Purge Out the Old Leven
1 Corinthians 5:6-13
Purge out the Old Leaven
Today’s message is a little bit like the pre-flight review of emergency procedures on a commercial airline. It is important information that is best given before a crisis arises but you pray that you will never need to act on the information given. Today’s study describes how to handle a crisis of willful, unrepentant sin in the church. It is a continuation of what was introduced for us in verses 1-5 of chapter five dealing with the man involved in an incestuous relationship with his step mother.
There is a bit of a difference between modern yeast and the leaven that was used in Bible days. The yeast which we use today is a single celled fungus often marketed in a sanitary dry powder. When added to bread dough yeast begins to grow producing gases that cause the bread dough to rise and become light and fluffy before it is baked. Yeast was very rare in Bible days but leaven was a much more common ingredient for making your bread rise. (Unger’s Bible Dictionary) Leaven consisted of keeping back a little portion of last week’s bread dough unbaked, allowing it to ferment and turn acid or sour in a closed container for a week, then adding it to this week’s dough, which in turn would become thoroughly fermented to give it lightness (much like our sourdough bread, or these “friendship cakes” some of you ladies like to make). (Fee, p. 216)
Before baking the bread, a portion of the newly leavened dough would again be set aside to ferment and turn sour so it could be used as leaven in the next batch of bread. This process of keeping and passing on a growing culture of leaven would be continued week after week at a time when there were no refrigerators or sealed Tupperware containers so you can only imagine what kinds of organisms could be thriving in the batch of leaven. Therefore leaven was a very appropriate symbol used in the Bible to illustrate sin as something that infects, spreads and permeates through a body of believers and is passed on.
In the book of Exodus the Lord commanded the Israelites to hold an annual feast called “The Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days after the Passover. This was a religious celebration, but it was probably also a health provision. Because of the fermentation process, which week after week over the course of a year increased the dangers of infection, the Israelites were commanded once a year to purge their homes of all leaven for an entire week (Exodus 12:14-20). “During the Feast of Unleavened Bread they would bake only unleavened bread, from which dough they would then start up the [fermenting] process again after the Feast. Therefore in the NT leaven became a symbol of the process by which an evil spreads insidiously in a community until the whole has been infected by it.” (Ibid)
“Do you not know that just a little leaven will ferment the whole lump of dough?” (Verse 6 Amplified) Only a very small amount of leaven is needed to spread through and ferment a large lump of dough. And one corrupt member is sufficient to corrupt a whole church. (Barrett, p. 127) By keeping the unrepentant immoral member in the church fellowship the influence of his sin would very quickly spread and affect the entire congregation. The result would be a corrupt and powerless church.
Here Paul is of course referring to removing the immoral man referred to in verse one from the church community through church discipline. As we saw in verse 5 this means to no longer consider him, or treat him, as a believer but as a heathen who is in need of salvation.
“. . . That you may be a new lump . . .” meaning put the man out of your fellowship in order that you might make a fresh new start as a church. Not the same old group with a gaping hole in it, but the implication is that church discipline of this nature, rather than being destructive to the body (as human wisdom would expect it to be), actually in God’s economy creates the opportunity for a fresh new wholesome start.
Is this what makes the church holy . . . purging out of its fellowship those who refuse to repent of their sin? No, for Paul immediately goes on to say, “. . . Since you truly are [already] unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” Paul is urging the church to become in practice what the grace of God has already made them to be in reality; a pure church without leaven. And what is it that makes the church at Corinth pure and without sin? What is it that makes us at Parkdale or any other church pure and holy? Not our strict vigilance in keeping all sin out but notice what verse 7 says, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” It is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that washes away our sin and makes us holy, not our vigilance in keeping sin out of the church.
If you read the story of the Passover in the book of Exodus you will discover that immediately after the sacrifice of the Passover lamb the people of Israel were to celebrate a week long feast known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread during which there was to be not a trace of leaven in any of their homes for seven days. At the Passover all leaven was to be removed from their homes and thrown out or destroyed in the fire. This is a picture of all sin being removed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (And by the way, Jesus was crucified at the Passover.) Seven is the number of completion or of perfection. Therefore seven days of celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolizes the perfect and complete absence of sin which follows the death of Christ our Passover Lamb which removed our sin.
The church at Corinth is to remove the incestuous man, which is like cleansing the house of leaven, in order that they might be in outward appearance what they are in inward reality, a new creation, the temple of God, the body of Christ, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore let us keep the feast.” Let us live lives that are consistent with our new identity. We should look more like Jesus than like the world. The feast of Unleavened Bread could only be kept if all leaven were removed from the house.
The words “malice and wickedness” are only two words but they describe every form of sin. The sacrifice of Jesus at the cross has freed us from every sin known to man; therefore we are to live as people who have been set free from sin.
The bread of the Passover supper, the communion bread, was always unleavened bread. And it symbolizes the body of Christ. In contrast to leaven which symbolizes malice and wickedness (every sin known to man) unleavened bread symbolizes sincerity and truth. The church should be characterized by sincerity and truth. That means authentic, without hypocrisy or deceit. Not necessarily perfect in our conduct but sincere and truthful. Confessing our sin, not trying to justify it or hide it but being honest and confronting it.
