Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
– Galatians 6:2

I started smoking cigars the summer after I graduated high school. That would’ve been in 1994. I smoked cigars for nearly seventeen years. Smoking cigars was my favorite way to pass the time. It may sound silly to some, but some of my favorite moments in life involved sitting with friends and enjoying some good tobacco together, talking about important things and silly things, sharing and laughing and eating. Some of my favorite moments in life involved just me and a cigar and deep thoughts about the gospel. It’s something probably only serious cigar smokers might understand.

Then I stopped. I didn’t want to, but I did. I transitioned my family’s health care coverage from insurance to a Christian “health-share” program. Incredible insurance costs were the main reason. But one of the stipulations for participation in the new co-op is abstention from all tobacco use. Alcohol in moderation is okay, but there is no consideration for “tobacco in moderation,” which I assume my roughly one cigar a month might have qualified for. I won’t lie; it was tough. Again, this might seem odd for some to understand, but take one of your favorite hobbies, something “unnecessary” but that nevertheless brings you joy and satisfaction and is an exercise of a good gift that you’ve enjoyed for over a decade — ladies, maybe it’s crafting; fellas, maybe it’s golf — and imagine someone said you have to stop. Like, for good.

But I decided it would be worth it. So two years ago I agreed to abstain. It has not been easy. Joe Thorn’s Instagram is one particular sticky thorn in my flesh. :-) When I go visit friends or attend after-hours hangouts at various conferences, I will be among friends who are enjoying fine cigars all around me. They always offer me one, not knowing about my pledge to abstain. I have been tempted to flout the rules. I can come up with all kinds of justifications. For instance, there is no rule against eating junk food or sitting in smoggy traffic all day every day, and surely I’m healthier smoking 13 cigars a year than some folks on the plan eating McDonald’s three times a week. The flesh is great at self-justification. I am great at self-justification.

So what has kept me from cheating? On the form you fill out every year to renew membership, which includes the pledge to abstain from tobacco, there is a place where a church officer must sign to vouch for the veracity of your statements. My friends Elder Dale and Deacon Neil have been signers of this document. I know that if I cheat on my pledge, it doesn’t just make me a liar, it will make them liars. It will make me a liar to them. So even though they are not asking me (ever, really) if I’m really keeping my promises in that form, they are signing with the assumption that I am, and therefore their vouching for me is my accountability-holder.

When we think of accountability relationships (or accountability “partners”), we often think of all the ways someone might keep a weaker brother responsible for his actions. We rarely talk about how the one being held accountable might live in such a way to not make his accountability-holder look like a jerk. This runs through issues of church discipline and the like, as well. The focus is so much on gentleness and directness and loving rebuke for those sinning — which is a necessary focus, of course — that we sometimes neglect to remind people that walking in repentance and integrity is a good gift to leaders (Hebrews 13:17) because it keeps them from having to enter conflict. Us folks under accountability can take real burdens off those holding us accountable by striving to act right.

Maybe your accountability partner receives your Internet logs each week to hold your online surfing habits under inspection. When you go where you shouldn’t online, you’re not just sinning against God, you’re sinning against your brother by putting him in the difficult, undesirable, burdensome position of figuring out how to confront you, rebuke you, and restore you in ways that bring glory to God and joy to you. He will do that, because he’s committed to do it (and you asked him to). But isn’t it better to work at making sure he’s not having to be in that position?

We are looking for grace from our accountability-holders. But we ought also to be looking to how we might give grace to our accountability-holders. Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives not simply out of personal religious ambition but out of relational mercy, out of a desire to not make religious cuckolds of our friends.

Outdo one another in showing honor.
– Romans 12:10

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Comments:


28 thoughts on “Cigar Smoking and Grace For the Accountability-Holder”

  1. Andrew Faris says:

    Yes, I agree with everything here.

    There, that’s that.

    But here’s what makes me angry: there is no medical evidence that I’m aware of to indicate that smoking one cigar per month is detrimental to your health in any way. I really enjoy my pipe (with about the same frequency that you enjoyed cigars) but at one point I thought, “I don’t think I’m killing myself, but I should double check.”

    So I read a collection of abstracts from medical journals, surprised to find that there was literally no correlation between such occasional tobacco use and any forms of mouth/throat/lip/tongue cancer. In fact, I could hardly find an article that tested such occasional smoking because the evidence seemed to point so clearly to the fact that even a few smokes per week probably was OK for a pipe or cigar smoker, since they aren’t inhaling it into their lungs.

