Christians and Cigars
I smoke cigars. Those who know me, or even just follow me on social media, know this. It has long been something I enjoy and has never been something I hid out of view from people who know me. With the development of social media my cigars, like every other aspect of my life has wound up there as well. Some people share photos of what they're eating, writing, reading (or pretending to read), and I often share a photo of the cigar I chose to smoke at a particular moment.
This has never been a matter of flaunting freedom, but of sharing a pleasure. Because I am a known cigar smoker I occasionally get questions from Christians about the habit. How do I feel about the health risks? Isn't smoking addictive, or even sinful? Most of the time I get questions from other believers who enjoy a good cigar and catch some grief over it from other Christians. They want to know how I respond. Honestly, I don’t get any pushback from local Christians inside or outside of the church I pastor. But I have had decades to think about it, and thought I should offer my thoughts about cigars, the Christian, and the glory of God.
Why blog about smoking cigars?
I'm not writing because this is a burden on my heart. Nor am I writing because I think others should smoke. This is simply the answer to many of the questions I get from others. It will allow me to point people here rather than repeating myself at length to my online friends.
Why do you smoke cigars?
This question feels like someone asking me why I watch TV or enjoy combat sports. The honest answer is, I like it. I don't smoke cigars because it's cool. I do not smoke to make a point. It's not to demonstrate my freedom in Christ. It's not about being missional. It's not about identifying with the great C.H. Spurgeon--though I will be talking about him later. I smoke cigars because I find it to be a pleasant experience. The ritual, aroma, and flavors are a delight.
Smoking a cigar slows a person down, gives them time to think, meditate, and enjoy one of God's many earthly gifts. I personally find that it helps me to write. Cigar smoking is also a wonderful shared experience that promotes conversation and friendship. But to keep it simple, I smoke because I like it. Of course, enjoying something doesn't justify its use. So I will attempt to answer the common questions I get about smoking.
- Isn't cigar smoking dangerous and therefore an abuse of the body given you by God?
- Doesn't smoking defile the "temple" in which the Holy Spirit dwells?
- Plainly, isn't smoking a sin?
- Won't smoking be a bad witness to non-Christians?
- Isn't smoking a bad example for our children?
- How can you honor God by smoking cigars?
Isn't Smoking Bad For You?
Cigar smoking isn't good for you. Don't let your friendly neighborhood cigar aficionado tell you otherwise. Like many other things we partake of in this life, there is a real risk associated with smoking cigars. While studies have shown that cigar smoking (without inhaling) is much less likely to cause various cancers, there is still a risk. So let me go on record as saying smoking, in all its forms, is unhealthy. It's bad for you. People can die from it.
When most people ask, "Isn't smoking cigars bad for you?", they are often implying that the potential danger of smoking makes it inappropriate, if not sinful. So let's broaden our scope and consider an even greater health risk: poor diet. Far more people will die this year from poor diet and related problems than from smoking in all its forms. In fact, obesity is now beating cigarettes as the greater health risk today. We take health risks when we eat hot dogs, microwave popcorn, and GMOs. Fried chicken, Fettuccine Alfredo, soda, and all things fast-food are bad for you and the associated health risks abound. These risks, though even greater than smoking, are seen as acceptable.
Really, we are dealing with risk. Is risk wrong? Skydiving is potentially deadly. Spelunking and mountain climbing are also very risky. Should the Christian refrain from such activities knowing the possibility of life abruptly coming to an end while enjoying such activities?
And it's not just recreation and athletics that brings risk. Some vocations are very dangerous. Commercial fisherman, loggers, aircraft pilots, and steel workers take greater risks than even firefighters when they clock in. How should a Christian evaluate the risks involved in their jobs?
I don't have all the answers here, but let me say two things. One, risk is not itself sinful. Folly is wrong, risk is not. Risk must be weighed responsibly and managed carefully. In vocation and recreation, this means practice, preparedness, and training. With diet and smoking, it means self-control and moderation.
Donuts are bad for me. I would like to eat donuts every day. I sometimes wonder if there be donuts in the new heavens and earth, and then, how many I will be able to eat. But knowing the health risks in this life I choose to eat my donuts only occasionally. I am not crazy enough to give up such an earthy delight. Cigars are bad for me. I know the risks, and I believe the enjoyment of a cigar is worth the risk. So, I choose not to inhale and smoke in moderation.
We should take our health seriously. The bodies we have are given to us by our Maker. He wants us to use them faithfully and fruitfully, enjoying his creation with thoughtfulness and care. Some of what we enjoy is risky, and we should pursue wisdom in the risks we take. Concerning cigars, moderation is a key aspect.
Your Body is a Temple
Many good and godly pastors (some very well-known) have weighed in on the subject of smoking and concluded that it is a sin. I have argued that a health risk does not equal sin. Here I would like to address the passage of Scripture most commonly used against smoking, 1 Corinthians 6:19. Here it is in context.
The common argument is that since the Christian's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit we must refrain from defiling the temple with smoking. There are a few immediate problems with this argument.
One, it begs the question whether or not smoking is a sin. It assumes smoking is wrong and that it necessarily defiles what has been set apart for God. Two, the context shows us that Paul is not dealing with health or cleanliness issues, but sexual immorality.
As he often does, Paul is calling the church to a life of purity (see 1 Tim 4:12; 5:2). As motivation to maintain purity he reminds us that we, as believers, are the dwelling place of God. The Holy Spirit takes up residency in each believer making each of us a kind of temple. The temple is a sacred place set apart for God. Its purpose is the glory and enjoyment of God.
