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Text: 1 Corinthians 5
Clean out the old leaven
1 Corinthians 5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 [a]You have become [b]arrogant and [c]have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and [d]I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord [e]Jesus.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But [f]actually, I wrote to you not to associate [g]with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God [h]judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
Clean out the old leaven
1 Corinthians 5
The church is the household of faith, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ the called out ones a light to the nations and the instrument of the kingdom of God. Clearly the church is important in God’s plan of salvation. We are Christ’s ambassadors and have the task of making him known to the world.
So Christians in churches do well to avoid letting sin destroy her witness and becoming poor ambassadors.
Therefore purity in the church is an important consideration. We are called to be saints and live holy lives to the glory of God. He will not stand by and let sin ruin his church as Christ’s letters in the book of Revelation chapters 2 & 3 point out.
Sexual sin is one of the sins which harm our witness. Corinth had such a problem. In fact there probably would not have been too many Corinthian adults who were not involved in one form of sexual sin or another before their conversion to Christianity. Corinth was well known for its plentiful supply of temple prostitutes. Today as well because we live in a highly sexualised society sexual sin has been on the increase in the churches as well. For example all the churches I’ve been a member of have one or more sad story to tell
1 Corinthians 5 helps us to deal faithfully when such matters do arise and also encourages us to flee from such sin. According to the text we can do that by mourning over the sin, judging the sin and then the third point, keep the feast.
1 Mourning over the sin. In verse 2 after Paul spells out the nature of the sin he expresses his dismay at the church because they were not grieved by what had happened in their church. There was no sorrow instead they were arrogant about it as if to say ‘look at how inclusive and open minded we are. What does it matter if couples are not married or are same sex or in a polygamous relationship? Live and let live. Besides this is Corinth, not Jerusalem.”
Perhaps so but in the church we don’t practise situational ethics. We don’t decide what is good and right on the basis of popular opinion. Our ethics are based on a standard which transcends time and culture and which has been given to us by God and therefore is a perfect standard. When we live by His code of ethics then we are safe; other people are safe from us and we have the right content for the word love
The Corinthian church will have known that standard but were ignoring it and so when Paul heard about the sin of incest, a man had his father’s wife he was greatly saddened by that, the standard is very clearly provided in Leviticus 18:6-8. In fact incest was condemned by the Gentile nations according to Paul in the first verse.
The Christian life and life in the church can be a great joy, but when someone sins then its time to mourn and for the church family to try and get some help for her fallen member. Why mourn? Because the offending brother was dead as far as the things of the Lord were concerned. He was out of fellowship with the Lord and with those in the church who were wanting to live holy lives.
Now its true we all sin in lots of different ways every day. But I trust that we also all seek to live lives of repentance when we do sin. We don’t need to mourn over repentant sinners. The angels in heaven rejoice over that. But where there is persistent unrepentant sin then that’s different. It’s the lack of repentance accompanied with the kind of arrogance displayed in the church at Corinth which is disturbing.
In the Corinthians case what was even more grievous was that the members of the church were shielding the offender and according to verse 6 were boasting, perhaps about being open minded and tolerant. There are also other reasons why serious sin is not dealt with in a church. It could be that there is lack of genuine fellowship in a church, members are simply not used to sharing their lives very much with each other and perhaps even somewhat indifferent to each other. This can happen in large churches where people don’t even know each other or where members stay on the fringes of church life.
Another possible reason is that among Christians is the thought that rather than showing any condemnation and judgment on sin the church ought to express understanding about the pressures of living in today’s society not by standing firm on moral absolutes. Just go with the flow as they say. The problem with that approach is that the church loses its holiness and effectiveness as salt and light in the community. It starts to look too much like the world, loses its prophetic edge, its Christlikeness.
Accommodating or turning a blind eye to wilful and unrepentant sin maybe the easier thing to do but it can destroy churches. Christians should mourn unrepentant and wilful sin and then when necessary….
2. Judge the sin.
When Paul heard about the sin and the arrogance of some in the congregation who supported this brother he was very decisive about the matter “ and had judged him in his own mind and directed the Corinthian church in the name of Christ to hand such a one over to Satan. What does it mean to hand a person over to Satan? Well it doesn’t mean to deprive that person of salvation because Paul also wrote “that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”, i.e. judgment day. In any case it is the Lord who grants salvation not the church. It means to put such a person out of the church. Think about other characters in the NT who were also put out including Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20) whom Paul also “delivered over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme”. The hope there is that they would in fact learn the lesson and be restored.
So when a person is handed over to Satan as it were and put out of the church then that means he or she has lost the privileges and protection once provided by the church and is fair game for the enemy. God may even permit Satan to attack the offenders body through illness or some other physical problem so that the sinning believer might repent and return to the Lord. The destruction of the flesh could also be a figure of speech in the sense that such a person becomes so entrenched in a life of lust and dissipation that with his Bible informed conscience at work he ends up full of self-revulsion and consequently repents and is readmitted into the church The flesh can be destroyed or put to death in that sense too. In any case being handed over to Satan is certainly excommunication as far as the church is concerned. That person is outside the kingdom of God and living in Satan’s realm and under his influence until he repents or dies in his or her sins in which case such a person was never really one of God’s elect.