    Hobby horse finished. Thanks for the post. The accountability stuff is on the money and I appreciated this post a lot.

    Andrew

  2. suzanne says:

    thank you for posting this and being transparent. i don’t recall hearing this perspective regarding accountability but it is right on target and something that needs to be included in any discussion or agreement to accountability. thank you for sharing!

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Fantastic article, except for the part about lumping women’s hobbies into the crafting category :)

    And I’m sorry for your loss.

  4. Mason says:

    Brother, this really, really encouraged me.

  5. Pastor Doug says:

    Thanks for this post. As a cigar smoker myself, I feel your pain and appreciate your integrity. Very encouraging!

  6. krisakson says:

    As you rightly note, tobacco use is really not the issue. The issue, in this case, is whether you are willing to limit your liberties. Are you willing to enter into a covenant with someone and be faithful to it. If you want to put plants in your mouth and set fire to them, knock yourself out. Yet, it’s not whether or not it’s ok for you but is it good for you and for others. Smoking etc. are a choice we make (I used to smoke too) but we have no right to impose that choice on others or force them to shoulder any potential future costs.
    Crawling down from my soap box, the point of fidelity is correct. But this issue goes really much deeper than the vow we make with each other or for those who would hold us accountable on this side of heaven. We willfully vow before God Himself that we are going to reign in our habits. Not for just for our temporal good, but for His glory. We have a built-in accountability partner or rather one to whom we must give an account. Lastly, grace flows through us not from us.

  7. Jason says:

    I especially like your point about self-justification and contractual agreements. I have a friend who was applying to seminary, and he mentioned a “no-alcohol” clause in the contract. He was telling me how he felt like their intention was to protect the seminary’s image, so they must have only meant “no drinking in public.” They can’t tell me what to do in my own home, right?

    Well, that led to a fruitful discussion about integrity. Basically, when we assume that the authors of contracts like this couldn’t possibly have meant what they said and then sign on the dotted lines, we make ourselves liars. I think, culturally, this is one of the easiest things for us to do. We should be people of our word, though=]

  8. Brad Kidder says:

    Hey Jarred I am also a member of a health care sharing organization wondering if you are with samaritan ministries? If so while the box on the form ask you to abstain from all tobacco, this provision is witting the guidelines:

    E. Agree not to abuse any legal or prescribed substance, abstain totally from illegal drugs, and abstain from tobacco use (a rare celebratory cigar or pipe, e.g. at the birth of a baby, is an allowed exception). Romans 13:1; I Corinthians 6:12

    So there is some allowance for an occasional celebratory cigar, join Samaritans enjoy one every once and a while.

    1. Brad, I am a member of Samaritan’s Ministries and I never knew about this allowance. I have skipped out on a few wedding and baby celebrations out of integrity to this commitment, wishing there would be some allowance in these cases. Thanks for sharing this.

      And Jared, great post.

  9. Ken says:

    God bless you. And may God wake up those who make you sign such a pledge and make such promises. Sheesh. Dealing with the stupid is just one of the things we are willing to do as faithful disciples. Living in the fear that God may call me to do the same some day.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Ken, thanks. I want to be clear, though, in saying that I don’t think this policy is stupid. I totally see the wisdom and logic in it. Habitual tobacco smoke, like cigarette smoking or chewing tobacco use, which are the most prevalent forms of tobacco use, are unhealthy, very dangerous. So I don’t envy the position of trying to figure out how to forbid that while making distinctions about occasional cigar or pipe use or whatever. This was probably the best policy to cover all bases without a bunch of distracting qualifications. I don’t resent it. I just don’t like it. ;-)

  10. Julie says:

    Great perspective on this issue. Just another reason to be true, to walk in the light.

  11. Jake T. says:

    7/27/13 will be the 2nd anniversary of being cigar-free… and the 2nd anniversary of the day God walked me through a Myocardial infarction. This 39-year-old will celebrate God’s goodness on saturday.

  12. David Tucker says:

    You make a great point about it being a sin against a brother, but no one looks at pornography thinking it is like smoking a cigar occasionally. If you are in accountability, you are already acknowledging it is a sin. If I am willing to sin against God, why does throwing in a brother make me less likely to sin?

    Great article on the Law, but you missed the Gospel with this one.

  13. James says:

    Just FYI, since June of last year, SMI’s definition of abstinence has permitted a rare celebratory cigar or pipe. See membership requirement I.E at the top of page 15 here – http://samaritanministries.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/20130614Guidelines.pdf

    1. James says:

      The point of the article is well-taken though. This is especially important in marriage.

