(1 Cor. 6 : 12-20)
Through the words of the Apostle the Church instructs us to be moderate and chaste in all things. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12).
This wise teaching of the holy Apostle Paul is an excellent opportunity for us to reflect on certain issues and find answers to contemporary questions that the Holy Church has not had the time to answer yet. “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any,” says the Apostle. “”I will not be brought under the power of any” is the right answer to many of these questions.
My parishioners often ask me whether smoking is really a sin, since there is no mention of it in the Holy Scriptures. To be honest, there is no mention of many other issues in the Holy Scriptures either, issues which these new, might I say, apocalyptic times, have brought on us. For example, there is no mention of cloning, organ donation or other contemporary themes. The Holy Scriptures are not an alphabetical textbook of individual questions and answers, it is not an instruction manual for solving specific problems that life lays before us.
Is smoking a sin? Yes, it is, a serious sin. It is a sin with grave consequences for the person indulging in this sin, as well as for those who live in the smoker’s vicinity. The statistics, if they are to be believed, say that in the US almost half a million people die each year from smoking-related diseases. Nine out of ten patients with lung diseases are smokers. It has been scientifically proven (Tony Warren, “Is Smoking a Sin?”) that the risk of a coronary attack is three times greater in smokers than in non-smokers. Smoking is therefore a slow and gradual, but certain, destroying of self – i.e. suicide. Can anyone assert that suicide is not a sin?
Smoking has a huge negative impact on the health of those who are in the smoker’s vicinity. I am truly appalled when I see people who, as soon as they sit down, take out their packet of cigarettes and light up, inconsiderate of the little children around them. Before you know it, the whole room is filled with smoke so thick you can cut through it with a knife. This is no place for a human being, let alone for the little children, whose small developing lungs are still so vulnerable. They run around and play in this smoke filled room, breathing in this poison by the gallon. Dare anyone say that the poisoning of innocent beings is not a sin?
The epistle reading tells us: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Smokers, alcoholics, fornicators and others who destroy their bodies by passions are wrong when they say, “If I am killing or poisoning myself, it’s my body.” The holy Apostle Paul tells us clearly that we are not our own, that we do not own our bodies, nor can we do whatever we please with them. Our Lord became incarnate and took upon Himself human flesh, humbling it on the Cross and ascending with it into Heaven. “You were bought at a price,” warns Apostle Paul (1. Cor. 7:23) and advises us against becoming enslaved to anyone or anything.
Even if all of the above were not true, the holy Apostle Paul is setting a clear boundary: if you have become a slave to any worldly passion, whatever it may be: overeating, overdrinking, excessive sleep, sex, hunting, fishing, golf – you are living in sin, amen. If you have succumbed to any human passion, not because you want to but because you have become addicted to it, and if you place it before and above true values, then you, my friend, are deeply enmeshed in sin.
Remember the wise words of the Lord: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37). In other words, if your father, mother, son or daughter, or anyone amongst those closest and dearest to you, is a barrier between God and you, and if they are a detriment to your salvation, then you must turn away from them. And what can we say about those innumerable souls who have been called, but called in vain, for they never answered? The ones that spend the time that should be dedicated to the Lord, Sundays and feast days, doing various other things – fishing, hunting, soccer games, golf…? Is this not a clever ploy of the Evil One? Under the pretext of setting aside time for our health, relaxation and rejuvenation, he tempts us with a variety of activities whose aim it is to keep us as far away from the Lord as possible. Come to think of it, it’s incredible: all of a sudden, Friday, the day that our Lord was crucified, becomes a long-awaited day of rest, when people indulge in all sorts of enjoyment.
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” says the wise Solomon (Prov. 25:28). If a man becomes slave to anything, he is a man no more, for he ceases to be his own master. “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Pet. 2:19). How many times has it happened that you’ve met someone whom you might even like and be friends and business partners with, but then you learn (usually too late) that this person has succumbed to some addiction and that he or she is completely unreliable? For such a person we often say that he is not his own master.
If a person cannot stop doing something and has no power over it – then he or she becomes a slave to it, whatever “it” may be. “It” then becomes a god to whom this person is addicted and whom he or she serves. If you cannot tell yourself, “from this moment on you are not going to smoke or drink (except in moderation) any more” or “from this moment on you are never going to set foot in a casino” and if you cannot carry out your decision to the end, then you are not your own master. How many smokers would pay their weight in gold (and many actually do) only to be free of their vice.
As far as I know, in the entire Scripture there is only one piece of advice that is explicitly medical. “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities (1 Tim. 5:23) is the advice St. Paul gives to his young disciple Timothy. The Apostle is very clear, for he stresses: use a little wine. Moderation is the art here. In other cases he advises against the ordination of elders in the church who are “given to much wine” (Tit. 2:3). Wine in itself is not bad, because nothing that the Lord created is bad. It is the wrong use of God-created things that is bad. If we are not moderate and if we do not keep everything within normal boundaries, then even the best things may prove fatal for us. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food,” says the holy Apostle. But if we overeat and get drunk, then we have a problem. A long time ago I remember reading that the daughter of the millionaire Onassis died from drinking enormous quantities of Coca-Cola. She consumed this toxic drink in excessive quantities, became addicted to it and in the end, fell prey to her addiction. The wise Solomon says: “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it” (Prov. 25:16).
Apostle Paul singles out sexual immorality as the greatest form of abuse of the human body. “Flee sexual immorality,” cries the Apostle. “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).
Always let us try to heed the words of the Apostle when he instructs us to flee from any form of evil (1 Thess. 5:22), lest sin reigns in our mortal body and lest we begin to obey it in its lusts (Rom. 6:12). Whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, we must do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).