Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Welcome back to the podcast on this Monday. We hope you’re reading the Bible with us this year and benefiting from the discipline. We’re using the Navigators Bible Reading Plan. And if you are reading along with us, you may already know that today’s scheduled reading includes 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, a key text on how we glorify God with our bodies.

How do we steward this body for God’s glory? Specifically, we have a lot of questions about caffeine and energy drinks, like this email today from a listener named José. He writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast. Caffeine, and specifically energy drinks, are controversial in our youth group. As someone who likes them, I was wondering if there are any negative effects or reason to not drink them. They help me focus and have energy during my work shift. I only drink one every two or three days, but I would like to have some spiritual insight in order that I may run this race without being slowed down.”

And he ends his email with a smile emoticon. Pastor John, how should we think about energy drinks, and how would we know if we are abusing our bodies with caffeine?

Well, it might be helpful to take our starting point from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about how he navigates the whole area of appetites — whether food or energy drinks or sex — and what foods mean to Paul, what he takes into his body.

God Cares About the Body

So, here’s the pivotal text for me. It’s 1 Corinthians 6:12–13:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated [and I would say, or mastered, or ruled, or enslaved] by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other.

Now, let me pause there and say that there’s a lot of controversy around what in Paul’s chapter here are slogans from his adversaries in Corinth and what are his own words. So, it might be a slogan: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” And so, they’re justifying all kinds of things. But whatever the case is on that point, Paul’s point becomes clear in what follows. Here’s what follows:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:13–15)

So, clearly, the upshot of those last couple of lines is this: “The Lord is for the body, the body is for the Lord, the Lord will raise the body, and we are members of Christ even in our bodies.” In other words, the body really matters. So, the body matters to God morally. And, in particular, foods matter and sex matters. And so, the guidelines he gives matter. And what he says is this: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I [wouldn’t want to] be dominated by anything.” And then he adds, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Three Guiding Questions

So, here’s my paraphrase for José:

  1. “Energy drinks are lawful for me, but are they helpful to my real advantage?” And I’ll come back to that.
  2. “Energy drinks are lawful for me, but do they dominate (or master or enslave) me?” I’ll come back to that one.
  3. “Energy drinks are lawful for me, but does my drinking of them build up? Does it build up my faith? And particularly, does it build up the faith of others?”

So, let me just give a thought about each of those questions that might help him navigate whether he uses them and how frequently he uses them.

1. Do energy drinks really help me?

“All things are lawful, but are they helpful — that is, to my real, deep advantage?” That’s the meaning of the Greek word: “to my advantage.” This is really part of a much bigger issue, isn’t it, of the proper use of not just caffeine but other stimulants, medications — Ritalin, Adderall, antidepressants, and so on.

So, let me just give one crucial guideline that I think is implied in Paul’s wording, “Are they truly helpful? Do they help me go after my deepest advantage?” And that would be this; this is my guideline: “Are energy drinks, or whatever I’m taking, masking deeper problems that I’m not dealing with, because I’m masking them, or are they helping me really address and be freed from the deeper problems that I may have?”

“Are energy drinks, or whatever I’m taking, masking deeper problems that I’m not dealing with?”

I think that’s the crucial question when it comes to the kinds of medications or stimulants that we take. Are we hiding from our hearts? Are we hiding from sins? Are we hiding things that ought to be dealt with, and this is just a superficial overlay? If José or any of us is masking deeper problems with stimulants, then they’re not being used as a gift from God for our good; they’re being used as a flight from truth and from the good that God wants to do deeper down. So, that’s my note on the first paraphrase.

2. Do energy drinks enslave me?

“Do they master me? Do they enslave me?” Why would that matter to Paul? Why does he say that? Why should it matter to us? Well, it should matter because we have one Master, who bought us at the price of his blood. We do not belong to ourselves, but to him. He calls us to live as free people, not enslaved people.

It says in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” So, anyone who uses coffee, or soda, or energy drinks, or other kinds of stimulants or medication should ask, “Am I dominated by this? Am I mastered by this? Am I controlled by this? Am I living consciously as Christ’s freedman? Am I magnifying the price that he paid to set me free for him?”

It says in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Are we magnifying his mastery over us or living under another master? That’s the second issue that I think he should take into consideration.

3. Do energy drinks build up?

Do energy drinks build up? “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things build up.” Why does Paul shift our focus? This is a really profound ethical question in the New Testament. Why does Paul shift our focus from what is lawful — he says, “All things are lawful” — to what builds up?

Now, this is huge. In Christ, we have died to the law. Romans 7:4: “You . . . have died to the law through the body of Christ.” And “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). The problem, then, with deciding what’s right and wrong about energy drinks is that you could obey a law without love, without giving a hoot about whether you’re building anybody’s faith. And so, it is not adequate to have an external rule solve this problem. Paul wants to go deeper.

“The reason Christians are set free from the law is not that we might become lawless, but that love would hold sway.”

The reason Christians are set free from the law is not that we might become lawless, but that love would hold sway. “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ)” (1 Corinthians 9:21). So, his freedom with regard to the law was being governed by another law, which he called “the law of Christ.” And what’s that? Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Or Galatians 5:14: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So, when Paul says to José, or me, or you, or anybody else, “Energy drinks are lawful, but do they build up?” he means, “Be sure that your heart is set on the good of others and that your example to them and your choices are aiming to build people up in faith — that is, helping them trust Jesus and treasure Jesus and honor Jesus above all things.”

Guidelines for Consumption

So, here are my three summary guidelines for José and me.

  1. Are they truly helpful? Are energy drinks truly helpful? That is, are they masking problems that I need to deal with or helping me deal with them?
  2. Are they dominating me, mastering me, and obscuring that Jesus is my real master?
  3. Am I using them in love? Am I building others up? Am I seeking to build my own faith and the faith of others?

Super helpful paradigms here, Pastor John. Thank you for another application of 1 Corinthians 6:12–13. Before we go, I think we all want to know: Do you yourself use energy drinks?

I have a box of energy drinks in my office. I probably don’t use them quite as often as José. He said every two or three days. And what I do is that, if I’ve got a pressing task and I cannot stay awake, yes, I’ll go there. But that box that I buy at ALDI — you can get them at ALDI real cheap — lasts a long time.

But I mean, a question like this helps me keep my finger on the pulse of whether I’m defaulting to an artificial stimulant because I’m so proud I won’t get enough sleep. That’s what I mean by masking. If my real problem is that John Piper doesn’t have the discipline to go to bed at night and therefore gets six hours instead of eight hours of sleep, and therefore he’s always falling asleep at his tasks, and thus he resorts to an artificial stimulant, that’s masking, that’s hiding, that’s running away from God, and it’s pride.