(All Bible quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the English Standard Version).
Many Christians are quick to condemn people who smoke cigarettes, because they consider the practice a sin, the same way the drinking of alcohol is considered sinful by some. Having dealt with the issue of alcohol consumption in two previous articles, we’ll now address the issue of tobacco-smoking. Is cigarette-smoking a sin, or is it just an unhealthy practice? This article will seek to answer this question through a careful examination of the Scripture.
To start with, let’s refresh our minds about what sin is, biblically speaking. According to the Scripture, sin is a transgression of the law. Thus, where there is no law in the Scripture concerning the practice of anything, indulging in it cannot be considered a sin. Simply put, sin is a violation of a commandment of God. So, before we can judge any practice to be sinful, we must be able to point out which commandment of God the practice violates. That’s a very important point to note. Sin is not a violation of a human commandment, tradition or health regulation; rather, it’s a violation of a divine commandment. Let’s keep that always at the back of our minds.
1 John 3:4 Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (AKJV).
Romans 4:15 Because the law works wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression (AKJV).
Romans 5:13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law (AKJV).
Now, back to the question of tobacco-smoking being a sin or not. The first thing to do, in trying to answer this question, is to ascertain if cigarette-smoking violates any commandment of God, directly or indirectly. Is there any biblical injunction that says, “thou shalt not smoke cigarette”? Well, I’ve searched the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation a couple of times, and I can’t find a single verse of Scripture that says, “thou shalt not smoke tobacco”, or that forbids smoking in any manner. I know a lot of Christians lump cigarette-smoking with the drinking of alcohol together, as two grievous sins which should be avoided once someone becomes a Christian. Unfortunately, they’re not speaking biblically when they say that. To be sure, the Bible condemns drunkenness as a sin, but not moderate alcohol-consumption. But the Bible doesn’t even say anything at all about cigarette-smoking! Absolutely nothing! So, condemning cigarette-smoking as a sin has no biblical basis!
Let me be quick to acknowledge the fact that cigarette-smoking is harmful to health, and that chronic tobacco-smoking has been linked with several cancers and chronic diseases, especially of the respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. The health hazards of smoking are real and undeniable. Smoking poses great danger to health, no doubt, but it is not a sin! On health grounds, therefore, we should caution people about the dangers of smoking, but definitely not on biblical grounds, except if the argument is made about smoking causing cancers and other chronic diseases that can destroy the body, which is the temple of God. But then, overindulging in almost all foods can also destroy the body. So, are we going to consider eating all such foods then as sinful? If we use the-destruction-of-the-temple-of-God argument to classify smoking as a sin, then any practice that undermines our health will have to be seen as a sin too. Being physically inactive, getting obese from overeating, eating junk foods, not having adequate rest, etc, all affect health negatively, and are capable of destroying the body. Should all these practices be classified as sinful then? If we take this route, then a lot of things the Bible knows nothing about will be very sinful, especially with regards to our dietary lifestyle and other activities of daily living. I hope we can see the danger in classifying anything that undermines our health as a sin? That should be obvious by now.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Also, we’ll consider the argument that uses the law of the land in classifying a practice as sinful or not. When the laws of a land forbid a practice, it becomes a crime, not necessarily a sin, to indulge in such a practice. To violate the law of a land is a criminal offence, not a sin, unless the law of the land is also a law in the Bible, when its violation then becomes both a crime and a sin. As Christians, we’re to obey the laws of the land that do not run contrary to the laws of God as contained in the Bible. For instance, though smoking is not a sin, if a country forbids smoking before a particular age, or in certain public places, then to smoke below the age forbidden, or in the places forbidden, becomes a crime. As a Christian, disobeying such laws which do not contradict God’s word becomes a sin as well, for we’re enjoined in Scripture to obey those in authority and the laws they make for good governance, as long as such laws do not contradict God’s word. This applies to drinking alcohol too. Though drinking alcohol in moderation is not a sin, but doing so below the age of 18, or drinking and driving, becomes a sin, in countries where there’s a minimum age for alcohol consumption, and where people are forbidden to drive under the influence of alcohol.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
1 Peter 2:13-15
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
There’s also the issue of conscience to consider—both one’s conscience and those of others. For a practice that’s not expressly forbidden by the Scripture, indulging in it without full conviction is sinful, for we’d be doing so without faith, and whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Going against your conscience to indulge in a practice that’s not expressly forbidden by Scripture is a sin. So, in such grey areas as smoking of cigarettes, drinking of alcohol and eating of meat that are essentially matters of conscience, like Paul advised, every man should be fully persuaded in himself before indulging in them, otherwise he sins against his conscience if he indulges contrary to his convictions.
Romans 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Next, we must also be charitable enough to consider the conscience of others. Even though cigarette-smoking is not a sin, and even though one’s conscience is convinced as such, to indulge in it in the presence of someone whose conscience erroneously believes it to be a sin is uncharitable, as it helps to wound the conscience of a weak brother or sister, and may cause them to stumble in the faith. Violating the conscience of a weak brother/sister thereby is offensive to the Lord and a sin. Therefore, we should be careful to practise such controversial matters of conscience in private, or in the company of those who have the same faith and conviction of conscience as ourselves. We must be careful not to hurt others or undermine their faith while displaying our liberty and advanced knowledge. Building up other people in the faith, not destroying them, should be our utmost concern always, especially in such matters of conscience. Paul made the exemplary declaration that although he believed eating meat was not a sin, he would rather not eat meat for the rest of his life if doing so would offend another weaker Christian who believed it was a sin. We must put the interests of others above our personal interests, and display our faith in such controversial issues to God alone, privately or only in the company people with similar faith.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
In conclusion, cigarette-smoking, in and of itself, is not a sin, for there is no divine injunction forbidding it in the Scripture, as sin is a transgression of an extant law of God. Therefore, where there is no divine law forbidding a practice there can be no sin in its indulgence. Even though cigarette-smoking is not a sin in itself, those who are so convinced should take care to avoid indulging in it in the presence of those whose weak conscience still see it as a sin, from traditional indoctrination, so as not to wound their faith. Also, one should respect the law of the land with regards to any restrictions on smoking in public places, as the display of Christian liberty is subject to both the conscience of others with opposing views, as well as the laws of the land. Our goal as Christians should always be to place love above knowledge, and to edify fellow Christians as well as win unbelievers to Christ, in all that we do. So, even though cigarette-smoking is not a sin, if indulging in it will cause someone to stumble spiritually, a mature Christian who places the interests of others above his own should refrain from doing that, at least in the presence of such weak believers. Finally, those who smoke cigarettes should understand the great danger tobacco poses to health, and should be counselled along that line, rather than from the standpoint of cigarette-smoking being a sin, which it is not.
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. Then the disciples came and said to him, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying? He answered, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. But Peter said to him, Explain the parable to us. And he said, Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.
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