At Work

Cigar Smoking to the Glory of God?

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A rabbi, a protestant, a Catholic reverend, an atheist, and a Norse pagan walk into a cigar shop, smoke together for about two hours, and have an edifying conversation about religion and life. Yes, this is a true story and it happened regularly while I was earning my master’s degree and managing a cigar shop. Needless to say, my graduate school experience was considerably different from most people’s, and it taught me more about loving and leading people through my work than I could have possibly imagined.

But some Christians, those who tend to be more legalistic, might ask, “how it is that you can smoke cigars as a Christian? Doesn’t that bother your conscience or set a poor example?” To this query, I would love to provide an answer that I believe supports the contrary.

The Prince of Preachers and His Love for Cigars

I am not the first Christian to smoke cigars on a regular basis. The “Prince of Preachers” himself, Charles H. Spurgeon, was well known for the habit as well. Spurgeon once penned a letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph after he was criticized for saying to his congregation, “I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight.” In his letter Spurgeon explains, “When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm, refreshing sleep obtained by a cigar, I have felt grateful to God, and have blessed His name.”

Spurgeon’s position on cigar smoking may not be as emphatic as Mark Twain’s infamous alleged quote, “if smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go,” but his stance on the matter is clear—cigar smoking can be done to the glory of God. Although the habit is still taboo in many Christian circles, my experience working in a cigar lounge gave me more opportunities to minister and be ministered to than I could have ever expected.

Ministry in a Cigar Shop

Once you light a cigar beside someone, you’ve dedicated the next hour and a half to being in the same place and enjoying the same relaxing habit. The environment of our cigar lounge was one saturated with conversation and people curious and open to talking with anyone who walked through the door.

This type of “instant fraternity,” as we called it, had incredible effects on me as well as my employees and clientele. The simultaneously intimidating and liberating nature of an environment like this is that conversations are frequently deep, and people are not shy about challenging your ideas or views. As a result, there is trust, candor, and confidentiality.

Because of this “fraternity”—by this I mean in the classical sense, brotherhood—my employees and customers were not merely employees and customers, they were (and still are) close friends. Spending a few hours together every day for years made us more than lawyers, college students, veterans, businessmen, and bankers; it made us equals, mentors/mentees, and friends. Once you walk into the shop, you’re immediately able to vent, ask for advice, or simply enjoy the company of people that respect you and one another. This is the environment we used as staff members to love and lead people toward Jesus, and we were told regularly by people who found churches too judgmental or intimidating that we provided a community they had never experienced.

In fact, we held a men’s Bible study every week that typically saw anywhere from 10-30 people in attendance—half college students and the other half professionals in the area. Our ages and professions were wide ranging, but our pleasures in life were what brought us together—Jesus and cigars.

In these weekly studies, we discussed how to be men after Jesus’ heart by following his example of honoring God in our relationships and vocations. For younger guys, it was an opportunity to hear from men one to two generations older, hear about their struggles through life, and what they learned along the way through leading families and running businesses. For older guys, it was an opportunity to hear from men their sons’ and grandsons’ ages about their struggles with family, school, figuring out the future, and what God’s will for their lives may be. These relationships gave all of us opportunities to glean wisdom from men in all walks of life and to be transparent and trusting with men who started as acquaintances but who became brothers.

Walking through life together in this way, we have been there for each other’s graduations, marriages, pregnancies, first children, first jobs, break-ups, heartbreaks, job losses, divorces, miscarriages, lost family members, and even the funeral of a brother in Christ. If anything happens to anyone in this community, we pray, celebrate, and mourn together. We know that our community is not as much about the leaf we love as it is about Christ. He bonds us together—he just happens to do so through cigars.

Even when the cigar shop was dangerously close to closing, there was profound support. Owners,  managers, and employees all knew about our finances and what moves we were making to rectify the situation. Our customers knew the situation as well, and they continued coming for the community. I was told many times by customers, “I can smoke anywhere I want, but the community is what brings me here.” Before, during, and now after this season, the owners made it clear the reason we are so passionate about the shop is not because we love cigars, but because we love ministry. Our cigar shop is not centered on cigars, it’s centered on Christ. That is why we work; to glorify him with our work and to lead others toward him through it. No matter our work, our job is to proclaim Christ through it.

