Cancer. That one, singular word cuts into the fabric of our lives with fear and anxiety, doesn’t it? Every person knows someone who has battled against cancer; perhaps you know one who is in the middle of the fight right now. This lethal, fearsome disease is waging war against their body, seeking to wrack their frame with total destruction.
Or maybe you are that ‘someone,’ and you’re in the fight right now or you just got a clearance letter from your doctor stating life might finally return to normal. Undoubtedly, cancer is an insidious and terrifying illness that clear-cuts a wide swath of victims of all ages and backgrounds every year.
The Difference that Equals Destruction
But why does cancer bring such devastation upon the human body? It all comes down a very simple difference that equals destruction. Some define cancer cells simply as, “free, independent radicals that want to break away from other normal cells and go unregulated. Wikipedia’s definition echoes the same idea: “Cancer cells are cells that grow and divide at an unregulated, quickened pace.”
Characteristics of Normal Cells (from Cancer Research UK)
Normal body cells have a number of important characteristics. They can…
- Reproduce themselves exactly
- Stop reproducing at the right time
- Stick together in the right place
- Become specialized or ‘mature’
How Cancer Cells are Different
Cancer cells are different to normal cells in several ways. They don’t die if they move to another part of the body and…
- Cancer cells don’t stop reproducing (they continue out of control)
- Cancer cells don’t obey signals from other cells
- Cancer cells don’t stick together
- Cancer cells don’t specialize, but stay immature
The end result: Cancer cells bring utter destruction to the human body. They don’t want to live in the place where they belong. They want to do things their own way…
My Way and the Highway to Chaos
We all want our own way; don’t we? We think we know what is best for our lives. Why should we follow someone else’s advice? We know what we like and dislike, so why should somebody tell us differently?
Popular culture tells us, “Have it Your Way” (thank you, Burger King). Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way!” The very idea having getting “our way” seems to feel and sound so right.
But then we open our Bibles, begin following Jesus, gather with other Jesus-followers – and what inevitably happens?! Things don’t go our way. People don’t treat us the way we like. Awkward moments occur when we have to sit next to people we don’t even know (God forbid!). The music isn’t our style, the food is stale, the carpet color is horribly out-of-date, the pastor preaches way too long, and people don’t smile enough…
And so we shout, “I’m not getting what I want, so I’m going to complain until I get what I want or I’m just going to leave.”
And we shake our fists, open our mouths, flap our gums (me included), and treat the God-appointed leaders over us like waiters at a 1 star family diner, who are not giving us the right meal that we think we ordered, paid for, and need (right now).
But the local church is not a restaurant; it’s a family. And just like free radicals – cancer cells – destroy the human body, so complaining, individualistic, independent Christians destroy churches every day.
Even deeper, what does our complaining say about how we think about God? Perhaps something like this, “Maybe God, you’ve given me what I need, but I don’t trust You to give me the leaders, satisfaction, and fun that I want.” Ultimately complaining seems to say, “God isn’t really all that good…I trust my opinion about what’s right for me, rather than what God has set for me.” And the cancer sets in and slowly turns out of control.
God’s Mission, Our Way?
Don’t skip this: there are actions, attitudes, and words you and I can use or engage in that are cancerous to the Body of Christ, the Church.
There are actions, attitudes, and words you and I can use that bring destruction rather than life – that tear down and divide rather than build up and unite.
And it all comes down to this simple question:
Our way or God’s way? Which mission are you on? We are all on a mission, but the question is, “Whose mission?” Your way or God’s way? Are you Dividing or Uniting?
Two Contexts. One Problem.
Philippi: The believers in Philippi, “evidently were complaining (to God and each other) and arguing (with each other). As a result they were not ‘without fault’ among the unregenerate; they were not shining like stars in their world (2:15). The Philippian assembly needed to show themselves as united and as one in Christ. Non-Christians were not being attracted to Him by the saints’ strifes and contentions.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Philippians, 655-56). Therefore, Paul challenged them to deal with their complaining and arguing for a very specific reason and the same message connects with us today with incredibly relevance. So let’s turn to Philippians 2:14-18… [Part 1: Cancerous Christianity: When Dividing Overrules Uniting.]
Corinth: The church in ancient Corinth was in an environment and culture not a lot different than our own. Immorality, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, early forms of narcotics, religious pluralism, prostitution, etc… all were prevalent in Corinth. The people did life their way. Debauchery and depravity and self-centeredness were the name of the game. But then the Gospel message entered the picture and men and women started turning to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, hope, and eternal life, and their lives were radically changed.
And yet, they still were prone to act, think, and talk like they were still entrenched in their previous way of life – doing it their way. And so the apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write so that their progressive sanctification would be aligned with their positional sanctification. In other words, they had been declared “right” in God’s sight through Jesus’ work on the Cross, but their lives still shouted out that they needed to rehearse the Gospel and live righteously for God’s glory – every single day.
They were doing life their own way, and what’s the first example? They were dividing. There was a cancer spreading in the Corinthian church that could bring destruction. Dividing was overruling their unity in Jesus Christ. And the same actions, attitudes, and words can also take over like cancer among us, too. So let’s look at 1 Corinthians 1:10-17… [Part 2: Cancerous Christianity: When Dividing Overrules Uniting]
Listen to the full audio messages entitled Cancerous Christianity – Parts 1 and 2 by simply clicking on the play buttons below or by subscribing to our iTunes podcast. These messages were originally delivered at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI, on Sunday evening Jan. 12th and Jan. 19th, 2014.