Years ago I was standing in the foyer of the church I attended at that time and a person who was new to the church came to me and, rather quietly, asked “What do you guys believe about smoking? Is it okay to smoke in this church?” I laughed a little, not because it was a stupid question but because the church had people from such a great diversity of backgrounds. We had heaps of ex-Catholics, a core of ex-Charismatics, a few long-time Baptists and so on. I told him I had no idea what the general consensus was but that I was sure that as long as he smoked outside no one would care too much. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when a reader of the site asked if I’ve given much thought to the subject.
I know lots of Christians who smoke and it has never really caused me to examine the idea of a conflict between that action (or addiction) and their faith. But I know that for some people this is a significant stumbling block. They feel that the action of smoking reveals something about a person’s heart or even about his spiritual state.
Christianity Today’s Campus Life once published a small article that provides the usual arguments against smoking:
- Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, so be careful what we put in our bodies.
- Smoking is an addiction and Christians are to guard against addictions.
- Smoking has many harmful effects and can often lead to other addictions.
These are all rational arguments. Another common argument we might add to the list is that God provides our finances and we are told to be diligent stewards of them. Lighting them on fire is not a God-honoring way of using his gifts.
All of these arguments are well and good, but they all have other sides to them. Yes, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, but how much worse is it to put smoke (and all it carries with it) into our bodies than much of the food we eat or much of the air we breathe? I would say that there are far more Christians addicted to caffeine than there are to nicotine. Sure smoking has lots of harmful effects, but so does overeating or eating the wrong things. God provides us money, but how often do we use it to buy things we don’t really need? Is spending our money on McDonald’s really much better than spending it on cigarettes?
I guess the crux of the matter is this: is it sinful to smoke?
It seems to me that it is hard to sustain a consistent biblical argument which would conclude that smoking is always and ever sinful. I think it is difficult to bind another person’s conscience without resorting into some kind of inconsistency or legalism. I see the logic behind these arguments, but those same principles seem to fail when they are extended to the rest of the Christian life. There is part of me that feels I should say with certainty that smoking is sinful. But I don’t think I can do so in good conscience.
I actually quite like John Piper’s take on this one (though he does conclude that smoking is sinful). He says, “Habitually smoking cigarettes seems to say, ‘Life doesn’t matter as much as my pleasures do.’ And the fact that it is highly addictive should also encourage Christians to keep their distance.” So maybe there is a difference between the person who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and the person who occasionally enjoys a fine cigar. Piper writes that in his church they do not focus specifically on smoking; instead, they have a higher standard. “We engage to abstain from all drugs, food, drink, and practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another’s faith.” Some might argue that this is a lowering of standard, but I’m inclined to believe that it actually raises the standard. It removes the focus from specific pet sins and widens the focus to a wider range of sins that we may be willing to tolerate. We should give thought to everything we do, everything we eat, everything we breathe in.
I have an intense dislike toward smoking. I dislike the smell of it and I have a special pet peeve toward seeing cigarette butts lying on the ground outside buildings. But I don’t presume to think that I can tell much about a person’s spiritual condition by the fact that he smokes. Nor do I find that I can (or would want to) generate the kind of argument from Scripture that would tell another person that smoking is absolutely forbidden. But when we look at the evidence of how smoking impacts the smoker’s health, how it impacts the health of others around him, how it encourages addiction and so on, it seems that it is something the Christian would be eager to avoid or overcome. Is it always and for all people sinful? I don’t know that I would go that far. Piper gets it right when he says “Don’t pick out a few individual named sins, but let your definition of sin be sweeping and pervasive so that it touches everything. And let your definition of holiness be the same. How you drink Coke, eat pizza, or exercise can all be sin issues, or not.”
So what do you think? Is smoking sinful? Or can it, like so many other things, be done for God’s glory?