I Corinthians 5:1–13

An Unleavened Batch

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

February 12, 2017

 

Do you remember when I said last week that I cringe when people say we should become the New Testament church? And that the reason I cringed is because the New Testament church was such a mess? Well, this morning’s passage is even more cringe-worthy than what Paul has addressed in the opening four chapters. Whereas so far the primary problem has been that of believers posturing and dividing over their own importance based upon who baptized them—and who are thereby dividing the church by quibbling that one person is more important than another—this morning we’re going to see Paul address a topic that isn’t usually mentioned in polite company, much less among God’s people—that of incest. My desktop dictionary defines incest as “the crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild.” So if Paul’s tone seems harsh, there is good reason for it. Even society, which has become accepting of all kinds of sexual mores and behavior, understands this particular one as being a crime. And yet Christian believers, followers of Jesus Christ in Corinth, were tolerating and apparently even boasting about this behavior.

Beginning in verse 1 of chapter 5, Paul states, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.”[1] Now the wording here indicates that this isn’t a son and his mother, but a son and his step-mother. And this behavior not only goes against God’s clear teaching in the Old Testament[2]—with the penalty being that one who does such things be cut off from God’s people[3]—but even pagans in Paul’s day—those who didn’t believe in the Scriptures or in Christ—didn’t tolerate such behavior. So why were believers doing so?

And as was the case with the divisive conduct in this church, the problem here isn’t only that these ungodly behaviors are taking place in Christ’s church, God’s temple, but also that these believers are boasting about them.[4] Last week we saw Paul direct these Corinthians regarding their divisiveness, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” (3:21) But what is more difficult to understand is how these believers, these followers of Jesus Christ, can be boasting about sexual immorality. In verse 2 Paul challenges this head-on: “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” And, again, at the beginning of verse 6 Paul repeats “Your boasting is not good.”[5] Something has gone terribly wrong among these believers. Their moral framework has somehow been short-circuited so that they are now acting against what even their God-given conscience should have informed them. As Paul states in Romans, “when Gentiles, who do not have the law”—that, is, God’s Word—“do by nature”—that is, by their conscience—“things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.”[6] Yet these Christians, who have been given God’s Spirit, are acting worse than pagans.

What we continue to see is that one of the effects of the Fall is that we’ve lost the capacity to understand what moral behavior is—much less to behave and live in a moral manner. We are no longer attuned to what is right and wrong behavior, to the goodness or badness of human thought and conduct. So because these Corinthians are morally at sea, Paul has to spell out for them what their response to these worldly behaviors should be. Instead of being proud, Paul says, “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning”? Mourning—expressing deep sorrow or regret or sadness is what our reaction ought to be in the face of any sin. But instead, these believers are proud about this ungodly behavior.

In our day, our society in general, is capable of being proud about all sorts of behavior that Scripture declares to be sinful. But even our society is able to express outrage over immoral relationships. Though some here were too young or perhaps not even born in the 1980’s when Woody Allen began a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the 35-year younger college-age adopted daughter of his then partner Mia Farrow, the world was aghast for this was a relationship similar to the one Paul is addressing in our chapter with the difference that it was a man sleeping with the daughter of his companion. Despite our society’s love for Woody Allen movies, he received plenty of criticism in the media—and still does—for initiating such a relationship.[7] So even a permissive society is capable of being scandalized. But whereas Allen never professed to be acting in accord with any particular religious persuasion, the behavior the apostle Paul is addressing is taking place in Christ’s church and it ought not be so.

But the problem isn’t simply that these Corinthians are boasting rather than mourning over such behavior but also that their response to it should have been, the latter part of verse 2, to “have put out of [their] fellowship the man who has been doing this.” Essentially what Paul is talking about here is what we commonly refer to as church discipline or excommunication, that is, excluding someone from partaking of the Lord’s Supper and worship that they might see where they have gone wrong, repent or turn from their immoral behavior, and so be restored back to fellowship. But in our individualistically oriented society I fear that church discipline is in danger of losing if not its meaning, certainly its impact. As I mentioned at the annual meeting last Sunday—and in a follow-up e-mail for those who were unable to attend—I was struck by what a friend wrote me about our weekly gathering for worship. She wrote, “I think people often underestimate how encouraging their presence is to other believers on Sunday mornings and how their absence has a felt impact.” The point is that many Christians in the United States don’t view gathering together for weekly worship of Christ with their church families as an essential part of their lives as believers. Church is instead viewed as one of many optional things we do rather than one of the key aspects of our nurture and identity as followers of Christ. Again, you’re here this morning so I realize I’m “preaching to the choir” but the point is that if there is a cause for discipline—for cutting someone from Christian fellowship that they might see their wrong and seek to be reconciled to God and his people—this cutting off is often meaningless in our day because many don’t derive their identity and growth as believers from involvement with their church families in the first place.

