"Guarding the Fellowship"
(Part 2) 1 Corinthians 5:1 - 13
(Delivered Sunday, September 9, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Very early in the story of the nation of Israel, God commanded them to celebrate an important feast. It was a feast that was to commemorate the time He delivered them from bondage in Egypt through His servant Moses.
On the night before He delivered His people from their bondage, God sent His angel to slay the firstborn sons of all Egypt. It was the last of the 'plagues' He inflicted on the rebellious Egyptian king - a horribly dreadful punishment. God instructed His people, Israel, how they were to be spared from this plague. Each household was commanded to take a lamb - a one year old male that was without blemish - and keep it for four days. Then, on this particular night - the night of God's plague on Egypt - they were to slay the lamb, roast it, and eat it together. And they were commanded to paint the blood of this lamb on the doorposts of their house. God said, "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:13). Hence the feast was called "Passover".
What a marvelous picture this "feast" is of the Lord Jesus' sacrifice for us, who is Himself our "Passover Lamb". I'm sure you're familiar with this Old Testament story. But I'm reminding you of this particular "feast" today because of one of its very important features. God goes on to explain to His people;
So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat - that only may be prepared by you. So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty- first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread (Ex. 12:14-20).
The "leaven" (translated "yeast" in some Bibles) was a lump taken from old dough. It had fermented; and when it was kneaded into a new lump of dough, it spread its fermenting properties throughout the whole lump. It's this property of fermentation that causes the dough to rise when baked.
But it was because of the ability to spread its fermenting properties that "leaven" also became a symbol to Israel of the sin of the old life - the sins that characterized them before God rescued them from their bondage and redeemed them to Himself. Thus, He commanded that, during the celebration of the Passover, they were to search their homes thoroughly and make sure that there was no leaven in the house. If anyone were to dare to eat leavened bread during this feast, such a person was to be "cut off" - that is, put to death. The leaven had become a symbol of the sins of the past that God's redeemed people were to leave behind; and in keeping with this symbol, if someone were to eat leaven in disobedience to God's command, it would be the same as if they had said, "I claim to be redeemed by God; but I will still allow the old ways to characterize my life. I will pretend to have made a new start in God's grace; but in actual fact, I will be tolerant toward my old sins - and even embrace them."
God's command to purge the home of any trace of leaven during this holy week, and to celebrate the feast of Passover with a "new lump of dough", is given to us as a picture of how He wants His church to celebrate new life in Jesus Christ. He wants us to rid ourselves of the "leaven" of the sins of the past, and to live like the "new lump of dough" that He has made us to be through the blood of His Son Jesus.
* * * * * * * * * * *
This morning, then, we continue our look at a passage of Scripture that urges us toward this kind of "new lump" holiness. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul writes;
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles - that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person" (1 Cor. 5:1- 13).
During our last look at this passage, we examined its first two points. They dealt with what this local church needed to "do" about this problem. First, we saw that it needed to guard it's own attitude toward immorality in its midst (vv. 1-2). And second, we saw that it needed to do its duty toward the immoral church member in its midst (vv. 3-5). This week, we look at what the church needed to "value". It must, thirdly, value the moral purity of the congregation (vv. 6-8), and fourthly, value a discernment in the associations its members make (vv. 9-13).
As we examine this passage further today, may God teach us to value the fresh start He has given us in Christ. May we have the same passion for our own holiness as a church that He has for us. May we truly be "a new lump" without "leaven".
* * * * * * * * * *
Notice, then, that this passage urges us that ...
III. OUR CHURCH MUST VALUE THE MORAL PURITY OF THE CONGREGATION (vv. 6-8).
Paul writes, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. for indeed Christ our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (vv. 6-8).
Notice that he begins by telling them, "Your glorying is not good." Paul was certainly upset by the sinfulness of the incestuous man in their midst; but he was more concerned with the fact that the church wasn't valuing its own holiness. Far from merely 'not valuing' it; these Christians were placing their greatest sense of value on being "open" and "tolerant" toward sin. They didn't mourn over the man's wickedness as they should; but rather, were puffed up in pride over the fact that they could boast of how they had such a man as a member of their church - a man who even appeared to claim to be a Christian; yet was sexually involved with his own step-mother!
