Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. Romans 16:17-18
Though I do get to work in addiction medicine, I also spend a fair amount of time in Urgent Care, where minor illnesses are addressed. Occasionally though, investigation of apparently minor symptoms unfortunately leads to a diagnosis of cancer. Often, by the time a patient is symptomatic enough to see me, the cancer has caused significant destruction or spread. If untreated, the cancer grows, metastasizes, and destroys. Once diagnosed, the patient often needs surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or all three. Radical action is required to address such a lethal condition and if a cure is available, it’s often painful and unpleasant.
In today’s passage, Paul addressed a similar pathology that sickens the body of Christ. In it, he said that, as Christians, we must be on the alert for those who appear to be mature religious leaders, but who in reality, live only for themselves. These individuals are a cancer to any church or organization in which they take root. Creating division and conflict as their influence grows and spreads, they eventually tear churches apart from the inside.
The thing about cancer is, it’s not obvious at first. Narcissists are often unaware that they’re being narcissistic, and their followers don’t recognize it either. These are charismatic people who attract a large following, making it all the more painful when they have to be removed. Only after they’ve taken root and begin to divide, wreaking havoc, do some begin to realize the problem. By then, significant damage has been done and fixing it is going to hurt.
Paul said however, that it must be fixed. Cancerous people must be avoided and removed, often being painfully excised from the church. Paul didn’t say we must try to fix this person. You don’t reason with cancer. You cut it out. This is harsh, but for the love of the rest of the church, it’s necessary.
There are a couple lessons here. First, we must be on the lookout for those charismatic leaders who seem wonderful but in reality, serve only themselves. They will eventually divide and destroy. Second, we must be introspective, making sure that we aren’t the cancer. We all have it in us to pursue ourselves above God. This is our nature. Daily then, we must choose to redirect ourselves so that we serve the will of Christ above all.