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The Unleavened Imperative

*1 Corinthians 5:6-13
February 4, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 14:55 in the audio file.

Or, Separation from So-Called Brothers

The church is really an amazing organism by God’s grace, and she is also full of problems. The church has so many responsibilities by God’s design, and one of those responsibilities is realizing what she is called not to do. The church is a fundamentally new group made up of those who used to be something else who need to become what they are. I’m not trying to be tricky with words, but God’s glory in the church takes His wisdom both in the showing and in the protecting.

The church in Corinth needed such wisdom. To get this wisdom they needed rebuke and reminders. Paul corrected them and commanded them about division (chapters 1-4) and now about tolerance of sin in their midst (chapter 5). The next section (chapter 6) will address their greed and their impurity.

It is not a sign of grace or kindness or love or forward thinking to allow an identified member of the church to continue in sin. At the start of chapter 5 Paul refers to a man in the church who has his father’s wife, a relationship that even first century Roman and Greek culture didn’t approve of. The believers allowed it to continue and were, at the same time, arrogant about their spiritual maturity. They were boasting about their spotless reputation from a sewer ditch.

What they should have done already, which Paul affirms from a distance, is to have “him who has done this be removed” (verse 2). With the authority of the Lord Jesus they were “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” (verse 5). The man wasn’t in a pattern of repenting and relapsing and repenting, he was apparently unwilling to give up his sin. This was bad for him, and it was bad for the church.

In verses 6-13 Paul reminds the Corinthians of the principle of holiness in the church (verses 6-8) and adds a proviso about where the church’s jurisdiction ends (verses 9-13).

The Principle: A Little Unholiness Never Stays Little within the Church (verses 6-8)

The previous paragraph aimed at application to a particular situation. In the rest of the chapter, starting in verse 6, Paul lifts up the house of discipline and pours a concrete principle underneath.

A Principle They Should Have Known (verse 6)

Paul calls out the Corinthians as proud people, puffed up, “arrogant” (verse 2). Your boasting is not good. Earlier in the letter he offered the right way to boast, quoted from Jeremiah, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31). Whatever spiritual words they might have been using, the Corinthians were not boasting in the Lord. If they had been boasting in the Lord and in the word of the cross, they would not have maintained an arrogant air amidst sin that Christ died on the cross to forgive and cleanse.

The principle was something they knew, or should have known. Do you not know, a question that Paul asks about ten times in the letter, always comes before he lets them have it about how they’re not acting in accord with truth. Then Paul states the principle itself, an axiom observable without special revelation: a little leaven leavens the whole lump. This is obvious. What are they thinking?

“ ‘Leaven’ is not quite the same as yeast. In ancient times, instead of yeast, a piece of dough was held over from one week’s baking to the next. By then it was fermenting, and so could cause fermentation in the new lot of dough, causing it to rise in the heat. This was a useful practice, but not hygienic, since dirt and disease could be passed on from week to week.” (C.L. Mitton’s commentary on The Gospel of Mark quoted in Thiselton).

A tiny bit of leaven, just a little, spread through all the bread like a tiny drop of poison spoils all the glass of water. The result is disproportionate; things that ruin are often so.

A Principle They Should Embody (verse 7)

They should connect this truth with the congregation. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump. For the Israelites, there was one week every year when they had to start their bread making over, during the Passover feast (see Exodus 12:14-20). In preparation for Passover the family would hunt for and remove any and every amount of leaven found. There was to be no leaven in the house for a week. When the next batch of bread was baked, none of the (possibly contaminated, moldy or foul) previous rising agents were used. It was new. So we are made new in Christ. There is a “fresh start” (Thiselton).

Applied to the church, this is an imperative based on reality. They were to live like who they were. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. They had been made new in Christ; for Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. It’s possible that Paul was writing this letter in the springtime near Passover, so the feast was on his mind. The leaven analogy applies regardless.

We are no longer slaves to an unholy master, and together we are a new lump. This is the unleavened imperative: you are unleavened so live unleavened.

A Principle They Should Celebrate (verse 8)

What does it look like to live unleavened? First, it looks like holiness and not tolerating gross sin. But that’s not all. The unleavened life also looks like a festival.

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.

There are some key ingredients in this verse.

We might have anticipated for Paul to call the old leaven “sexual immorality” or at least something such as “lust” based on the situation at hand. It’s broader than that. As a lump there should be no malice, as in mean-spirited or vicious attitudes toward one another. This sort of ill-will can be found in record keeping of wrongs, or score keeping of who is doing or not doing whatever, a wrong kind of competitiveness and/or complaining spirit toward others. Evil is a general term, but in context has the emphasis of lacking social values. It is failure to love. It is selfish way that ruins relationships. And it is the old way, as when we were “passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is not the lump we are.

Instead there ought to be sincerity, defined in one Greek dictionary as “being free of dissimulation” (BAGD), and dissimulation means “concealing one’s thoughts or feelings.” The opposite of sincerity is pretense, posturing, duplicity, lying. And of course sincerity goes with truth, what is actually the case.

