The following talk was given on January 14th, 2024 by Steve Reed in a Sacrament meeting.
In the Bible, “a word of wisdom” refers to guidance or advice that reflects divine understanding. It is often associated with the concept of wisdom as a virtue.
The patterns of such wisdom can be found in various books, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, where practical insights and moral principles are shared.
Doctrine and Covenants section 89 is often referred to as “The Word of Wisdom” and is often called by some a “law of health” but I think this is incorrect, because laws are given by commandment, and section 89 was not sent by commandment.
This section, packed with incredible promises, was revealed for the benefit of everyone in the church in 1833. Verse 2 reads:
To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—
The next verse says that it is: “Given for a principle with promise.”
Elder Bednar explained that:
A principle is not a behavior or a specific action. Rather, principles provide basic guidelines for behavior and action.Act in Doctrine, xv
Examples of principles are prayer, faith, study, service, forgiveness, charity, etc. Note that none of these are specific actions, they can be applied differently based on our various circumstances and understanding.
In many talks, discussions, and lessons about the Word of Wisdom, I’ve often seen discussions of principle shift to lists of applications.
Elder Bender taught that “Applications are the actual behaviors, action steps, practices, or procedures.” (Ibid) And laments that, “Our tendency as members of the Church is to focus on applications.” (Ibid) instead of the doctrine and principles.
Perhaps most importantly, section 89 contains one of the Restoration’s most significant prophecies.
That’s right, this revelation is a prophecy that we have lived to see fulfilled even to this very day.
Section 89 verse 4 says:
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
Do we not see every day how conspiring and yes even evil men do tremendous harm to the physical and spiritual well-being of mankind in ways that were unimaginable in 1833? But what else do they have in store?
The Lord continues in verse 5 to provide four examples, derived from plants, that could be harmful or helpful to our bodies or have other uses.
But if we read carefully, this is not meant to be a Pharisaical list of dos and don’ts. Virtually anything that affects our bodies from food to medicine can be examined under this principle, in wisdom and judgment.
The Lord also tells us in verse 10 the principles concerning what he has “ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man” and also the principles that govern what pleases and displeases him regarding how and when we use animal flesh.
The Lord says that this principle is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”
And if God does not command or constrain us in how we apply these principles, then we have no business doing so to others or judging them in their practices, but we can and should always teach the principles.
God promises that “all saints 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;” which in Hebrew symbolism paints a vivid picture of an individual brimming with life, strength, and deep inner wisdom.
Most interesting to me is this promise: “And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;” but what does that mean?
In Feb of 2003, I heard Boyd K. Packer speak these words:
The “Word of Wisdom [was] given for a principle with promise” But what is the promise? The promise, of course, is personal revelation… Now, the Word of Wisdom is, I think, only incidentally to keep us healthy […] We are not going to live forever in this life… It is not that you are going to be a healthy athlete all of your life, and it is not that you are going to avoid old age. It is that you will have the key to revelation. When your body begins to deteriorate, the patterns of revelation will be augmented and magnified.Boyd K. Packer, The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character
John A. Widstoe taught:
Those who [accept] the Word of Wisdom … find a new wealth of joy in every commonplace of life. They have eyes and they see; ears and they hear. Their understanding is reinforced with the spiritual light of truth.The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation, p. 245
Section 89 is a prophetic invitation to revelation and a profoundly deeper connection to God.
For years I was troubled by this section; I thought I understood it, but I knew mostly what others said about it. I also thought I saw things that conflicted with traditions that I cherished. I decided to do an intense deep dive into section 89 that lasted 6 months.
My desire to learn wisdom and access revelatory treasures of knowledge outweighed all else – what I discovered compelled me to change my ways.
Today, I can testify to you in the name of the Lord that his promises were fulfilled to me.
Next, we read: “And [we] shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.”
But this isn’t about being a high-endurance track star or speed walker.
Proverbs 4:11-13 teaches:
I have instructed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; And if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.
So this is about being equipped to walk and even run wisely down God’s upright path – not a hiking trail.
The last verse should be beyond sobering, “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. Amen.”
Consider the significance. Just as the children of Israel placed the blood of the lamb upon their doorposts to escape the destroying angel in their day, the Lord is telling us how to literally escape the destroying angel of the last days.
What do our doorposts look like?
Consider the state of this world and then ourselves.
Which of these promises resonated the most with you today? What could you use more of in your life? Are you willing to take a fresh look at these prophetic words and perhaps see them through new eyes?
A patient and benevolent God offers his promised gifts like temporal salvation, treasures of knowledge and revelation, and the divine grace to overcome all things through the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.