Good evening. If you have your bibles with you, and I hope that you do, please turn with me to 1st Corinthians chapter 5. 1st Corinthians chapter 5. This was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a troubled church in Corinth. In the chapters leading up to this one, Paul has addressed the arrogance of the young church as it related to their inflated views of their own wisdom, arrogance related to their church leadership and preachers, and arrogance related to their own stature and discernment.
But in this chapter, Paul has to address something a little more concrete, a little more personal. He has to address the problem of a man in terrible and public sin. What is the church to do when someone still claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but is living a life that is clearly contrary to their own profession?
But even more, as we will see, Paul has to address the more systemic problem of a church that was unwilling to do what was right. The church was tolerating this sinful man in their midst, acting like everything was OK, turning a blind eye to the egregious violation of God’s holy law, and were even proud about it.
So, Paul writes to them in this chapter what they should do. But we will also see some larger principles that are operating in the mind of Paul as he thinks through these individual and church-wide ethical issues. He shows us how we should think about some of the pictures from the Old Testament, and how they relate to us now in the New. And he even spells out for us how we are relate to the sinful world.
Let’s start by reading God’s word together, 1 Corinthians 5. Hear the word of our Lord:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.[a]
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[c] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
By way of brief review, last week we noted both the Problem and Paul’s prescription in this text. The Problem and the prescription. The Problem appeared to be simple: a man in sexual sin. He was in an incestuous relationship with his step-mother. But the deeper issue, the issue of more far-reaching consequences, was that the church wasn’t doing anything about it. The whole congregation was pridefully tolerating a professing brother in sexual sin. Their inaction was neither loving to the man in sin, nor honoring to God, and, as we’ll see tonight, their inaction was actually putting themselves at risk.
But Paul doesn’t just point out the problem, he also tells them what to do about it. Paul’s Prescription was for the church as a body remove the brother so that his soul might be saved. They were to put the man out of fellowship, out of membership, for the prayerful goal of both his one-day restoration to the church, and especially his final day salvation. They were to hand the man over to Satan for the destruction of his fleshly, sinful nature, in hopes that God might bring the sinner to his senses, a lot like the Prodigal son who had found out that the world wasn’t all that he thought it was, and that God might use that misery to bring the sinner back in repentance, and save his soul on the final day.
That leads us to the remainder of the chapter, which I hope to cover tonight. We’ll note two more points for us this evening. First, Paul gives us a picture, and then a pattern. A biblical picture, and then a pattern for life.
Let’s look first at the Biblical picture, found in verses 6-8. Paul says in verse 6: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” A little leaven leavens the whole lump. A little yeast is all that is needed, because it will spread through the entire lump of dough.
The picture that Paul uses is from the Old Testament celebration of the Passover. Turn with me to Exodus 12. Exodus 12. The second book of the Bible, in which God describes for us through the pen of Moses, His great act of redeeming His people out of slavery in Egypt.
God has performed wonderful and terrible plagues over the land of Egypt, because the Pharaoh would not agree to release God’s people. Then, because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, God promised a final plague that would kill the first born of every household, except for those that obeyed God and put the blood of a slaughtered lamb over their doorway.
But before the lamb was slaughtered, and before the meal was eaten, the people of God were first ordered to do some very particular things regarding leaven and bread. Let’s look atGod says in Exodus 12, starting in verse 14:
“14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. …[now skip to verse 19] 19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.””
The law is clear. No leaven. Total purity. No hint of contamination. And if there were leaven, if someone was found to be eating anything with the leaven in it, there were to be cut off from the land. It doesn’t matter how small the amount of leavening. It doesn’t matter if it was just one bite. Total purity was required.
And that’s the peril that is revealed in this picture: A little leaven leavens the whole lump. It won’t do to remove 98% of the leaven of the household or of the nation. The entirety of it must be purified.
This is the picture that Paul applies in a spiritual way to the situation back in 1st Corinthians. On the surface, the application is clear. The unrepentant sinner engaging in sexual sin must be removed. He’s the leaven, his sin is the yeast that if not removed will spread through the entire lump. Total purification of the congregation is the need. No tolerated sin in their midst.
But then Paul moves the picture beyond a congregational application, into the individual level of application in verse 7: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump. Here he is aiming at more than simply church discipline and casting out an unrepentant sinner. He’s applying the picture of Passover purification to each individual believer.