This world calls on us to be tolerant and open-minded toward the beliefs and practices that the Bible condemns as sinful. But know this: you cannot be tolerant toward sin, and value the purity of the church at the same time. One cannot glory in both sin and holiness at once. These believers gloried in sin; and so, Paul said that their glorying was "not good".
It would be good for us to pause and ask ourselves the question, "What do I glory in?" What is God's opinion of the thing I glory in? Does He say my glorying is "not good"?
Paul elaborates on a principle in verse 6 - a principle that is repeated elsewhere in the Scripture. In fact, I think it was possibly one of Paul's favorite sayings. In Galatians 5:9, Paul asks the Galatian believers, "You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump."
The principle he is elaborating on in expressing this phrase - "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" - is very much like our old saying: One bad apple spoils the whole barrel. The principle is that once sinful beliefs and sinful practices are permitted to gain a foothold in the church, they will spread their sinful influences throughout the church body - contaminating everyone. This principle is articulated in lots of different places in Scripture. Paul wrote once to Pastor Timothy and warned him of the negative influence of false teachers in the church; saying, "And their message will spread like cancer" (2 Tim. 2:17). In this very same letter to the Corinthians, Paul will later tell them, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits'" (1 Cor. 15:33). Jesus similarly warned His disciples, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1). The writer of Hebrews warned the church to pursue holiness before the Lord; "... looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled ..." (Heb. 12:15).
Just as a small batch of leaven spreads its fermenting influence throughout the whole lump of dough - turning a fresh lump into a fermented one; so also a little sin, once it's introduced into a church family and (please note, because this is the key) permitted to gain a foothold, causes its contaminating properties to spread throughout the whole congregation. That's why the "glorying" of the Corinthians was "not good". They were glorying in that which was, in the end, contaminating them and compromising the very purity that God desired so much for them.
What was it that God saved us for? Why did Jesus die on the cross for us? It wasn't to leave us in our sins. Rather it was so that He might purify a people for Himself who were characterized by holiness. In his letter to Pastor Titus, the apostle Paul wrote that he should teach the people under his care to live holy lives;
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
When we fail to value the very moral purity and practical holiness that Jesus died to bring about in us, we are like people who don't care whether or not there's leaven in our midst - contaminating Jesus' pure "Passover" bread. He has given His life for us, in order to deliver us from the curse of sin. Therefore, Paul urges, "Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. for indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (v. 7).
* * * * * * * * * *
When it comes to this matter of valuing the holiness of the local church, one of our greatest needs is to have a true understanding of the Bible's sense of what "the Church" is. The Church isn't merely a building; nor is it merely a collection of people that meet in such a building. God has established the "visible church" on earth; but until Jesus returns, this "visible church" will be a mixture of redeemed people and unredeemed people. The Church that Jesus died to purchase for Himself is composed of all those who have been chosen by God from before the beginning of the world to receive His grace, and who have been redeemed from their sins by the blood of His Son Jesus.
The Church then, in this sense, is certainly not a collection of people who live perfect lives; but rather, it's a collection of people who have been perfected by God's grace and are made holy in God's eyes through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. It's a collection of people who, because they are the elect of God, seek to live in 'practice' - every day, more and more - like what Jesus has died to make them to be in 'position'. They seek to live now like what they are destined to perfectly become in the future. As John writes, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).
If we, by God's help, grow to have a true understanding of what we are as the Church - the called-out assembly of those God has set apart for Himself, purchased by the blood of His Son Jesus, and destined for ultimate glory - then we will value the moral purity of the church as He values it. We will certainly be compassionate and forgiving toward one another as we struggle to rid our lives of the old patterns of sin; but we will never tolerate or celebrate sin in our midst. Rather, we will seek increasingly to "purge out" the "old leaven", and to live more and more like the "new lump" Jesus died to make us to be.
"Therefore," Paul writes, "Let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v. 8).
