Smoking and Drinking

As a child, I was led to believe that the two worst sins anyone could ever commit were smoking and drinking, the use of tobacco and alcohol.

But where in the Bible is this taught?  It’s not!  Tobacco and its uses is not even mentioned.  Alcohol is another matter for sure, but along with many warnings about the dangers of alcohol, there are affirmations of wine as God’s gift and a source of divine blessing.

So, I’ve had to moderate my hard stance over the years.  A sermon I now look back on with embarrassment was a hard line position in a small Nebraska town in the Seventies that believers should not enter the only restaurant in town because it was primarily a bar. I wonder if I should go apologize to the owners 35 years later for my attitude toward them. A more recent treatment of drinking alcohol about which I’m not embarrassed is a sermon I preached in 2012 in the Wisdom for Life series from Proverbs, Wisdom and Wine,

Have I changed my mind about alcohol and tobacco?  Yes and No

Hopefully, I’ve learned to be more careful in my use of Scripture to prop up my passionately held convictions. But while my absolutist positions of the past were perhaps overplayed, I’m not ready to concede the significant dangers of alcohol use and that my choice of abstinence is reasonable.

I’m grateful today that I had those early convictions about alcohol and tobacco and was never seriously tempted to even try them.  I’ve been called a liar for confessing that I’ve never taken a puff or a taste, but it’s true. Oh, I did drink a thimble full of wine when I took communion at a Baptist church in Kiev, Ukraine.  I’ve used Vick’s Nyquil to alleviate the symptoms of a cold. And I’ve had my share of second hand smoke; and noted that some pipe tobacco is very pleasant to smell.  But I’ve never directly smoked or used alcohol as a beverage.

That’s not boasting.  It makes me no better than anyone else.  Maybe you think I’m a fool for not enjoying the fruit of the vine as one of God’s good gifts. Is this an example of a conviction that is based on misinformation and should be adjusted?  Possibly. But this conviction has served me well and protected me from significant suffering tied to both habits.  There are Biblical principles about addiction and caring for my body that relate to both of these things. I’m no model of self-control, so why take chances with things that could severely test my discipline. There are health facts about alcohol and tobacco that cause me to believe abstinence is the way of wisdom. I’ve witnessed the devastation of alcohol abuse over and over through the years.  And the grave dangers of alcohol are multiplied in the modern world far beyond that of Bible times. Why expose myself, my family and my friends to unnecessary dangers?

I hope I can also learn from the experience of others.  The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon was both a smoker and a drinker and bragged that he would enjoy a cigar for the glory of God.  But that’s not the whole story.  Spurgeon came from the opposite side of the issue that I did, but it appears we ended up in a similar place, more biblical but cautious.

I think you’ll enjoy Trevin Wax’s article, Spurgeon the Drinker: The Rest of the Story…




2 thoughts on “Smoking and Drinking

  1. Thanks for great counsel on how to make decisions on controversial areas that do indeed bring grace and truth both to bear on our lives. My most recent experience with this kind of thing actually happened not long after Julie and I started attending Faith church and involved a woman who also was new to our faith, whom I inadvertently offended. I don’t believe she attend here any longe. I hope her absence is unrelated to how i handled this.

    Exactly one year ago next Sunday, the Sunday preceding GIC last year. I was diligently entering sermon notes into my Sermon notes application on my phone. (I use this application because my hand writing is so bad that I would not be able to read my notes when I want to reflect on your sermon later.) Near the end of your sermon the woman next to me handed me a note reading:

    “What is this church’s policy on texting during worship?Do they allow texting during worship in this church? What kind of an example does this set for new believers or the immature!” or something to that affect. My initial though was to wonder who she was talking about and why she had given the note to me. At first it didn’t register with me what her note was about me. After we sang the last hymn I said with incredible insensitivity. “You know. I’m new here. I really don’t know if there is a policy on texting [still completely oblivious to the fact that it was the one to whom she was referring]. Maybe you ought to speak to one of the Elders about it.” At that her face strangely contorted and she stormed out of the room I then realized that I had somehow offended her. I realized that she had thought I was texting when I was only taking notes on my electronic device.

    My heart sunk. My intention at faith was just blend in quietly and learn what I could, serve where I could for the glory of God and see the kingdom advance in our new home. Here I was attending the church all of two weeks, attempting to have a unobtrusive humble presence, and all ready I was offending people. I really wrestled with whether I should continue using the device. My wife even suggested I should quit if people found it offensive. I felt terrible and tried to catch the woman as she went out into the lobby but several faith people determined not to let a new person feel unwelcome stopped me to greeted me. I didn’;t quite no how to say, “Sorry, I don’t want to talk to you. I’m trying to meet the person who I just offended, drove from the church and shipped wrecked their faith.”

