On this edition of Truth in Love, Dr. Lambert talks about how Christians should handle coffee. He makes it clear that Christians should not be mastered by anything other than Christ including coffee. Drinking coffee is not a sin in and of itself but if it masters you, then it is sinful. Dr. Lambert encourages people to nurture thankfulness about coffee and to grow in self-control to see if they are mastered by caffeine.
Dr. Heath Lambert: I am on the road this week and while talking to you through the phone I wanted us to discuss a really important issue on the podcast; the issue of coffee. Now we have all heard it, “Don’t talk to me I haven’t had my coffee yet” or “I can’t get started unless I have had three cups of coffee…” or six cups of coffee or you pick the number. We live in a culture that loves coffee, but we also live in a culture that often feels like we need coffee. Amy Evenson, the Producer of Truth in Love, is with us this week to ask us some questions about that. Amy?
Amy Evenson: Yeah Heath, so statistics show that at least 68 million Americans consume three cups of coffee a day and over 21 million Americans drink six or more cups of coffee a day. Caffeine is a drug that is addictive and is suggested to be the most widely used stimulant in the world. Given these stats and for coffee drinkers around the world, is caffeine addiction something Christians need to be concerned about?
Dr. Heath Lambert: Yeah it is. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” This is the Bible balancing two things: on the one hand the Bible talks about our freedom – “all things are lawful for me,” Paul says twice. We are free to do anything that is not sinful and the Bible tells us what is sinful and what is not. The Bible does not say that it is a sin to drink coffee or that it is a sin to have caffeine. So we are free on the one hand, but on the other hand the Bible balances that emphasis on freedom with an emphasis on the importance of not being mastered or dominated by anything: “‘All things are lawful for me,’…” the Bible says, “…but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.”
So while we are free in Christ to enjoy all good things, we cannot be dominated by anything. This goes for illegal street drugs, alcohol, television, video games, and it goes for coffee. We are not allowed to be dominated by anything. Christians aren’t concerned about coffee or caffeine addiction because we are concerned about coffee as much as we are concerned about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, the apostle Paul says he is controlled by the love of Jesus Christ because he has concluded that one has died and in him all have died, and he died so that we who live might no longer live for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised.
The Bible teaches that we are to be controlled by Jesus Christ, not anything else. As Christians, we need to be concerned when anything steals the primary allegiance in our heart which is devoted to Jesus Christ; whether that is coffee, caffeine or anything else.
Amy Evenson: So it is common to hear people say things like, “Don’t talk to me yet, I haven’t had my coffee” or “Once I get my coffee I might be in a better mood.” Is there anything wrong with these statements or is it ok to be dependent upon caffeine?
Dr. Heath Lambert: So it is an interesting question and the answer kind of depends. When people say, “Don’t talk to me I have had my coffee yet” or “I need coffee before I can be nice,” honestly some people are trying to be funny. They are not trying to make an actual statement about their state of mind. They are not actually threatening that they will be mean to you if you don’t give them their coffee first. Some people are trying to be funny and I think sometimes we can take a load off and just laugh a little bit.
If though there is any truth in that, if people do actually believe or mean to truly communicate that they can’t be kind or have a conversation with you until they have had coffee, then that would be a problem. So you think about a passage like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 which says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So the text of Scripture here tells us what love does, what love is. It says that love is patient, love is kind, love is not arrogant or rude, love is not resentful, love rejoices with the truth, love bears all things and endures all things. Love does that, not coffee.
This is important because love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that believers in Jesus Christ have. When a person trusts in Jesus Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell in him and the Spirit produces love and the manifestations of love. So we want to be careful that we don’t credit coffee with what the Holy Spirit of Christ can do. So Christians, if they’re serious, should not believe that they need coffee to produce what the Spirit can do. Instead, they ought to learn to walk with the Spirit whose work it is to produce the fruit of love.
Amy Evenson: So what does it look like for a Christian to have caffeine in a God honoring way?
Dr. Heath Lambert: I think there are actually a number of ways that we could answer this, but one really helpful way is to think about the fruit of the Spirit that I was just talking about. When you understand that it is the work of the Spirit to produce love, then I think we should think about drinking coffee in a way that helps to foster the fruit of the Spirit.
What I mean by that is a passage like 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which says “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” This is a passage that tells us that God gives people good gifts and the gifts – like food and marriage – aren’t to be rejected if they are received with thanksgiving. So all of God’s good gifts are to be received by Christians with thanksgiving; that is another spiritual fruit. It is the work of the spirit to produce the good gifts of gratitude in Christians.
So gratitude is, I think, one fundamental element from 1 Timothy 4 about how we might drink coffee. Gratitude is the joy you experience when you receive something that you don’t deserve. You don’t feel grateful when you get something that you deserve or you have coming to you; you feel entitled. Gratitude then, is an emotion that reminds us that the gift we have received is something that we don’t deserve. Gratitude is the fruit of the Spirit that says, ‘every good thing I have is something that I have received from the Lord and it is something that I do not deserve.’
So I would want to say to Christians, enjoy your coffee, but enjoy it with gratitude. Don’t enjoy it with an entitled sense of expectation. Once you can start to be thankful for the gift of coffee – the gift of coffee that you anticipate receiving maybe when you wake up in the morning, or the gift of coffee that you are receiving as you drink it, or that you have received when you finish it – then that is going to be one key check on sin.
Another fruit of the Spirit that we read about in Galatians 5 is self-control. The fruit of the spirit is love, one fruit of the spirit is thanksgiving, another fruit of the spirit is self-control. We need to be sure as Christians that we can say ‘no’ to things. The only way to be sure that we are not being dominated by something in the 1 Corinthians 6:12 sense is by demonstrating that we can say ‘no’ to it.
Some people listening to this as they try to nurture the fruit of the Spirit of love and the fruit of the Spirit of gratitude need to learn to nurture the fruit of the Spirit of self-control and say ‘no’. I know people that don’t go to work until they have had two pots of coffee in the morning. Some people drink less than that; some people say they need eight cups of coffee or something like that. Wherever you are, why don’t you as you try to nurture love and gratitude in your life with coffee, also try to nurture self-control and say, “Ya know, I am going to have half a cup of coffee instead of one,” or “I am going to have two cups of coffee instead of four,” or “I am going to have a pot of coffee instead of two.”
Try to nurture self-control and if you find that that is something you can’t do – that you can’t say no to coffee – then you have been dominated by it and you probably need to talk to a brother or sister in Christ who can help you and hold you accountable in that area to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.