He’s describing the radical break with sin that he commands throughout his various letters. We’re called, as children of God, to be distinct from the world. To cast off Sin. To crucify the flesh with its desires. To put off the old man. To remove the leaven. And this is because in our own lives, just as in the life of the congregation, tolerated sin leads to sin’s acceptance. Tolerated sin leads to sin’s acceptance.
If you toy with sin it will grow and grown, until it has leavened the entire lump. That’s similar to what James says in chapter 1 of his letter: “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin, like leavening of the soul, will bubble up into all sorts of nooks and crannies of our lives until the entire lump of dough has been infected.
This is imperative for each of us to do in our own lives. Am I actively and intentionally cleaning out the leaven of sin in my soul? Have I checked all of the counters and all of the bowls and pans in the kitchen of my soul, thoroughly endeavoring to root out the leaven wherever it may be hiding? Or am I half-hearted, or even lazy in my cleaning?
You can imagine the Hebrews in Exodus 12 being tempted toward laxity in this area. “Listen, Moses, I cleaned the mixing bowl and I washed the rags. Surely that is enough.” That’s what Satan wants us to believe. “You’ve cleaned out enough; don’t worry yourself with every little detail. That’s what the legalists and the fundamentalists do; you don’t want to be like them, do you? That’s for the extremists, the fanatics, and the religious nuts. Nobody’s perfect. Don’t stress yourself out. It’s just a little bit of yeast; you can’t even see it, its microscopic. What’s the big deal.”
But that’s not what God’s law says. He demands total purity. God’s holiness requires that we be perfectly purified, perfectly free of the leaven of sin. And that’s the bad news. Each of us has some sin. We were born in sin and born sinning. We lie to get what we want, we embellish the truth to make ourselves look better, we look discontentedly at what we’ve been given and look covetously at what has been given to others. In short, the bible makes clear that we’ve got a leaven problem: our entire lump has been leavened by sin. We’re permeated with it.
But we’re given some wonderful news in the end of verse 7: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Paul reminds us that Christ IS our Passover lamb, and that he has been sacrificed. The good news is that Christ is the perfect, spotless, uncontaminated lamb that was pictured in Exodus 12. That lamb that was slain so that a people might be passed over in judgment. That’s Christ. Christ was without spot or blemish. Christ was slaughtered in the place of a sinful people. Christ’s blood was the purifying agent that allowed the sentence of guilty to be removed, and the judgment of death to pass over His people. Christ is the fulfillment of what this picture was about.
That’s the good news of scripture: that we can be forgiven because another has died in our place. We can be purified because another’s perfect blood stands between us and judgment.
Do you believe in that Christ? Do you have His blood pleading for your forgiveness? If you trust in him, then you too are made clean and pure by faith.
But if you haven’t come to Christ, then this story also is a picture for you. But you aren’t the one passed over. If you remain in your sin and continue to reject Christ, then the angel of judgement will come and will bring nothing but death for you. Christ will return, as the messenger of death, and will speak judgment for all who remain in their sin of unbelief. Don’t let that be your fate. Come and see the Christ, the savior, the spotless lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world so that his people might be purged of their leaven of sin. He too can be your savior, if you would believe in him today. It doesn’t matter how much leaven you’ve got, or how much sin you’ve committed. Christ can make you clean. Christ can make you pure. Trust in our Passover lamb, who is indeed the lamb of God given to take away the sins of the world.
Before we leave this picture of Passover, a few other things should be noticed in the text.
For example, we should notice HOW Paul connects the imperatives with the indicatives, or we could say “how Paul connects what God has done with what we are to do.” This is crucial for a healthy understanding of the Christian life, and it can be subtle, but it is truly the heart of all thriving religion. Notice again verse 7: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump”
That’s the imperative: Cleanse out the old leaven. That’s what we are to do. That’s our job. That’s the law. But we don’t do that IN ORDER that we might be saved. Keep reading:
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”
There is the indicative: you really are unleavened. That’s what God has done for us. That’s the gospel. We don’t cleanse out the leaven SO THAT we might become unleavened; We are made unleavened by Christ, the unleavened bread of life, and then in light of that we fight against remaining leaven.
This is typically Pauline argumentation: Cleanse out the old leaven, as you really are unleavened. He’s saying simply this: Act in a manner consistent with who you are. Act in a manner consistent with who you are in Christ. It’s incongruous for an unleavened people to act as they are leavened. It is inconsistent for a holy people to act worldly.