God wants us to value the moral purity that His Son died to bring about in us. Do we value being a pure people? As individual Christians, do we care whether or not we celebrate God's act of redeeming us from sin as "unleavened bread"? It must be true of us that we value being as holy as Jesus saved us to be; or else we won't care about sin in our midst, and we won't care whether or not we're pleasing to the Savior.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now; how do we express this "value" in a personal way? After all; a holy church is made up of holy individuals. How do we apply this sense of value in practical terms? Paul goes on to urge us that ...
IV. OUR INDIVIDUAL CHURCH MEMBERS MUST BE DISCERNING IN THEIR ASSOCIATIONS (vv. 9-13).
Many scholars have speculated that the Corinthians were arrogant against Paul because of something that he had written to them in the past. This arrogance might, in part, be revealed by the fact that he urged them to celebrate the feast "not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v. 8). Perhaps they felt malice toward him, and denied his claim that there was wickedness in their midst.
It appears that he had written to them in the past that they should not keep company with sexually immoral people. And perhaps these Corinthians thought to themselves something similar to what many people might think today: "Well; that's simply impossible! The whole world is filled with sexual immoral people! Does Paul actually expect us to avoid all such contacts? What does he expect us to do? Live in isolation from everyone else? Does he expect us to leave this world? Does he expect us to become hermits?"
And, of course, that's not what Paul meant at all. And so, he explains; "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even to eat with such a person" (vv. 9-11).
And so, Paul isn't speaking here of making it our goal to avoid any contact whatsoever with any sinners. We'd have to live on another planet to do that; and, of course, we would end up brining at least one sinner along on any planted we landed - ourselves! Instead, Paul is speaking about avoiding a certain kind of sinner - a man or woman who professes to be a believer in Jesus, and who claims to have trusted Christ for salvation; but who continues to cling to the sort of sinful life-style that Jesus died to save people from in a spirit of arrogance and unrepentance.
There's an old principle in the Scriptures that helps us to understand this. In Haggai 2:11-14, we read;
"Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, "If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?"'" Then the priests answered and said, "No." And Haggai said, "If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?" So the priests answered and said, "It shall be unclean." Then Haggai answered and said, "'So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,' says the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean'" (Haggai 2:11-14).
God was rebuking the nation because it apparently thought that it could have contact with that which was unclean and unholy before God, and that such things could become 'holy' simply because they were the ones having contact with it. God was rebuking them through a principle of holiness - one that was verified to them by their own priests: Contact with holiness does not make what is defiled become holy; but contact with unholiness and uncleaness does contaminate what is holy. Or, put another way, holiness is not transferable; but unholiness is.
Think of it this way: if I take a nice, clean, clear glass of drinking water and - after taking a sip, of course - empty it into the local sewer; would the sewer water now become drinkable? Not in the least! But, what if we reversed this? What would happen if I took an eye-dropper and dropped two or three tiny drops of sewer water into that nice, clean, clear glass of drinking water? Would you want to drink it?
In the same way, when holy people enter into close association with people who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, but who live in open, rebellious sin, it doesn't end up making anyone holy. Quite the opposite; it defiles everyone in the association. As the old saying goes: When you wallow in the mud with hogs, everyone gets muddy - and the hogs love it.
There are two great mistakes we must avoid. First, we must avoid the extreme of cutting of any association with any sinners. This isn't God's will for us; because if we do this, sinners will never be brought into contact with the saving message of the gospel. But we must also avoid the other extreme; that of embracing an association with sinners to the degree that we become partakers of the sins of this world, and thus become defiled by the association. I believe that a perfect balance is struck by the well-known phrase: Be in the world, but not of the world.
The devil would love to get us confused about this matter either way - either withdrawing too far from needy sinners, or drawing to close to defiling sin. The Corinthian believers were confused about this matter to such a degree that they had gone past the moral bounds of their own culture; and had welcomed a sin in their midst that "is not even named among the Gentiles" (v. 1). They had come to be so closely "in" the world, that they became indistinguishable from someone "of" the world.
Paul urged them to get things back into proper balance. They were to have daily contact with the people of the world - people who were lost and needy sinners caught in the lifestyle practices he describe: "with sexually immoral people ..., or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters ..." But they were not to have fellowship with someone who professed to be a brother or sister in Christ, but yet lived a life characterized by these things in a completely unrepentant way. Paul wrote;
Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:10-11).
