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"A Little Leaven"
1 Corinthians 5:1-8

Wednesday AM Bible Study
May 30, 2007

Theme: Paul deals with the fact that the Corinthians "gloried" in their tolerance of gross sin in their midst.

In the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul takes up a new and very crucial subject. If follows naturally after Paul had dealt with the problem of divisions in the church (chapters 1-4). Once the unity of the fellowship is established, moral purity within the fellowship can be established.

The unbelieving world often criticizes the church on the basis of two, mutually exclusive expectations. First, it believes that the church should never "judge". But second, it complains that the church should never have any hypocrites in it. But because the Corinthian church had failed to deal with some of its professing members in a clear way regarding sin, some among the church were living in open contradiction to the faith they hypocritically claimed to hold to. Paul deals with this problem by establishing that it is not the role of the church to judge those who are "outside" (unbelievers); but that it is the duty of the church to judge those within its ranks who claim to be followers of Jesus but who live in open, unrepentant sin.

In this section, Paul deals with the immediate problem of gross sin within the church. In verses 1-5, he deals with the practical matters of sin within the church; and in verses 6-8, he deals with the principles by which those practical matters are dealt. In verses 9-13 (which we'll look at next week), he deals with how the believer is to differentiate between those who are in the church and those who are outside.


A. It had been reported that there was sexual immorality (porneia) in the fellowship of the Corinthian church. This was not a matter of rumor; but a matter that is "actually reported" in an ongoing way. How Paul heard this news isn't stated; but it was probably through those of Chleo's household (1:11).

B. The nature of this sin was such that it was not even a form of sexual immorality that was practiced by the unbelieving heathen peoples outside the church ("the Gentiles"). It was that a man "has his father's wife" (probably not "mother", but most likely his step-mother). This was a sin of incest; and was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:7-8; 20:11). It would seem that the woman was not a professing believer, since it was only the man who is mentioned as the one to be dealt with.

C. The thing that most upset Paul about this was that the Corinthians were "puffed up" (in arrogant pride) about this. It would appear that they were proud of their tolerance of this sin in their midst. Paul underscores that they should instead have mourned over this sin. It appears that their attitude was the thing that was standing in the way of this sinful man being "taken away from among" them.

D. Paul, though absent in body, acts authoritatively as though present. On the basis of his authority, he calls upon the church to turn the man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Note the authority ("in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"), the context ("when you are gathered together, along with my spirit"), and the power ("with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ") in which this is to be done. The process was, no doubt, based on the Lord's teaching in Matthew 18:15-20; and it seems that Paul takes the matter immediately to the highest level of the process—as if already 'told to the church'. The goal of all of this was, ultimately, redemptive—that is, that the sinning man's soul may be saved on the day of the Lord.


A. Paul criticizes the "glorying" (boasting) of the Corinthians as a thing "not good". They forgot the principle that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9). A small amount of sin introduced into the fellowship of the body of Christ has the effect of spreading in and permeating the whole body with its contaminating influence.

B. Paul therefore calls them to the broad principle of purging out all leaven from within the fellowship—just as the Passover of the Old Testament was a symbol (Exodus 12:15, 18- 20; 13:6-7; Deut. 16:3-4). This is to be done so that they behave as they truly are—a new lump. They have been made a new, pure "lump" through Christ, who died as their Passover lamb (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). As Christ had died to make them pure, they are to live in a manner consistent with what Christ died to make them to be—and which, indeed, they in fact are!

C. Paul, then, exhorts the Corinthians to be true to the principle for which the Passover was a type; that is, that they "keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth".

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