I now live near Washington D.C., as do three other men who were part of that cigar shop community, and by God’s grace, we have continued our Bible study every week, over cigars.

 

Editor’s note: Go deeper into the biblical meaning of work. Check out Hugh Whelchel’s, How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

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  • Pete Smith

    Interesting post. The author finds support for smoking cigars from Spurgeon but seeks to build no apologetic from the Scriptures. He rather easily dismisses those who might question this habit as “those who tend to be more legalistic” as if that ends the line of inquiry. The author presents no biblical argument. It is merely practical and expedient. His answer is woefully inadequate.

    • Jimmy Lewis

      Pete, thank you for the perspective and feedback. Typically I would ground any argument in Scripture, but I have found through my years of smoking cigars that most arguments against it are personal, not Biblical (even among Christians, sadly). That is why I rely on personal experience in this piece. Although Spurgeon’s correspondence with people on the issue provides some biblical and theological arguments for smoking cigars I will give a brief one here. In the gospels Jesus spends a significant amount of time telling the religious elite that God does not want us following these falsely constructed rules; rather he simply wants us to glorify Him with our lives. In 1 Cor 10:31 Paul says “in whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.” I do not see an incompatibility with smoking cigars and glorifying God, and if there is such a command or even implication in Scripture it has alluded me. One final example in this short defense, Jesus’ first miracle in Scripture (turning water to wine) and its purpose—to show His supremacy and power over nature. Wine is natural, tobacco is natural, Jesus is Lord over it, and we are capable of glorifying God through using it. If it is against a fellow Christians’ conscience though, they ought not to partake and we ought not to when we are with them (1 Cor 8:7-13). Lastly, because I smoke cigars, I have found that unbelievers feel less judged by me and don’t feel like I am “holier than thou,” so I am able to have genuine relationships with them wherein Jesus is proclaimed and they do not feel threatened. Thank you again for your feedback on the article and I hope that it was a helpful perspective.

  • Steve

    “Jimmy….has a passion for truth.” Well…try these truths: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0333.pdf

    Each person has to decide how best to be an instrument of grace and a source of the gospel, and apparently Jimmy decided that the ‘cigar club’ was a good setting for discussion. I wonder if some 20+ years down the road he would make the same decision. There is a reason that insurance policies issued from the company I work for triple the cost of the premium for ANY use of tobacco. God can use us in a variety of ways and as I said, that is up to each of us to decide…but the influence of this particular type outreach and the potential consequences it could have on Jimmy’s family and friends–well, that very well may be a steep cost. I’m wondering if Jimmy would encourage his young sons or daughters to use this approach in high school when smoking allows one to be in a circle for conversation?

    • Jimmy Lewis

      Steve, thank you for your input on the subject. Tobacco is natural, not man-made, and you do not inhale cigar smoke, making it much less a health risk than cigarettes (https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/brp/tcrb/monographs/9/m9_4.pdf). The FDA released research in 2016 from studies showing 1-2 cigars a day has minimal if any health risks (https://www.rstreet.org/2016/08/24/fda-study-cancer-risks-nearly-nil-for-1-2-cigars-per-day/). This is why they decided not to regulate the cigar industry as heavily as they planned to in 2016. Finally, I have been smoking for nearly 6 years and have never known or heard of a fellow cigar smoker to have any adverse health effects from it. Finally, it is illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to minors (anyone under 18) in the United States, so I have never seen anyone under that age even allowed into a cigar shop. In the end, from a health and legal standpoint it is up to individuals what they will put into their bodies. Whether it be food or cigars, sugar or tobacco, it is up to individuals not the government or others. Thank you again for your interest in the article and your feedback.

  • Josiah Downen

    Hey Jimmy,
    Just wanted to say thank you for your thought in this post. I will use this as a future reference for other inquiring Christians. From one cigar smoker to another! (though I am more of a pipe guy)

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