This isn’t Paul’s challenge, however, for at this time gathering together for worship was understood as being significant even for those who were involved in the divisive (chapters 1–4) and the sexually immoral behavior (chapter 5) that he was seeking to correct. Paul’s challenge was that these believers are accepting the authority of those involved with such behavior over his own authority. And as last week we saw Paul apply the Old Testament understanding of the temple to the church now being God’s temple, here, too, Paul continues to reference the Old Testament in support of his teaching and authority for the church’s entire understanding of church discipline similarly arises from the Old Testament context. If I can jump ahead, at the end of this passage Paul ends by underscoring in verse 13: “Expel the wicked person from among you.” This is a command repeated in the book Deuteronomy in which God’s law, God’s teaching, is being given to Israel who similarly needed to be taught what behaviors were and weren’t acceptable in God’s sight. And this command to expel the wicked person from among them is found in numerous contexts, including:

false prophets who were encouraging God’s people to follow and worship other gods;[8]

those who were themselves worshipping others gods or even bowing down to the sun, moon, or the stars in the sky;[9]

a stubborn and rebellious son who didn’t obey his parents; [10]

a promiscuous young woman;[11]

a man found sleeping with another man’s wife[12] or even a virgin pledged to be married;[13]

and finally it’s used of someone who kidnapped a fellow Israelite and sold them as a slave.[14]

What is more, in all of these cases those who were committing these wicked practices were not only to be expelled but also stoned to death given the devastating effects of widespread sin among God’s people.

What is more, Paul is in the position of having to convince the church at Corinth from afar of their need to change their ways. As verses 3–5 state, “For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Again, if Paul sounds harsh, it’s because a lot is at stake. He’s in the position of having to convince Christians, those who have been saved, and sanctified, and called into fellowship with God in Christ and one another by the working of God’s Spirit to stop living as pagans for their very soul is at stake. To “hand this man over to Satan” is probably another way of stating strongly that he was to be cut off from fellowship or to be put outside of the church,[15] that is, the realm of Satan, the prince of this world[16] that he might repent of his wrong and return to the fellowship with God and his people for which we were all created.

So let’s recap: One effect of the Fall is that we must be taught which behaviors are moral, that is, are pleasing to God, and which are not for time and again experience bears out that God’s ways are not our ways.[17] A second effect of the Fall is that not only must we be taught which behaviors we’re to embrace or shun but we must also be taught how to view and feel about ungodly behavior. We should mourn or grieve over ungodly behavior not be proud and boastful as the Corinthians are doing. But, thirdly, the purpose and reason for cutting off a person who is knowingly involved in ungodly behavior from worship and fellowship with God’s people in the assembly is that in doing so the congregation is, in effect, handing that individual over to Satan that his flesh might be destroyed but his spirit be saved when Christ returns, on the day of the Lord.

Part of our problem, part of our difficulty, is that because of the Fall, we don’t take sin as seriously as God does. We think sinful behavior—whether a “little white lie” or something more serious—really isn’t that big of a deal. But in God’s eyes all sin is a big deal. As James states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”[18] In God’s eyes sin is such a big deal that he sent his Son to earth that he might take on the penalty of our sin and give us his righteousness so that we might be reconciled to our loving Father in heaven. As Paul states elsewhere, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”[19] This gift of eternal life is what casting someone out of fellowship is seeking to restore.

Now after reiterating that their boasting “is not good,” in verses 6–8 Paul describes how sin progresses, using the analogy of leaven or yeast as a means of explaining why they need to cut off those who are knowingly involved in ungodly and immoral behavior from fellowship with Christ’s church—Christ’s body—Christ’s temple. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?”[20] Our version of this might be “Don’t you know that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch?” As one commentator notes,[21] in the Old Testament, leaven was a common metaphor for a corrupting influence and during the Feast of Passover commemorating God’s bringing his people out of Egypt and celebrated each year, the Israelites would remove all leaven from their houses. So leaven is being used here by Paul as a way of expressing sin’s insidious tendency to disseminate and spread so that the person committing it must be placed outside of fellowship not only for their own sake but for the sake of protecting the remaining believers. There’s something about ungodly behavior that makes it easy to catch but difficult to put out. As Lauren Winner has observed, sin makes distortions feel good. It tells us that we’d be better off with pleasure in hell than sanctification in heaven. So our feelings can’t be trusted because if it felt lousy every time we sinned, we wouldn’t do it. Conversely, if it felt great every time we did something good, we would all be saints.[22]

