Friday, July 11, 2014

A LITTLE LEAVEN (1 Corinthians Chapter 5)

1 Corinthians 5:6, “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”

The shocking report of what was happening in the Corinthian church ultimately found its way to the Apostle Paul.  A man had his father’s wife, his step-mother (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1).  He had taken her in and was having sexual relations with her.  This kind of incestuous behavior was something clearly forbidden in the Old Testament (Cf. Leviticus 18:7-8, 29) and even under Roman law.  That a man in the church, a professing believer, was doing such a thing was bad enough.  That the church was refusing to address the matter was even more grievous.

The church ought to have mourned.  They should have been sorrowed in their hearts over what had taken place.  The deed worked to tarnish the reputation of the church and hinder the cause of Christ.  It was inconsistent to the person and work of Christ, who had sacrificed Himself that He might deliver them from such evil deeds (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7).  Left unaddressed the matter would eventually work to spread a destructive influence throughout the body.

Instead of mourning the believers in Corinth were arrogant and boastful (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:2, 6).  They were characteristically arrogant (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21; 4:6, 8, 18-19), but their boastful response in this particular case may have been ill-founded on the mistaken notion that grace had worked to free them from any moral constraints (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12; 8:1; 10:23).  In either case, their arrogance worked to blind their eyes to the evils of the blatant sin that was occurring in their midst.

The Corinthian believers boastfully tolerated the matter.  They were doctrinally naïve as to the correct response.  Paul’s “do you not know” question is the first occurrence in this epistle of this repeated phrase (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16; 7:16; 9:13, 24).  We might say, “You spiritual dunderheads!  Don’t you realize?”  The Corinthian error is an all too common one.  It is supposed in our day that doctrine is not important.  Doctrine is a dirty word to far too many Christians.  But doctrine and duty are inseparably linked.  One cannot live in Christ as he is supposed to if he doesn’t know what he is supposed to.

What was it that they didn’t know?  They didn’t realize the far-reaching implications of their failure to address the matter—“a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).  The people of that day would use fermented dough in the baking of bread.  When bread was about to be baked, a small lump was pulled off and set aside for later use.  That leaven would then be set aside in water, and would later be kneaded into a fresh batch of dough.  Leaven in Scripture represents influence, usually—but not always (Cf. Matthew 13:33)--evil in nature.  Left unchecked the evil deed would exercise a permeating influence on the body.  Others would naively suppose such sins to be “no big deal.”  Ultimately the refusal of the church to intervene would work to generate a culture of general disregard for sin. 

Paul’s exhorted the church to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:12).  For the sake of the body they were to discipline the erring member.  Other passages speak to the nature of such loving discipline (Cf. Galatians 6:1).  It is carefully and prayerfully undertaken with the goal that the person might repent and be restored to fellowship (Cf. Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 5:7).  In his book “If you Bite and Devour,” Alexander Strauch commented on this matter, “When a member is unrepentant and persists in sin, fellowship with that person is broken and he or she must be excluded from the church.  Such severe discipline is intended to protect the church from moral and spiritual corruption.  It also awakens the sinner to the seriousness of his (or her) sin.”  This chapter reminds us of the dangerous consequences associated with the tolerance of sin, either on a personal or corporate level.  “Blessed are those who mourn” over it (Matthew 5:4).

No comments: