DISCLAIMER…DON’T THINK I AM TRYING TO PROMOTE SMOKING. I AM JUST TRYING TO ILLUSTRATE A POINT.
If I were to say that I want a new pipe for Christmas, would you think less of me? Would you think of me as less spiritual or godly? Would you be disappointed in me for some reason? Why? Some of you would go so far as to suggest that I resign from ministry. If that is you, there is a really good word that describes you…
Yesterday, a middle school boy asked me, “What is a legalist?” Do you know the answer? Simply put, a legalist is a person who judges another’s spirituality or relationship with God based on a perceived list of acceptable/unacceptable actions. To give an example, a legalist could place a hero on a pedestal, only to jerk the hero down to earth later when he does something tradition labels as “wrong.” Smoking is a good example. Never mind that everything else the hero did was perfect in the legalist’s eyes, the one act of condoning and participating in a supposed “vice” would demand the following judgment….the spiritual hero is no longer right with God.
Legalism was rampant in Jesus’ day. The Gospels are full of examples showing how the Pharisees were more concerned with the letter of the law, than the spirit of the law. The Pharisees (legalists) even accused Jesus’ disciples of being ungodly all because they did not wash their hands before eating (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). Regulations established by men in order to set boundaries which determine holiness were unacceptable to Jesus. They should be unacceptable today.
Does NOT smoking make one spiritual? How many heathen never touch tobacco? Are they right with God? What about the person that loves the Lord with all his heart, seeks to bring glory to the Father, hides the Word in his heart; yet, he puffs on a pinch of cherry Cavendish in a pipe every now and then? Is he less spiritual by fault of his consumption of burning leaves (the legal kind)?
You see, there are some things which we are told by the Bible not to do. Smoking is not one of them. Tobacco is amoral. In other words, there is nothing moral, or immoral about it…it just is. The point that something amoral becomes immoral is in the way it is used. Similarly, some of the things the legalist would accept as moral, but which are actually amoral, would be very sinful if done out of order or to excess, such as sex or eating food. Adultery and fornication are definitely sins mentioned in the Bible, but without sex the human race would cease to exist. Food is neccessary to live, but eating too much is called gluttony and bad stewardship.
The key is wisdom and maturity, which leads to moderation, and the proper use of God’s creation within the framework of spiritual freedom and grace.
Thank you for reading this far, for now I want to say something else. Cigarettes are nasty, stinky, trashy, chemical-laden cancer sticks. The person that usually smokes them finds themselves hooked and dependent upon them, all the while having their body ravaged and aged before its time. I hate cigarettes. But even though I hate cigarettes, that does not give me the right to question a person’s relationship with the Savior, even though I may question their judgment. Pipes and cigars are different, even though they, too, can be used to excess. I don’t advise either, necessarily, but I REALLY don’t advise cigarettes. The moral line is much easier to distinquish when the use of a product is so capable of bringing one under bondage.
The use of the amoral (that which is neither moral, nor immoral), if used to satisfy an addiction, could thereby be considered a sin.
Lastly, even though I know I have not covered this issue as well as needed, I want to include a post from the blog of Steve Brown. Dr. Brown is a seminary professor, Bible teacher, author, and well-respected Christian radio broadcaster. You may have heard him on Moody Radio in the past. Just read what he had to say on this issue.
Steve BrownAugust 1st, 2007
I know, I know.
I probably shouldn’t have permitted the picture of me smoking my pipe in the last Key Life magazine or, for that matter, on this website.
Look. It’s the only sin I have left and, if I didn’t have that one, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Everybody knows that perfect Christians don’t associate with imperfect Christians…me being the perfect one (sans pipe) and you being the imperfect one.
So my pipe, you could say, is my effort at true “koinonia.”
What about my health?
Good point that, to wit, when it’s my time to die, I don’t want to be like a sinking ship with nothing to throw overboard.
A friend of mine, Jim Lee, wrote to me after seeing the picture…
You have entered into the ranks of Luther on this one, Steve! Reminds me of when I smoked a cigar in front of one preacher, saying I was “killing the Pharisee within,” but that was nothing! Your picture could very well end up gracing the bulletin boards of Moody, Dallas, Bob Jones, and others. Before all of the calls start coming in to say you aren’t saved, “please cancel my subscription,” etc., I want you to know you blow me away with this and I appreciate your making the point in this way.
Frankly, I never thought I would see the day!
If things get really bad and you need a backup plan, I may be able to help. Here are some possible suggestions :
(1) You could say “It wasn’t me! Somebody at the printers is out to get me, and they morphed my picture onto that pipe! It’s easy to do with ‘photoshop’! The devil is trying to ruin my testimony!”
Or (2) “I was at the park and had a root beer lollipop. If you look closely you can see that it’s just a cloud behind my head!”
Or (3) “I was teaching in seminary and was attempting to illustrate a point about Jesus coming in the clouds.”
Jim’s words made me laugh (as he often does); but, frankly, I can’t deal with the guilt.
No, not the guilt of smoking.
The guilt of quitting and then sneaking around.
I once announced to a church congregation where I was the pastor that I had stopped smoking. There was applause. Not only that. I started getting piles of candy and chewing gum from my concerned parishioners who wanted to help me in every way they could.
It lasted about two weeks before I started sneaking smokes. I could have lived with that.
It was the preaching and teaching about honesty and authenticity that got me.
So I announced my fall from grace from the pulpit. I said, “Just so you know, I’ve started smoking again. Let us pray…”
I didn’t say it, but could have said, “And after this service, I’m going to get out my fine briar pipe and my aromatic, freshly mixed tobacco and have a smoke.”
After a dull sermon, a boring faculty meeting, a hard day, etc., etc., one needs something to look forward to. In that way, smoking is like heaven. It, of course, isn’t heaven, but it will do until then.