Many in the city of Corinth were arguing that the body is made for sex, so Christians ought to get to it! “Have your fill. Do not deny what your body was made for.” was the sentiment. The Apostle rebukes the notion. "The body is not meant for sexual immorality!" Sex has a God-given place in life but in the joyful safety of marriage. Your body is where the Holy Spirit resides in a special way. To use your body for sexual immorality desecrates the temple. The issue here is fornication/adultery.
To try and apply this to smoking cigars is a square peg in round hole hermeneutic. It is eisegesis, and it actually downplays Paul's real point about the heinous nature of sexual immorality. It is a distraction from the real danger of sin and temptation.
If we want to play the silly eisegesis game then I'll start pointing out how God came down on Mt. Sinai in smoke, that he delights in the smoke of sacrifices offered in faith, and how there was always the smoke of incense in the temple. When Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple the place was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6). In Rev. 15:8 the glory of the Lord pours forth in smoke. God loves a smokey dwelling place! Of course, all of this is nonsense. The point is we have to let Scripture speak on its own terms and we must understand each passage in its own context.
Smoking a cigar cannot defile the temple. It neither makes us unclean nor offends God.
Confusing Smoking and Sin
If you are familiar with the 19th century London pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon you may know he was a gifted preacher, a sharp theologian, an earnest evangelist, and even started a Pastors College for those entering ministry. You may also know the man was fond of cigars. He was well known as a cigar smoker and was occasionally challenged over it. His responses were typically simple, humorous, and biblical. On one occasion controversy resulted.
Spurgeon and another well-known contemporary of his, G.F. Pentecost, were sharing the pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon preached against the danger of sin, and Pentecost was invited to make the application. During his time Pentecost preached vehemently against smoking tobacco and cigars in particular. After he concluded Spurgeon stood before the congregation and said,
"Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.
If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, 'Thou shalt not smoke,' I am ready to keep it; but I haven't found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it's as much as I can do to keep them; and I've no desire to make them into eleven or twelve.
The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sins, not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples. At the same time, I know that what a man believes to be sin becomes a sin to him, and he must give it up. 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin' (Rom. 14:23), and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying.
Why, a man may think it a sin to have his boots blacked. Well, then, let him give it up, and have them whitewashed. I wish to say that I'm not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don't feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God."
The newspapers were happy to jump on the apparent conflict of ideas and reported the details of the evening. What troubled some, in particular, were Spurgeon's remarks that he intended "to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God." This became the talk of London.
Spurgeon was blessed to live before the age of social media, but the controversy led him to write a letter to the Daily Telegraph to explain himself. In that letter Spurgeon wrote,
"There is growing up in society a Pharisaic system which adds to the commands of God the precepts of men; to that system I will not yield for an hour. The preservation of my liberty may bring upon me the upbraidings of many good men, and the sneers of the self-righteous; but I shall endure both with serenity so long as I feel clear in my conscience before God."
Identifying Real Sin
In all of this controversy, Spurgeon's problem is my problem, and it should be every Christian's problem. We can only call sin what God calls sin.
As Christians, we take the word of God very seriously. It is not just a sacred book, but the very word of God, fully inspired, inerrant, and our only infallible rule of faith and practice. As A.A. Hodge says in his classic, Outlines of Theology,
"Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. Whatever conveys to us an infallible knowledge of his teachings and commands is an infallible rule. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us."
So, when it comes to understanding righteousness and unrighteousness, the way of God and the way of sin, we must let the word of God speak. We confess that the law of God is good and that sin is a terrible evil. What is sin? Confessional standards like the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Baptist Catechism say that sin "is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God (1 John 3:4)." This means to call something sin we must find a prohibition against it or the command of its opposite in Scripture.
Nowhere does Scripture indicate the smoking itself is sinful, nor even that unhealthy habits themselves are sinful. Yet, this doesn't completely settle the matter.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If Not Done in Faith
As Spurgeon said, "what one cannot do in faith is sin (Rom 14:23)." If one's conscience forbids something he or she should generally refrain from it (see 1 Cor. 10 and check out R.C. Sproul's, Ethics and the Conscience). So for some, smoking could be a sinful practice, but for those who can enjoy a good cigar with a clear conscience, it is a good thing.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If One Is Mastered by It
Addiction is the troublesome loss of self-control, and sin is always involved. We should only have one Master, and everything else in our lives must serve our service to him. If you are ruled by food, work, recreation, or cigars repentance is needed. These are good things that can be turned into idols. Self-control is the mark of the Spirit-led disciple. Many have claimed Spurgeon eventually quit smoking. All the historical evidence suggests the opposite. He continued smoking cigars throughout his life. However, he could and did lay cigars aside for extended periods of time.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If One Smokes To Frustrate Others
I have never met this person, though some seem to think this is what drives many young Christians to smoke. It is believed they light up to blind others with their liberty, and use their freedom to bind others. So let's just say that if one smokes to needlessly provoke others it is sin.
Yet, like Spurgeon, I will smoke a cigar tonight to the glory of God. What does that really mean? It means that in whatever lawful thing we do as God's people we do with a clear conscience, with thankful and joyful hearts, to God for his good gifts.
Joe is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. He and his wife have been married for 20 years and have four children. Joe has written a few books that you may find helpful. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.