So the first aspect of discipline is for the sake of the sinner that he may reflect on his situation and repent and be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus as Paul puts it in verse 5.
The other aspect Paul writes about is seen in his use of the word leaven. Clean out the old leaven he says. This image takes us back to the Passover when the Jews would eat the Passover Supper commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. One of the requirements was that no yeast was to be found in any of their houses (Ex.12:15) and they were to eat only unleavened bread. Here in 1 Cor. 5 leaven is used to illustrate the potentially damaging effects of sin. Just as yeast invisibly permeates the whole lump of dough causing it to rise, so also sin is powerful and works secretly like a cancer and infect the whole body. So the church has to purge itself of the old leaven; the things that belong to the old and sinful way of life. One persistent sinner in the congregation can taint the whole body and so just as the Jews had to celebrate their deliverance from slavery without leaven so the church must celebrate its salvation from sin without persistent and unrepentant sin otherwise worship , fellowship communion become a farce. Now it’s true that we all sin and that is acknowledged in our form for the Lord’s Supper. We don’t come perfect in our own righteousness, we come as sinners albeit repentant ones. So what is called for here is not perfect holiness which is impossible this side of eternity. What is called for in 1 Cor 5:8 is sincerity and truth. We celebrate the feast not with old leaven the leaven of malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
No more being furtive, play-acting, pretence or being closed to one another. Rather we live in freedom, openness, honesty and walking in the light of God’s presence and light.
We notice also in verse 9 that Paul takes it a step further and tells the Corinthians not to associate with immoral people. He doesn’t mean have nothing to do with them during the normal course of day to day activities. If that was the case we might have some justification for living in a commune or in a monastery and cutting ourselves off from the world. But that isn’t the case. We are not called out of the world but are to remain in the world because how else could we carry out the great commission or be salt and light in the world and show people the love of Christ. Nor are we to judge outsiders, that is not the churches task but the states if necessary and ultimately God’s. Our duty to our neighbours and friends who are not Christians is to try and show them better way show them the pathway to life help them to see the grace of God in Christ and to try and do that with gentleness and respect so as to win some to Christ.
So what Paul means here is not to associate with an unrepentant sinner who was a member of the church but refuses to repent of his sins; not even to eat with such a one says Paul. This has been a point of contention at times. Some have said if we have friends or relatives in such a situation that we ought to shun them completely never have them in our homes, in fact, have nothing to do with them until they repent. Well people will handle this in different ways but the point of the exercise is that the sinner might feel ashamed of his sin, miss having true fellowship with his former brothers and sisters in Christ and do what is necessary to be restored to the church. That means that if you do see such a person be that a friend or family member who has been excommunicated, that you don’t carry on with the relationship as though everything was fine and that nothing has really changed but that these opportunities to meet are used to call them to repentance.
So we are to mourn sin and judge the sin for the sake of the sinner and the purity of the church and in 3. the third place we are to keep the feast. In verse 7 Paul wrote “you are unleavened”. It summarises the conviction Paul had of every Christian church that we are unleavened that is purified from evil through the blood of Christ and so Paul says be what you are. Look at what God has done for you in Christ and then get on with doing what he has made possible for you to do.
Celebrate the feast. Well we did that last week around the Lord’s Supper table which is the NT equivalent to the Passover referred to in our text. That is an important part of living faithfully. We come to the Lord’s table not because we think we are good enough to come but because we are all repentant sinners who need Jesus. But celebrating the feast means more than that. It means leaving our sins left behind. Leave sin nailed to the cross and then live beyond the cross. It means living as renewed born again Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit, joyfully following the guidance God’s word gives us.
The world needs to see Christians and churches like that. Churches which take sin seriously which live in victory over the forces of darkness and evil in the world which has the potential to destroy people’s lives. That is also why we must remain in the world and not withdraw from it. Otherwise how will we have any influence at all? How can we by word and deed show the love of Christ to our neighbours and friends who do not yet know Him as we do as our Saviour and Lord.
In conclusion 1 Cor.5 teaches us to do what we can as a church to avoid letting sin destroy or witness and being a poor disciples.
Purity in the church is an important part of being a disciple of Christ. We are called to be saints and live holy lives to the glory of God.
If there is serious unrepentant sin we can’t afford to ignore it or try to cover it up or let family or other loyalties get in the way.
Unrepentant sin is destructive, it must be mourned over it must be purged for the sake of the sinner the purity of the church and the honour of God’s name. So let us keep the feast lets live beyond the cross in the joy of our new life in Christ Amen