Most significant is that this is not a description of a one-week-only festival, this is a description of our corporate life together. Our Christian lives are to be festivals of holy humility and honesty, and this is a celebration. Even when we confront unholiness, we are doing it not because our shoes are too tight or because we are annoyed or because we want to feel better about our self-righteousness. When we deal with unholiness it is because, in Christ, we are free of the old leaven.

The Proviso: The Church Is Responsible for the Church in the World (verses 9-13)

A proviso is a condition attached, here not to an agreement but to the argument Paul has made. Keeping leaven out of the lump requires knowing which lump we’re talking about.

A Possible Misunderstanding Requiring the Proviso (verses 9-11)

First Corinthians is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians, it is the first one that is inspired and therefore received as Scripture. He had written to them before and that letter included specifics instructions that they failed to apply to their current situation.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, which could have affected a lot of their relationships since Corinth was so perverse. But, whether it was intentional or ignorant, the Corinthians misunderstood the instruction because Paul meant something more specific: not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world. He will specify the jurisdiction of the church in verses 12-13, but the point is that Christians live in a world of sinners, and that is okay in one way. Christians do not need to build compounds to get away. Holiness does not depend on being on the opposite side of the street. In a world of sinners, we know and interact with sinners, and that is okay. In the world are people who get sex wrong, and money wrong, and even God wrong. Also, God made sex and makes rich and created men as worshippers, the world offers a warped version. As Christians we see the gifts for what they are, and we should be proactive to enjoy them as to the Lord, and we don’t need to freak out that those who are spiritual enemies of God act like it.

When it comes to “delivering to Satan,” we aren’t delivering to Satan those who are still his. 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 idolator, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. This is quite a list, but it all depends on identifying anyone who bears the name of brother or the “so-called brother” (NASB), “anyone who claims to be a brother” (NIV). Here is the professing Christian, one recognized by the church as part of the lump. That man or woman has a higher standard: to live the unleavened life.

Paul lists six sins of separation. It is not an exhaustive list, it represents the kinds of issues the Corinthians were facing. A case of sexual immorality is what got the discussion going. Greed is what got them taking each other to court which is the next subject Paul tackles. The final four are identifiable persons, those who don’t love God or their neighbor, violating both tables of the 10 Commandments (Lenski). To be identified as these things means a constant practice and an unwillingness to repent. These are the sorts of disciplinable offenses, and they require evidence, not estimations of someone’s heart. “[Paul] does not mention any but what fall under the knowledge of men. For inward impiety, and anything that is secret, does not fall within the judgment of the Church” (Calvin).

The church’s response should be not even to each with such a one. This applies to the Lord’s Table (so, excommunication), but it can’t only apply to that table. The man has already been removed. This eating in verse 11 is a social eating. The unleavened life of celebration in Christ’s deliverance cannot be shared with those who are not living unleavened lives, with those not living in deliverance from sin. This does not mean that no communication whatsoever can happen, and what our interaction should look like requires some follow-up next week. We do not need to act as if the disciplined man doesn’t exist. The disciplined man can’t spoil our sanctification once disciplined out, but we likewise make it clear to him that we do not share unleavened gladness with him.

The Responsibilities Defined by the Proviso (verses 12-13)

There is an inside and an outside, and the church must mind her business.

For what have I do with judging outsiders? Answer: nothing like this. Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? Answer: yes. “[T]o become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle” (Thiselton).

God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” This does not mean that the church has nothing to say to those outside. In fact, the church must say, “Come in! Come and worship God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son!” She must say “Repent and believe!” She must tell those who are dead in their transgressions and sins to turn to Christ, to confess Him as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead. The church preaches the word of the cross.

But we do not expect them to live the unleavened imperative. The imperative for them is: Believe, and we expect that obedience will grow from the new life of faith. The church is not the boss of the world, though the church is a voice of truth to the world, and Christians ought to live in the world acknowledging the Lordship of Christ.

When it comes to those inside we must love the holiness of God enough to Purge the evil person from among you, a quote from Deuteronomy which is found six times in Deuteronomy (13:5; 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21; 24:7). A little leaven leavens the whole lump. The congregation is commanded to exclude the so-called brother, and purge is an emphatic form of “remove” in verse 2.


We’ll take one more Lord’s Day to consider church discipline, looking to Jesus’ instructions about dealing with a sinning brother in Matthew 18 and also addressing some ways to misapply 1 Corinthians 5, in both directions, being too soft or too hard.

There is, though, clear truth about how we are to live. We live according to the unleavened imperative. We really are unleavened, and so we live together as celebrating a festival and the tone is of sincerity and truth.

The unleavened life of the assembly means that what professing Christians do in the “privacy” of their homes is the church’s business. The standard is much higher than mere consent between adults.

A holy people are fire, and fire does not fear cultural smoke.


You are headed back out into the world of the sexually immoral, the greedy, idolators, slanderers, drunkards, and swindlers. You will find them as your neighbors, as your fellow students or co-workers, as your government officials, in your social media timeline and selling unholy happiness in expensive TV commercials. You do not be like them, or entertained by them, or nervous about them. You be unleavened from the bottom of toes to the tip of your tongue, that they may see your humble holiness and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.


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. 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. (1 Corinthians 5:7–8)