Every time someone talks about the word of wisdom, the phrase "moderation in all things" inevitably comes up. Ever looked for this phrase in the scriptures? You will not find this phrase anywhere in the scriptures. The phrase, “moderation in all things” usually means that we should not go too far or focus on something to an extreme. However, this phrase leaves lots of room for interpretation and individual opinion, as well as plenty of opportunities for members to judge one another uncharitably.
The phrase “Moderation in all things” is attributed to Terence, a Roman comic dramatist who lived from 185-159 B.C. (or alternately to Plautus, same profession, who lived from 250-184 B.C.).
To better understand this phrase, here are a few quotes from church leaders about this concept of “moderation in all things”:
Joseph F. Smith: “The saints should not be unwise, but rather understand what the will of the Lord is, and practice moderation in all things.”
Ezra Taft Benson: “A priesthood holder should actively seek for things that are virtuous and lovely and not that which is debasing or sordid. He does things in moderation and is not given to overindulgence.”
James Faust: “Part of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom is moderation in all things, except those things specifically forbidden by the Lord.”
Dallin Oaks: “Moderation in all things is not a virtue, because it would seem to justify moderation in commitment.”
It would seem there are some differences of opinion about whether moderation is good or not. This seems like a question of personal philosophy rather than a matter of doctrine. So, where do you fall on the path between abstinence and indulgence? Do you believe that even the very appearance of evil can lead to a weak person’s downfall? Is it situational? Personal?
I tend to follow along the lines of Dallin Oaks where he provides the guidance that moderation in all things can lead to a moderation in commitment. We can tend to use this phrase as a justification for moderately following the gospel. Rather than making moderation the principle we should seek to make obedience the principle and in doing so we will have a firm commitment rather than a moderate commitment.