Smoking has been popular for centuries. And throughout its history, perspectives on smoking have been quite varied. Smoking has been embraced as an aristocratic luxury, glorified by entertainment icons, and modernized by the vape market. But it has also been chastised as a habit of delinquents and derelicts and condemned as a health risk.
With so many competing ideas, how should Christians approach smoking? Are we free to make our own choice, and how do we apply the Bible to our decision to smoke or not smoke?
The Bible does not directly prohibit smoking. However, because of its negative effects and lack of benefit, smoking is a sinful act that Christians should strive to avoid or cease doing.
What the Bible Doesn’t Say
Our task would be simple if the Bible included a command against smoking. If we were to encounter tobacco in the dietary restrictions of Levitical law, or smoking among the pagan practices of Israel’s neighbors, we could simply address smoking in much the same manner that we address pork and tattoos. However, the Bible is silent on the use of tobacco and the practice of smoking.
But this is not a shortcoming of scripture. Rather, it is an opportunity to search scripture more earnestly than we might if we were to find a quick answer. We must first examine the ways in which smoking affects us, and then we can let scripture speak to us in those areas. So we will explore what scripture says about the addictive nature of smoking, and its impact on our health and our finances.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12
At the onset of his discourse on sins that affect the body (relating to food and sexual activity), Paul acknowledges that everything is permissible, but draws a line being mastered. Addiction is a form of mastery. All addictions manifest as a craving or desire that compels the addict to satisfy the desire, often with little regard to the expense, risk, or harm caused by doing so.
An addict in search of drugs will regularly lie or steal to fund their habit. A man addicted to sex or pornography might let his marriage deteriorate while he spends his time and money at the strip club. And a gambling addict might not be able to buy groceries, because she spent her whole paycheck on lottery tickets.
The allure of nicotine is just as strong as these other vices. In fact, it is among the most physically addictive drugs on the market. Society’s laws regulating the use of nicotine are less severe than those regarding other substances not because nicotine is less addicting, but because its impact is not as acutely felt across society.
Alcohol impairs drivers. Heroin can be fatal in a single dose. Sex addiction and gambling create markets for human trafficking, racketeering, and other criminal activity. Comparatively speaking, the effects of nicotine are quite mild.
So why not give smoking a free pass?
Because as Christians, we must not serve any master apart from Jesus (Matthew 6:24). Anything that we place as a priority ahead of God is an idol. Idols are often not inherently evil. Even good things, such as our marriages, our churches, and our jobs can become idols if we place them above God himself.
So while tobacco, in and of itself, is morally neutral (neither commanded nor forbidden), its addictive qualities almost guarantee that it will become an idol to those who use it. And furthermore, unlike money, sex, and food, there is really no safe or correct way to use tobacco, because it has no benefit at all to the body.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; – 1 Corinthians 6:19
Just as Paul begins his discourse on bodily sins with a warning about mastery, he ends with a reminder that our bodies have a purpose. We made in God’s image, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and called to care for His dwelling place. Breathing is integral to our design as physical beings and our purpose in God’s creation.
The Bible has much to say about the importance and significance of breathing. Breath is the source of life (Genesis 2:7) and is conferred on us directly by God (Job 33:4). The Biblical words for breath (neshamah and ruwach in Old Testament Hebrew, and pneuma in New Testament Greek) are also used to describe the Holy Spirit. The very act of breathing reminds us of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
And while it is possible to misuse food, sex, or alcohol, there are also Biblical ways to use these things. However, we find no Biblical regulations about the proper occasion or appropriate means to inhale anything other than air. Furthermore, science has shown that smoking inhibits our breathing upon first use. And apart from the pleasure signals that nicotine sends to our brains to satisfy our craving, it confers no benefit.
A substance that only produces harm and no benefit should be of no use to us. Yet, vape pens and cigarettes are costly. Most smokers do not take the effort to examine their purchases and tabulate how much they spend on their habits. But when they do, the results are usually revealing.
Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there we will find our hearts (Matthew 6:21). The late evangelist Billy Graham offered a modernized paraphrase of this Biblical truth when he said, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.”
Good stewardship recognizes that God owns all things, and He entrusts us with some of His resources so that we may do the good work that He has called us to do. In this way, every financial decision that we make (not just decisions about our giving) is a spiritual decision.
Even if our bills are paid, and our giving is generous, God doesn’t expect us to be wasteful with our excess resources. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus describes servants who were each entrusted with different amounts of money. Two invested and received a return, while the other merely hid his resources.
The quantity that each was given was unimportant to the point of the story. The expectation, Jesus reveals, is that whether we are given little or given much, we are to faithfully honor him with whatever he has entrusted to our care.
Material excess encourages pride instead of humility. And wasteful spending on gambling or frivolity might inhibit our capacity to care for our family. So too, spending money on cigarettes and vape pens means we are spending money on producing harm, with no benefit.
Conviction, Not Condemnation
If you smoke and have not considered the spiritual implications of doing so, please consider them now and let the Spirit guide you to a new way of thinking, acting, and spending.
And if you have weighed the effects and the costs of smoking, but feel helpless against the power of addiction, seek help. Your brothers and sisters in Christ can provide you with prayer support and accountability. And your doctor can provide you with medical resources to overcome addiction if needed.
And finally, if you have never smoked, or have achieved victory over smoking, maintain a spirit of grace and humility as you interact with those who have not yet overcome their addiction. When we come alongside others to assist them in their struggle, we must do so with gentleness and grace. Our objective when confronting sin is always restoration, and never condemnation.