      If you don’t live before your wife the same way that you present yourself as doing before the church, you put her in a position where she must confront you before God. This is a much more difficult position for her than the accountability partner in your article, because she is also to conduct herself in submission. so, two recommendations:

      1. Don’t present yourself publicly as something that your wife does not know you to be privately
      2. Regularly invite feedback from your wife, so that when she does have something to bring to your attention, she knows that she will have a clear opportunity to do so, when she will not be put on the spot as possibly dishonoring you or rejecting your submission.

      But, if you are just now finding out about a year-old rule change to allow more liberty of conscience on the matter of a cigar, I’ll leave it to you to determine whether this is a rare and celabratory occasion :)

  14. Michael Snow says:

    Charles Spurgeon would not have qualified for this Christian insurance plan. Not sure, but I think his doctor recommended the cigars.

    “Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives..”
    Spurgeon helps us here. http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/a-call-to-holy-living-spurgeon/

    1. john says:

      My thoughts immediately went to Spurgeon as well – smoking cigars to the “glory of God” and so forth.

      Luckily, the Lord has blessed me with the funds to be able to be honest about smoking cigars (and pipes) with my insurance company. Some of the best fellowship times and church planning sessions I have had with preachers and elders came over a cigar.

  15. Ash Giri says:

    I am a little confused. Isn’t it a form of idolatry to abstain for the sake of a relationship other than God? Lets say I was tempted to commit adultery, and I fought the temptation by preaching to myself “If someone found out about my sin, my reputation would be ruined.” Isn’t this attitude still sinful, because I am treasuring the glory of man over the glory of God?

    So where is the distinction here? Can someone speak to me on this?

    Thanks

  16. Eric says:

    Some of the most memorable cigars I’ve ever smoked were with you, Jared.

    The one out by the pool at my brother’s apartment complex at Baylor.

    One at your in-law’s place, a day or so before I left to go to college. (I still remember that cigar as the bet one I’ve ever had, a Punch.)

    The one from, um, Cuba, that I brought back from my honeymoon. Glad I never got arrested for that. :-)

    And, of course, the many we’ve shared at Moots over the years.

    You’ve got a lot of character to do away from something so dear in order to walk in integrity. Hopefully you won’t have to abstain forever.

  17. Frank Woodard says:

    Good article, just one comment, BE CAREFUL !!!!! with the CHRISTIAN ??? medical cost sharing program. You won’t know until it’s too late but from my experience they go out of normal boundries to disqualify claims & there’s no recourse.

    1. James says:

      Frank, try SMI. Two births, gout treatment, and a surgery, and not one penny missed or even contested. It’s your responsibility to know the rules, but my experience is that they both follow them and interpret them generously.

  18. glen Braden says:

    Funny I should be reading this on the anniversary of a friend’s death from oral cancer. Never smoked, not even pipe, cigar or chewing tobacco. It was a very hard year for him and his family but used that year well. If I recall right, DL Moody went to London to meet Spurgeon, who answered his door with a cigar and a glass of Brandy. Moody nearly had a ‘heart-attack’ when he saw this.

    I beleive Scripture calls us to avoid tainting the faith of a weaker brother with our freedoms.

  19. Steve says:

    “You make a great point about it being a sin against a brother, but no one looks at pornography thinking it is like smoking a cigar occasionally. If you are in accountability, you are already acknowledging it is a sin. If I am willing to sin against God, why does throwing in a brother make me less likely to sin?

    Great article on the Law, but you missed the Gospel with this one.”

    It seems to me that this agreement to abstain from tobacco (unlike similar agreements when volunteering, say, with the church youth group), is not about whether or not it is a sin to smoke, but the health consequences of smoking, the costs of which would be passed on to other members. We live in a very anti-tobacco society. The dangers of habitual cigarette use is a proven fact, and unfortunately pipes and cigars are lumped into that category by the anti-smoking lobby, who continually tell us that ANY tobacco use is bad for you, even though there is no evidence that there is any harm caused by the occasional pipe or cigar (even up to once a week). In fact, there is evidence that occasional pipe/cigar smoking could have some health benefits. As you described, it is a very relaxing and contemplative hobby, which in turn lowers the levels of stress hormones that wreak havock on the immune system.

    I’d definitely look into the suggestions above, and see if there are exemptions for occasional cigars, or see if there is another company around that does have those exemptions

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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