That’s why Paul says things like: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” God’s people have been made new, and in light of their being made new by God’s gracious action, they ought to act like it.
Which is what Paul moves to next in verse 8, again applying the language of Passover celebration to the spiritual lives of new covenant believers: “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” IF we have been made unleavened by God, and IF Christ has been sacrificed as our Passover Lamb, THEN we ought to behave in a certain way.
We ought to remove certain things pertaining to the old leaven of sin, and we ought to put on certain things pertaining to the new creation that we are in Christ. He specifically lists putting off the old leaven of malice and evil, which are complementary terms, and in many ways synonymous, and they together represent the whole manner of the fallen nature of mankind, of the old man.
They represent the disposition of sinners orientated AWAY from God, orientated TOWARDS selfish desires, and, in relation to the new life that we are about to discuss, these terms emphasize the orientation of the old sinful life toward darkness and unrighteousness.
Contrast that with the new life in the Spirit, which Paul describes as the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” These are aspects of the new life in Christ that should mark every believer, and they are in many ways the opposite of the vices we just discussed. If malice and evil pertain to darkness and unrighteousness, sincerity and truth pertain to the light and to righteousness.
In fact, the word “Sincere” is a wonderful illustration of this. In Roman times pottery would be stamped with the words sin-cere, which is Latin for “without wax,” which meant that the pottery had been put through the fires and tested, proven to be without wax, and therefore worthy of use and genuine. Christians, likewise, ought to live lives that are Sincere, without the wax of hypocrisy or hidden sins, so that the genuineness of their profession might shine through.
So, to wrap up this point, the church is called to holiness. They were to cast out the leaven of sin, which was specifically casting out a man in unrepentant sin. But even more than that, they were to model holiness in their own lives by casting out the leaven of sin, and pursuing the unleavened bread of righteousness, all in light of the work that Christ has done as their sacrificial Passover lamb.
Next, let’s move from the biblical picture, to see Paul explain the pattern for life. Paul’s pattern for life. And to put it succinctly, the pattern that he instructs is this: they were to watch what is inside, knowing that God will handle the outside. Keep Watch on what is inside, knowing that God will handle what is outside. Let’s look at verse 9 and see how he builds toward this pattern.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.11
Paul mentions in verse 9 a previous letter he had written. We, sadly, don’t have this letter. But we do get a glimpse into part of what it addressed. He told them not to associate with immoral people. But they were taking that to mean something Paul didn’t intend. His point was this: it would be impossible to remove yourself from any association with immoral people.
It was impossible to be a businessman in Corinth, and yet not deal with sinners, just as it would be impossible to be a businessman today and not deal with immoral people. Sinners are everywhere, and to withdraw from any associations with sinful people would mean a full-on retreat from the world. It would mean we’d need to construct for ourselves monasteries of separation from the world, which the church has tried in the past, but is contrary to what the new testament teaches. Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the new testament DO NOT teach that we are to retreat from the world.
The Bible is clear that we’re to be IN the world but NOT OF the world, meaning that yes we interact with and associate with sinners in the world, but we are not to be OF the world, meaning that we do not adopt the spiritual ethos of this age.
We are citizens of a heavenly country, we are new creations in Christ, we are a body of spiritual people with a spiritual charter, and thus we aren’t to be engaged with the world in a way that is contrary to our new spiritual condition in Christ. I’ve preached on this in the preceding sermons, so I won’t linger here. The point is clear though: Paul isn’t calling them, or us, to retreat from engagement or association with sinners in the world. Rather, the prohibition against associating with sexually immoral people refers to those WITHIN the church. Verse 11:
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
His instruction against fellowshipping with the sexually immoral was specifically a command to remove the unrepentant sinner from the assembly. “Don’t tolerate unrepentant sin,” Paul says. Don’t go down the road of choosing what kinds of sin are OK and what kinds really aren’t a big deal.
We don’t have that authority. Rather, we’re called, indeed commanded, to bar from fellowship ANYONE who retains the name of brother who also persists in Sin. And not just sexual sin. Paul lists also greed, idolatry, reviling (which is persistent hateful and abusive speech), drunkenness, and theft.
