We all know the dangers of cancer and we know the deadliness of disease; yet we hardly think about the cancer of sin and how it affects our lives. Like a person walking around ignorant of their cancer, many people in our world—perhaps even in the pews beside you—ignore the dangers of their spiritual unhealthiness.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14).
What are you spreading? The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our entire world. Schools, workplaces, and churches enacted dramatic measures to combat the spread of the sickness. Millions self-isolated, canceling nearly everything on the calendar. Many use hand sanitizer compulsively, and only leave the home wearing a mask.
These serious measures reminded me of when my father underwent heart bypass surgery a few years ago and I spent much of the week in the hospital visiting him. Being well at the hospital, I noticed that everyone uses hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of disease to the vulnerable. Each and every person who entered the room sanitized their hands. How careful people are when it comes to spreading disease! Even those who are not “germaphobes” do this because of the great danger of spreading sickness—especially to the vulnerable, like those recovering from heart surgery.
These measures should challenge us: How slow we are to take care to limit the spread of spiritual sickness! How little do we think of the deadliness of sin. We all know the dangers of cancer and we know the deadliness of disease; yet we hardly think about the cancer of sin and how it affects our lives. Like a person walking around ignorant of their cancer, many people in our world—perhaps even in the pews beside you—ignore the dangers of their spiritual unhealthiness.
Sin That Spreads
We see, for example, the spreading of sin among the people of Israel when they wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. Specifically, notice how grumbling and complaining devastated the people in Numbers 11:1-3:
And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.
Grumbling, far from being a “victimless crime,” was punished by God. Our grumbling may be directed against people, but ultimately it is an issue between us and God, the Sovereign. When we complain about our circumstances, or even about the people around us, we are complaining about God’s provision for us.
At least the effects of that sin were limited; only the outskirts of the camp burned. However, as Numbers 11 unfolds, we learn about a second and more serious instance of grumbling. It started among the people the outskirts of the camp, the “rabble that was among them,” and spread, like an infectious disease! Iain Duguid comments,
“It typically originates among those with little or no spiritual insight, but it can easily be passed on from them to the whole community and draw in those who know better…Grumbling is a sin you can catch from others, which means that you need to be careful who you spend your time with and how you spend your time with them.”