Barrett L. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
I am writing to the young people only. All of the older folks ought just to turn to the next page; unless, of course, they are considering taking up smoking.
You young people might think that it is a little presumptuous to write about smoking. For one thing, there are many who are not going to like to see this article in print. For another, you may have seen me with a smoke in my hand a time or two (we’ll talk about that later). Besides, there has never yet, in the history of this magazine, been an article critical of cigarette smoking (at least not that shows itself in .the index). The only article I could find was a short defense of it. Part of the reason for this silence is- that before the health dangers of smoking were well-known, seminary students (who later became the major contributors to these pages) were almostencouraged to smoke. For the most, men were. “out of it” if they did not contribute to the cloud of smoke above the table at synod and classis.
So why write now? I have a couple of reasons for my presumption. In the first place, although I have had only a few requests to write on something specific, all of them have been requests to write about smoking—from your parents concerned about .your health. The second reason is the overwhelming evidence from science that smoking is physically dangerous. As a pastor, I have a care for the health of your body as well as your soul.
On our family’s vacation last summer, we were camping at about 8,000 feet in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains in southern California. One of the few other campers in the campground was an old couple in a travel trailer. As we walked past their picnic table where they were sitting we struck up a conversation with them. The elderly man was the former dean of the University Medical School at Loma Linda Hospital, and was very interested in learning about, our private schools and churches’ catechism instruction. To make a long story short, along with giving us a gift subscription to two of his church’s magazines (Seventh Day Adventist), he gave me a couple of the many books he had written. The title of one of the books was We’ve Come A Long Way, Maybe—a play on words you probably don’t need explained. Reading this book renewed in me the conviction that no Christian young person ought to smoke.
I believe that there are two main reasons why a Christian young person should not begin to smoke. For those who are concerned with principles, I believe these reason have to do with principles.
I put this first, because we are answering the question, “Should I begin to smoke?” Whether or not smoking in itself is physically harmful, it is addictive. The chemicals in cigarettes work in such a way that after a while you need them to function even normally. They are drugs.
If you would ask all the smokers that you know why they don’t quit smoking, a good guess is that about 90% of them would tell you that they have tried,’ but find it almost impossible to stop. The other 10% are probably either not telling the whole truth, or have convinced themselves that they are actually happy with their habit. But I have a hard time believing thatanyone is truly happy with this habit. This is why some will not be completely honest with you when you ask them about smoking—because they are in the grips of the habit.
The reason most of you smoke now, if you do, or smoke only occasionally, is not because it wasenjoyable to inhale smoke the first time. Who doesn’t remember the first times he/she: inhaled too much smoke and became green at the gills and almost vomited? I surely do. Is that pleasant? The first times we smoke are to show others that we can, or to show that we dare do something that is not allowed by parents or teachers. But it doesn’t take too long before that’s about all we can think about. Why? Because our body has actually come to need a cigarette. You are on your way to being addicted. How do you know that you won’t?
Do you understand the sin of being addicted to a drug—willfully? Do you understand what you act like when you are addicted? You will do almost anything for a smoke. You can think of almost nothing else when you need a “fix.” If it doesn’t actually violate it, this comes very close to violation of the first commandment. No child of God may willingly put himself in that position that he is physically addicted to a drug. Beginning to smoke puts one in the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.
I sympathize with the peer pressure you face. But wouldn’t it be better to try to handle the peer pressure now, then try to break a very difficult habit later?
Although I think most of us know what smoking does, I wish 1 had the space to show you all the evidence—so plain and convincing—that the warnings on the sides of the packages are not a joke. Cigarettes are unarguably linked with lung cancer (have you ever seen someone dying of lung cancer?), withemphysema (have you ever seen anyone try to LIVE with emphysema?), heart disease, strokes, and many, many more devastating health problems—most of which lead to this: death. How does a Christian feel who is dying of a disease brought on by something he did willfully?
“Worldwide more than 2 million smokers die annually from heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema caused by their addiction,” (Ministry, March, 1988, page 25). Two million!! The same magazine says that “nonsmoking wives of smoking husbands have two to three times the normal incidence of lung cancer. Children living in homes in which one or both parents smoke have more upper respiratory infections and miss more school days from sickness. Most tragically affected is the unborn fetus. With nicotine restricting blood flow, and carbon monoxide inactivating red blood cells, these victims are born smaller and have a higher probability of contracting disease.” You young girls who are beginning to smoke, please remember that smoking is addictive, and that it does this to you and your children. Just tonight on NBC’s national news, it was reported that women who smoke have a ten times greater chance of stroke than women who don’t.