The church of God is to be markedly different from the world in these areas. Rather than marked by sexual immorality, which is that word Pornea again, meaning any kind of sinful fornication, adultery, or unnatural sexual relationship, rather than being marked by this kind of sin, the people of God are called to purity and holiness in the realm of sexuality. Believers should be marked by their devotion to spouse, marked by the seemingly outdated virtues of chastity and purity. Their eyes should not wander to what does not belong to them, nor should their feet take them where their body doesn’t belong. And they should vigilantly guard the good gift of marriage that God has given to them, seeing it as the glorious thing that it is: a beautiful picture of the gospel itself, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5.
But Paul doesn’t only list sexual sin. He mentions also greed. Are we as believers distinct from the world in our view of worldly possessions? Are we marked by the Christian virtues of generosity, and faithful trust in the provision of our heavenly father? Or are we just like the world: clamoring for more and more and more stuff, or worried about money and interest and bills? Pagans worry about such things. We’ve been given a Passover lamb, at the cost of the life of God’s own Son. If he didn’t hold back his own son, will God not also give you everything you need? And if that is the case, then what have you to be greedy about?
Paul mentions also idolatry, which is loving something, anything, more than God. And we can generally tell quickly what our little idols are by asking some diagnostic questions.
- What is it that keeps you up at night? What dominates your thoughts? That usually indicates the presence of some idol.
- Similarly, how am I spending my money and time? We make time for and spend money on the things that are important to us. That can be a quick check for idols in my life.
- Lastly, what makes me angry? Our anger can often indicate our idols being threatened. If I get angry when someone questions my decision, then my pride is likely an idol. If I get angry when someone impedes upon my schedule, then my sovereignty is likely and idol. If I get angry at the kids, then my comfort is likely an idol. Whatever it is, anger often indicates at least the presence of some little idol.
Next, Paul mentions a reviler: that is someone who uses their tongue to criticize, to cut, to tear down, to destroy. In a lot of senses, these people can do more damage than violent men because the wounds of a reviler are often invisible to the eye. Revilers demean, weaken, and crush their opponents, often without laying a finger upon them. They use their lips to curse someone made in God’s image, or they use their keyboards to destroy others online.
But God’s people aren’t to behave in such a Satanic manner. Instead, as God’s new creations, we’re called to impart grace and life, not criticism and death, with our words. We’re to image God himself, who has spoken His very word of life into our hearts, reviving our souls, and enabling us to bless others by pointing them back to the gracious God of life himself. We’re not to be like the world, which bites and devours its own.
He lists also drunkard and a swindler, or a thief. I’ll let you apply those to your own life. The point is this: God’s people should be concerned with what’s on the inside: inside of our hearts, and inside of our church. And if there remains unrepentant sin in the church, then we’re to cast out that leaven. Indeed, not even to eat with such a one, Paul says.
And why is that? Verse 12.
Here again is the pattern stated: Watch what is inside, knowing that God will handle the outside. We’re not called to judge the world. That’s not our job. That’s not our domain. But what we are called to judge is the purity of the inside of the church.
It would be easy to preach a sermon and get lots of “AMEN’s” by talking about the wickedness of those people out there, the evil of this policy or of that party, and listing all of the problems of this world as if they were all out there.
But that’s not Paul’s concern, and that shouldn’t be our concern. Of course, the world is acting worldly. Of course, sinners are acting like sinners. The real problem is when professing saints start acting like sinners. At least the world is acting consistent with their profession, unlike the man who remains in unrepentant sin.
Our job isn’t to purge the world of worldliness, but to purge God’s temple of leaven. And if we’ve been made children of God, passed over in judgement because of the lamb that was sacrificed in our place, then we ought to act in a manner consistent with our profession, and consistent with our new nature.
We’ll talk more about the specifics of that in our coming sermons, but the point from this chapter is clear: the leaven of sin is deadly, and it WILL spread if left unchecked. The only solution is to cast it out. Not to make peace with it. Not to try and isolate it. Cast it out.
Believers, if you are toying with sin of any kind, then let these words sober you up, and compel you to action. Seek out the remaining leaven in your life, and cast it out, lest you be ensnared by it, and be cast out yourself.
And for those who have yet to believe in this Christ, be warned that this casting out of the church is but a small foretaste of the final casting out that will take place at the end of time. Christ will come and cast all sinners, every one of them who doesn’t have Christ’s blood over them, into total darkness and eternal punishment. Don’t wait for that. Hear of these truths and read of the Christ of scripture, the great Passover lamb, and how it takes only faith in him to receive purification and forgiveness. Only he can remove the leaven of sin from your life. Trust in him, and you too can be saved.