Also it means being sincere and truthful about our new identity as righteous saints in Christ Jesus with His life indwelling us to give us victory over sin. We must be sincere and truthful about the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT) To be born again is a powerful experience and it changes our very nature. If our nature remains unchanged then it is a pretty strong indicator that we have not been born again. Let’s be truthful and sincere about it.
Therefore if a member of the church continues to live like a heathen and refuses to repent then we must NOT treat him like a new creation, which would be hypocritical and untruthful. We are to lovingly treat such an individual as a heathen and exclude them from the church which, for us, would be acting with sincerity and truth.
Paul had already addressed in an earlier letter this issue of dealing with sexually immoral people in the church but they have ignored his instruction. He has already directed them that they are not to associate with those who profess to be Christians but who live blatantly non-Christian lives.
To “not keep company with” or as some translations say, “to not associate with” means do not mix together with or mingle with in a close way. (Fee, p. 222) As we saw in our last study it means to not consider them to be fellow Christians, it means to not include them in the church fellowship, according to 2 Corinthians 6:14 it means not to be yoked together in any kind of partnership with them.
To “not keep company with the sexually immoral people” does not mean to never speak to them or to avoid them altogether, because as we saw in verse 5, the objective of this church discipline is their spiritual salvation. And how can they be saved if no Christians will talk to them? It does not mean that we no longer reach out to them with love or kindness; it does not mean that we ignore them or give them the cold shoulder. But it means to not associate with them in any way that implies that you are of kindred spirit with them or in fellowship or in unity with them. We are to love the sexually immoral person but we must come out from their midst and make it clear that we are separate from them.
But Paul makes it clear that when he says to not keep company with sexually immoral people he is not speaking of all sexually immoral people but specifically he is speaking of disassociating ourselves from those who profess to be Christians and who are involved in the church but unrepentant of their sin.
Paul was writing to the church at Corinth which was a city with a world renowned reputation for their immorality. If the church there were to disassociate themselves from all sexually immoral people they would have to leave the city of Corinth and start their own little monastic commune out in the country somewhere.
Remember the illustration we used earlier that a boat belongs in the water, but when the water comes into the boat you have a problem. Likewise Christians belong in the world and we are to build relationships with unbelievers so that they might come to know Christ through us. So long as we are in the world but not of the world that is a healthy thing. But as soon as the world begins creeping into the church or into our lives that is when we need to take immediate and loving but aggressive action against it, or else we will sink.
It is very significant to notice that the church is to act very differently towards a professing Christian who is living an immoral lifestyle than we are to act towards an immoral person who makes no profession of Christian faith. Paul is not talking about those believers who simply struggle with former sins, but he is speaking of those who willfully persist in the former life demonstrating by their behavior that they likely are not a new creation at all. By their own actions they have denied inclusion in the church which is by its very nature separate from the world in which it lives. The Bible portrays salvation as a powerful, life-changing experience and Christianity as a new life, not just a statement of faith.
The believer is “not even to eat with such a person” who claims to be a Christian and part of the church. This prohibition against eating together certainly at the very least applied to sharing the Lord’s Supper (communion) and the church love feasts with anyone who calls themselves a Christian but who persists in living an immoral life. But this instruction also forbids believers to share a common meal with such a person. In the Bible sharing a meal together was often a sign of unity and approval of each other.
This teaching is consistent with the example of Jesus. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners who made no profession of faith and He often ate with them. (e.g., Mark 2:15-16) But we never read of Jesus eating with the hypocritical high priests and rarely did He associate with the religious scribes and Pharisees. Though He spoke to them often about their sin and of the gospel, He did not identify Himself with them or fellowship with them.
How long do we continue to treat such hypocrites differently than we treat other unsaved people? It would seem that once they repent they are to be welcomed back into fellowship, or if they stop making any hypocritical pretense of being a Christian they are then to be treated as any other unbeliever. But so long as they hypocritically claim to be a Christian but continue to willfully live like a pagan we avoid any close association with them.
The judgment Paul is talking about here is discipline. The Bible makes it very clear that the church has no business judging those outside of the church but that we are obligated to judge those who are inside the church. The church is to discipline its own members. Yet many churches today are quick to chastise, judge and boycott those outside the church but often very slow to ever deal with immorality inside the church, especially when it involves someone who is high profile, successful or a family member. If an immoral person professes to be a Christian we will all too often listen to her music, patronize her business, vote for her, and welcome her offers to volunteer in our church, just because she claims to be Christian. We never want to be seen as judging one who professes to be a Christian. But the Bible says that we must. Keep in mind however that it must be done in love and it must be following the procedure Jesus outlined in Matthew 18.
No Christian, not even the apostle Paul, has the right to judge those who are outside of the church. It is God’s responsibility to judge those outside the church. We have already noticed that nothing is said in all of this about the woman who was living with this man in immorality. It is assumed that she is not part of the church and therefore no judgment is passed against her. But they are to discipline the immoral church member and put him out of the church and distance themselves from him.