Written by Insightful Player Benjamin Watson Tight End for the New Orleans Saints
By: Benjamin Watson
Assembling a winning NFL team is a very complex task. Organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure they have the right men in their locker rooms. Scouts watch hours and hours of film on potential free agents and rookies. They visit with them, conduct interviews and do background checks. Coaches and GMs attend college bowl games and all-star games as well as combines and pro days, all in hot pursuit of the players they think will help them capture an elusive Super Bowl Championship.
I’ve been in many different locker rooms throughout my NFL career. Yes, I’ve only played for three different clubs, but each year the locker room is a little different. You see, the locker room isn’t just a rectangular (and sometimes peculiarly fragrant), room with cubicles, cleats and quarterbacks. No, the real locker room is that group of 53 men who make up that final roster. It’s the mixture of their backgrounds, personalities, beliefs, and experiences and how they interact with each other on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. As you can imagine, it has the potential to be quite a combustible situation if you don’t have the right combination of men. Even though there is so much emphasis on bringing positive teammates into the locker room, a few bad apples always seem to slip though the cracks. The question is not if, but when they will infiltrate and poison the chemistry of the group. I’m sure you’ve heard of certain players in the league who are considered to be “cancers” wherever they go. They may be outrageously talented but their selfish, me first attitudes, are contagious and quickly spread, preventing a team from achieving their goals. These cancers must be identified, they must be confronted and if they continue to contaminate, they must be removed. The successful organizations in the NFL have players and coaches who are willing to address threats to the health of their locker room, no matter how tough the ensuing conversations or discipline may be.
Team sports aren’t the only arena where cancers rear their ugly head. In his 1st letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul had to deal with this very issue. Paul had established the church on his second missionary journey and was writing the Corinthians to, in essence, “call out” certain believers who were living in open unrepentant sin. First century Corinth, a port city in present day Greece, was one of the largest most powerful cities of the ancient world. It was also one of the most corrupt. By all historical accounts, it made Las Vegas look like Mayberry. The city boasted numerous temples to various Greek gods. In fact, over a thousand priestesses served as prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite, offering sex to merchants, and seaman and anyone else who would join in their acts of “worship.” Consequently, sex in any way shape and form was accepted and celebrated in Corinth. To “live like a Corinthian” became synonymous with a drunken and immoral lifestyle. The body of believers in Corinth was now living for Christ amidst the corrupt society they used to be enthusiastic participants of. In his letter, Paul addresses a specific situation where a man is having an affair with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1). Much more than this man’s actions; he is appalled that the church had not disciplined their brother, allowing him to continue in his downward spiral of public sin. He admonishes them saying, “Don’t you know that a little yeast works though the whole batch of dough? “(1 Cor 5:6) For all of you non-bakers out there (of which I am one) let me tell you about yeast. Yeast is a powerful fungus that is used in dough to transform it into the soft, spongy textured baked goods we are all used to. A small amount of yeast will make an entire loaf rise. Without it, your French bread would just be flatbread. Throughout scripture yeast is used mainly as a metaphor for sin. Paul goes on to warn them “not to associate with anyone who calls himself a brother (in Christ), but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” he says. Paul is not instructing the church to shun unbelievers here. We are to still carry the message of salvation to the world. On the contrary, he is specifically talking about those who claim to be believers yet indulge in continual blatant sin without repentance. He warns the believers to disassociate themselves with this person less their rationalization of sin spread like a cancer and negatively affect the whole assembly, as well as those they are trying to reach with the Good News. Allowing open sin to become normative would no doubt lower the morality standard of the group, thus distancing them from intimacy with the God they serve, making them no different than the world around them. We are to get rid of the “old yeast” of sin and because of Christ sacrifice, embrace “the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” (vs. 7, 8)
It can be challenging and downright uncomfortable to confront a brother or sister who is living in habitual sin. Our minds inevitably start to rationalize and fill with doubt. “Who am I to judge? How will they respond to what I say? Will others perceive me as being ‘holier than thou’?” The question we should be asking ourselves is “How can I say I love my brother but allow him to continue living in reckless rebellion?” To take it a step further “ How can I say I love my church, bible study group, team, circle of friends, coworkers, classmates if I allow these cancerous actions and attitudes to spread and cause dysfunction and division in the entire group? What Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to do was not an act of cruelty or condemnation, but one of love for this man and for the rest of the body of believers. Sometimes a loving, challenging, rebuke is all the encouragement a believer needs to realize the folly of his or her deeds and respond with a repentant heart. And sometimes, being expelled from the group is the only way remorse and change will ever take place.
Take a moment to think about the people in your life circles; the people at your job, school, and social club, gym, church and even your home. Are there any cancers in your various “locker rooms”? As a leader amongst your peers or in certain personal relationships is it time to address the proverbial “elephant” that is dividing the room? Maybe it is time to break fellowship with someone who is continuing to have a negative, ungodly influence on your life. These relationships inhibit your ability to grow into the person God wants you to be. Oh, and If you can’t think of that cancer… maybe its time to look introspectively to see if that cancer is you! I know I’ve had my share of cancerous moments.
Like an NFL coach and the locker room, Paul’s chief concern was maintaining the healthy function of the Corinthian church so that it would continue to grow individually and collectively, and so that it would be a beacon of light among the darkness around them. In order for our interpersonal relationships as well as our spiritual lives to flourish, we must be willing to identify, remove and repent from sinful “yeast” that creeps into our own lives as well as confront this cancer in the lives of those closest to us. Whatever and wherever your locker room is, God has placed you there for His purposes. Don’t let cancer impede your progress or discredit your witness. Infected football teams will never win championships. Likewise, compromising churches will never meet their soul winning potential. Accept the challenge from Coach Paul, today, and “Keep your locker room cancer free!”
Further Reading: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Exodus 12:14-21, Matthew 16:6