6).

Christ is our example. No matter what His Father asked of Him, He did it fully and willingly. In order for us to inherit the place where Christ lives, we must become like Him. Therefore, living the Word of Wisdom, simply because we've been asked to by His appointed servants, is exhibiting a Christ-like attitude of love and obedience toward the wishes of our Father in heaven. Those who reject or question the counsel of God's spokesmen are violating the injunction "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." If we are not willing to keep God's word here on earth, why do we think we will be rewarded by being given a place in heaven?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel gave King Saul the word of the Lord to "smite [the city of] Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass... And he [Saul] smote the Amalekites... and he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the gatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them." (1 Samuel 15:3,8,9).

When the Lord saw that Saul did not do as he was instructed, He said, "It repentedth me that I have set up Saul to be king." (15:11). He then sent Samuel to chastise Saul for not obeying the Lord. "And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But [it was] the people [who] took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, [so they could] sacrifice [them] unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as [he has] in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than [to] sacrifice, and to hearken [to the word of the Lord is better] than [offering] the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:20-22)

The real reason why we should keep the Word of Wisdom or any other commandment of God is simply because He has asked us to. Christians of other churches have expressed their faith in God's word by citing the phrase, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." As faithful Latter-day Saints, that should be our motto.

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