So again Paul’s point is that the problem of sin is so serious that those who are involved in unrepentant sinful behavior must be put out of fellowship with Christ’s church lest it spread to other members. As Paul states in verse 7, “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Ultimately the means God has chosen not only to stop the spread of sin but to stamp it out once and for all is his only Son, Jesus Christ. Our identity in Christ is unleavened bread. Paul reminds these believers of the cost God has paid for our salvation, our sanctification, our unleavening—namely, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” What greater sacrifice—what greater expression of love could we ever have than God sending his Son to die in our place? To take the penalty of our disobedience upon himself and, in exchange, give us his righteousness that we might be enabled to have fellowship with our Father who made us by his Spirit who indwells us? Again, because of Christ we are an unleavened batch—a holy batch. And Paul’s argument here is that because these believers are holy because of their union with Christ by his Spirit, they should be living in a way that honors God. As stated in verse 8, “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Leavened bread acts wickedly and immorally. It acts divisively and in ways that not even pagans do. This wickedness must be cast out. But unleavened bread acts in a manner that is consistent with its identity—with sincerity and truth. Nobody likes a hypocrite but these believers, by claiming their identity as Christ-followers but living according to, and even worse than, the world does are living hypocritically. So the Festival—or Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed the Passover, for which Christ, our Passover lamb, was slain, was sacrificed for us—should be kept in a manner that honors that sacrifice.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by clarifying that though he is exhorting them, verses 9 and 10, “not to associate with sexually immoral people,” he is “not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” And again, verses 12 and 13: “ What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?…. God will judge those outside.” So we’re not to judge this world but, as Jesus taught,[23] we are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world that others might come to know God. So he bids us, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Paul’s point is that the church is called to exercise discipline within its own fellowship, not to regulate the behavior of those who don’t profess to be Christians.

When it comes to other believers, we are called to judge (the end of verse 12) and separate from those who are living in ways that dishonor Christ,[24] verse 11: “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” And notice, too, that though Paul began the chapter by addressing sexual immorality, it’s clear that believers should be concerned with all immoral behavior—again including

greed —having an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food,

idolatry—admiring or revering something in God’s creation more than God himself,

slander—making a false or malicious statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation,

drunkenness—drinking to the extent of losing control over one’s faculties,

and swindling—using deception to deprive someone of money or possessions.

Christians are held to an extraordinarily high standard for we are called to be holy even as God is holy. We are an unleavened batch that is unleavened not because of our own ability but because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. He is the One who has given us his life. He is the One who has opened the way for us to have fellowship with our loving and heavenly Father in heaven and with each other. He is the One who has given us his Spirit and one another that we might live in a holy, unleavened manner.

I want to close with Paul’s own words from another letter he wrote, that of Galatians because he encapsulates there so well the humble spirit in which we are to live with and care for one another. Let us receive Paul’s admonition from Galatians 6:

1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Let us pray.

 

 

[1] Zondervan NIV Study Bible: “The Roman orator Cicero states that incest was practically unheard of in Roman society.”

[2] Leviticus 18:18: Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.

[3] Leviticus 18:29: Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people.

[4] Uses of “boast/boasting” so far: 1:28–30: 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”; 3:21–23: 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[that is, Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.4:7: For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

[5] Zondervan NIV Study Bible suggests alternatively that they may have been proud of the liberty they had in Christ, “a distortion of grace.”

[6] Romans 2:14–15: 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

[7] See Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi is creepier than you could imagine by Derrick Bryson Taylor, July 30, 2015. < http://pagesix.com/2015/07/30/woody-allen-soon-yi-responded-to-me-because-i-was-paternal/>

[8] Deuteronomy 13:1–5: 1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

[9] Deuteronomy 17:1–7: 1 Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him. 2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, 3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, 4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. 6 On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

[10] Deuteronomy 21:18–21: Deuteronomy 21:21: 18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

[11] Deuteronomy 22:20–21: Deuteronomy 22:21, 24: 20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

[12] Deuteronomy 22:22: 22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

[13] Deuteronomy 22:23–24: 23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

[14] Deuteronomy 24:7: Deuteronomy 24:7:If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

[15] Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[16] John 12:31: Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.; John 14:30: I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me. Other passages that suggest this include Luke 4:5–6: 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”; Ephesians 2:1–2: 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.; I John 5:19: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

[17] Isaiah 55:8–9:“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

[18] James 2:10.

[19] Romans 6:23.

[20] Although Crossway ESV study Bible states this was fermented dough since yeast was uncommon in the ancient world.

[21] Reformation ESV Study Bible as per, e.g., Exodus 12:14–15, 17: 14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel…. 17 Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.

[22] Lauren F. Winner in Real Sex:the naked truth about chastity, Grand Rapids:MI: Brazos Press, 2005, pp. 89–90 (from notes taken so may have been paraphrased. Also, emphases added).

[23] Matthew 5:13–16: 13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

[24] Reformation ESV Study Bible suggests “The injunction to expel offenders (‘Not even eat with such a one’) has primary reference to community life within the church and probably does not mean that all personal contact must be avoided (2 Thess. 3:15, ‘warn him as a brother’).” I’m not so sure. This language seems stronger than that to me…. The view expressed in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible makes more sense to me: “Calling oneself a Christian while continuing to live an immoral life is reprehensible and degrading, and gives a false testimony to Christ. If the true Christian has intimate association with someone who does this, the non-Christian world may assume that the church approves such immoral, ungodly living and thus the name of Christ would be dishonored. Questions could arise concerning the true character of the Christian’s own testimony (cf. Ro 16:17–18; see also 2Th 3:6, 14–15 and notes).”

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