I'm grateful that Paul adds, "... And such were some of you ..." The Church is composed of former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites (that is, male prostitutes), thieves, covetous people, drunkards, revilers and extortioners - but who are such things no longer, because they have been saved from such sins by the blood of Jesus. Praise God; there's hope for everyone! But we are not to be deceived into thinking that someone can be those things as a regular lifestyle practice and be a brother or sister in Christ at the same time.
Paul says, in this passage, that we're not to have fellowship with a so-called believer who embraces such sins. In fact, he says we're not to even eat with them. Personally, I don't believe this means that we can have no contact with them whatsoever. Paul wrote, in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; "... If anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."
To "not keep company" with such a person means that we don't "mix" with them in a social and casual way. And if such a person were to say, "Hey; let's get together for lunch;" we should say, "I truly wish I could. But because you profess to follow Jesus Christ, I urge you to repent of this particular sinful practice, and live in a way that is in keeping with your profession of faith. If you wish to get together to talk about how to do that, then let's not eat - let's talk. I would be delighted to do that; and am more than ready to do so. But until you're ready to do so, I'm not even able to eat with you." Such an answer would be an embarrassment to them and would shame them - which, as Paul says, is precisely the point. Perhaps God would use such shame to draw them to true repentance.
Sadly, the Corinthian believers were not doing that with the sinning man in their midst. In fact, they were proud of their association with him. As a result, he was not motivated to repent, and they were defiled by his sins in the process. May God help us to be discerning in our associations - not only out of a sense of valuing the holiness of the church, but also for the sake of the sinner.
* * * * * * * * * *
But suppose someone should react to this idea of being discerning in our associations, and say, "But it all sounds so 'judgmental'!" Well; certainly it is! But Paul has an answer for that. He went on to ask; "For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?" (v. 12).
"Judgment", in the sense of making a determination of someone's character based on their actions, and responding to that determination appropriately - even to the point of excluding them from fellowship - isn't something we do to everyone. It's something that we have a right to do only toward those who profess to be followers of our Lord - someone who professes to be a part of that called-out assembly known as the Church through faith; and who has therefore claimed the right to be "inside" our fellowship. It's not our business to judge those who make no claim to be followers of Jesus, and who don't attach themselves to His church.
You might paraphrase Paul's words this way: "What business is it of mine to pass judgment those who make no claim to follow my Lord? I'd be stepping outside my circle if I did that. Such people are outside the church's jurisdiction." In fact, Paul even says, in verse 13, "But those who are outside God judges ..." That is, even though they will eventually be judged by God for their sins, it must be God alone who judges them; because they are already "outside". How can you exclude from fellowship someone who's already "outside"? "But", as Paul might say, "it's a completely different matter when it comes to someone who's 'inside' the church. It is my business to judge someone who professes to be a follower of my Lord, but who denies that profession by clinging to their sins. You can't put "outsiders" away from yourself; they're already 'outside'. You can only put away from yourself those who claim to be 'insiders'."
There's no getting around the fact that this is a matter of "passing judgment"; but Paul's point is that it's utterly appropriate for "insiders" to judge someone who claims to be an "insider" and to determine whether or not their claim is genuine. Paul writes later to the Corinthians and says, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified?" (2 Cor. 13:5). The apostle John writes, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. but whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought to himself walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6).
If God alone judges those who are outside, it's our job to judge those who are inside. And so, Paul points his readers back to Deuteronomy 17:7; and says, "Therefore 'put away from yourselves the evil person'" (v. 13). This is what he meant when he said, in verses 4-5, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
* * * * * * * * * *
God isn't willing that anyone should perish in their sins. God's great concern and desire is that everyone turn from their sins in repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). But He is also absolutely committed to the holiness of His church. He wants us to be a holy people - so holy, in fact, that we become a force in this world that invites sinners to flee from the wrath of God for their sins and to come to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and restoration to Him.
But we will never be such a force if we, ourselves, don't keep separate from sin. Paul writes later on to the Corinthians;
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. And you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty."
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
May God help us to value in us what He values in us. May we be truly keep the feast with unleavened bread.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is prohibited.)
Missed a message? Check the archives!