    Here is what I did. For the present I kept using the device only because I noticed other people in the service using various devices. However, I wanted to connect with this woman again and see if we could resolve our difference, based on what I presumed was a mistaken assumption on her part. The principles I operated on were that there was no command in scripture against using an electronic device, (although I suppose a point could be mad that when Jesus read from Isaiah in the Temple he was not and IPad.) Texting during worship clearly would have been inappropriate and worthy of admonition from fellow believers. Since I observed that others used electronic devices in the service it must not be an offensive practice to the general population of the church. Unless I saw this woman in service again I would continue using this device until an usher asked me to stop, escorted me from the service or lightening struck me where I sat. I began praying that God would give me the chance to talk to this woman again.

    A few weeks later Julie and I began attending a Connections Class and there she was in the back of the class. I felt compelled to try to repair any damage I had done to our relationship and to disassociate whatever negative impression she had of me from the church.. At the end of the class I got up and walked toward her. As she made I contact with me her back stiffened; she raised her chin and her jaw jutted outward. I paused for second, observing the size and density of her purse, and the fact that she carried a large red Mac Arthur Study Bible. Trust me. It was not Mac Arthur’s brand of dispensational theology that worried me. I decided that if Paul could face shipwreck and stoning, I could face one slightly disgruntled saint.

    I reached out my hand and said, “Hello, I am Glenn.”

    She did not reach out her hand (I tried not to draw any conclusions from that. Some women do shake hands with men) but said my name is “Susan” [a pseudonym, in respect of her privacy].

    “Susan, It seem to me as I came over hear that you recognized me as the person you gave the note to a few weeks ago in service. Was I right?”

    “Uh, well. Yes,..”

    “Well I wanted to thank you for caring enough about our church and about me to want to protect God’s honor. I really appreciated your admonition about texting?”

    “Yeah, people shouldn’t text in church.”

    “Yes I agree, and I’m sorry if my response to you seemed flippant or insensitive. I didn’t quite connect that you were referring to me until after you left the auditorium, because as it turns out I wasn’t texting?


    “You see I have terrible hand writing and do all my note taking electronically. I have a sermon notes application on my phone. I’d like to show it to just so you can be assure I was not texting”

    “Oh, uh, well Okay,”

    I showed her the application and the notes from the sermon, “Any way I really appreciate how difficult it was for you and I just want to make sure there is nothing between us.”

    Her countenance and body language didn’t change much, but her purse remained at her feet and John Mac Arthur rested comfortably on her chair. After a pause she did express her disapproval of texting in the church. I wasn’t sure how our conversation had progressed except that the next few weeks during the class she came in and sat at the table with Julie ad me and was very amicable, which I took as a sign that she had forgiven my use of an electronic device.

    As I reflect on this I must confess there times when I have based purely on my prejudices or assumptions taken offense at things people have done or said. When we consider I Corinthians 8, 10 or Romans 14 I think there is a difference between tempting the weaker brother and offending the prejudices and preferences of people. I do believe that Paul said as and imperative:
    “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats. As a believer when I find myself offended by someone I have to ask myself if I am being enticed to do the same thing, if so I am under obligation to live with it and to give the person the freedom to listen to that gospel wrap music for example, which i detest. When I transfer my dislike of the music to a dislike of the person then I am the one at fault.

    In Romans 14 the offended party is the one who has weak faith. I find that people who take offense some times present their judgement as final and somehow present their faith as superior. I am in no way saying these attitudes were true of Sue. I don’t know her heart.
    I just know that I too have on many occasions made assumptions about things Christians were doing that I disapproved of and when I have examined my attitude under the light of the Scripture and the conviction of the spirit I have found the sin to be my own hubris more than it is someone else’s sin.

    When I approach a gray area in my life or someone else;s I ask as you said:

    Does it prohibit a command or principle of scripture. Than I ask, whether someone is hurt by it, not whether I or someone else is offended. To me there is a big difference. Can I see how this action is doing harm to someone or the body of Christ. Then third I try to ask can God be glorified by this action. These were the exact same criterion you state in your message Sunday and as always I appreciate your careful exegesis of the text. So next Sunday if you see me alternating thumps of my thumb on my phone during your sermon please excuse me. I had to send a text to my new friend Sue; I don’t think she will respond right away, though because she has this thing about texting in church.


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