There is enough good, scientific evidence to prove even to the most doubtful skeptic that regular smoking (whether you say you inhale or not) is damaging to your body.
Besides forbidding us to murder others, God’s will for us in the sixth commandment is that we not harm our own body. The reason we want to obey God’s call not to harm our body is not, first of all, that we may live a longer, happier life, (along with all the other reasons non-Christians would convince you not to smoke). This is part of it. Our life, in the service of God, is a more productive life when we are healthy. But the more important reason is that our body is God’s temple, in which He dwells with His Holy Spirit. In another connection, Paul asks, “Shall we unite our body, which is a member of Christ’s, with a harlot? God forbid!” (I Corinthians 6:15). Shall we then, take that same body, which is a member of Christ’s body, and a temple of the Holy Spirit, and willfully subject it to cancer, lung disease, emphysema, and the rest? Dare we use any less forceful language than Paul did?
There are other reasons we ought not to begin to smoke. Some that my father told me years ago still stick with me: It’s a waste of money (figure it out sometime). It’s dirty (just look at the ash tray in the car, or all the butts lying around on the church. sidewalks or in the planters). It stinks (did you ever kiss someone who smokes?).
Under “Christian liberty” a child of God sometimes practices those things that the Bible does not say plainly we may not do. There are some who appeal to Christian liberty to argue in favor of smoking. The reasoning goes like this: “The Bible says nothing about smoking. Therefore, you may not lay down a law for me that says I may not smoke. I will smoke under Christian liberty.”
But we must be honest here. No one can deny that the Bible—in the sixth commandment—prohibits willfully harming one’s self, which takes smoking out of the realm of Christian liberty, into an area about which God speaks directly.
Besides, the Scriptures give us guidelines for exercising our Christian liberty. Three times, in I Corinthians, Paul says “all things are lawful” (this is Christian liberty). In each case he quickly adds, as it were, “But wait a moment. There is something more that needs to be said about the liberty.” Each of these “buts” which Paul adds limits Christian liberty. We must always first ask the questions, “Is it expedient?” That is, “Is it profitable, helpful, beneficial?” (see I Cor. 6:12, 10:23). “Does it edify?” That is, “Does it build up my neighbor?” (I Cor. 10:23). And, “Does it bring me into bondage?” (I Cor. 6:12). These are weighty considerations.
Expediency. Expediency and edification are very similar. Is it beneficial? Does my smoking profit me? Does it build up my neighbor and me? Or worse, does my smoking offend others? By offense, I don’t mean that the neighbor becomes angry with my smoking. That is part of offense. (God is even offended by sin). But I am referring to the offense that causes others to stumble. If I smoke, then others see my smoking and justify it for themselves. This is the worst offense possible. God was angry with the wicked kings of Israel, not mainly because they did not worship Him, but because they taught the peopleto worship idols. This is offense.
Which brings up my own smoking. (I wish I could get away without this!) Even if I can smoke moderately—I only smoke “OP’s” (other people’s) and only about one per week; and even if I don’t inhale all the smoke—this is a defense others use; don’t [ still have to reckon with Paul’s warning about Christian liberty in I Corinthians? “All things are lawful. But do they edifymy neighbor? Are they expedient? Or does my action cause another in the church to fall into this practice?”
Bondage. “Does it bring me into bondage?” Paul asks. Does smoking so work on a person that he becomes enslaved to it? Can anyone deny that smoking is addictive? We shall not lead our own person into bondage. This drug shall not reign over me! I shall not be brought under the power of any!
I appeal, friends, not to your sense of fear. I do that, too. I hope you are afraid to get lung cancer or emphysema or suffer stroke. I hope you are afraid of God’s displeasure with those who disobey Him. But these are not the first reasons a Christian does not begin to smoke.
I appeal first of all to your sense of love to God. Do you love Him, Who died for you? I know you do. Do you love Him Who suffered for you? I know you do. Are you thankful for the salvation you already have? Then “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20.)