Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 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. 8 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.
(1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
In this passage Paul addresses a moral issue within the church at Corinth. His instructions seem harsh – the man who is committing this particular sin must be put out of the church. He warns that if this kind of behaviour is tolerated among believers it will spread like leaven (i.e. yeast) spreads throughout a lump of bread dough, and others will be affected as well. The purpose of Paul’s instruction is not to destroy the person concerned, but to help him recognise the seriousness of his actions. And fortunately we do find out later (2 Corinthians 2:1-11) that the punishment inflicted has had the desired effect – the man has repented of his sin and Paul now admonishes the believers to forgive and to receive him back into fellowship, for godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation(2 Corinthians 7:10).
Since the time of the Exodus, leaven had represented sin. That is why the Israelites were told to remove all leaven and anything containing leaven from their houses before observing the Passover. God was teaching them about the seriousness of sin. The protection of the blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses could only be effective against the imminent judgement if all sin was banished from their midst. They needed to be a different people, a holy nation of God. All those actions and attitudes associated with Egypt had no place in their lives, and this was symbolised by the removal of the old leaven from their homes.
Jesus too warned his disciples about leaven, but they did not understand. (Matthew 16:5-7) While He wanted to draw their attention to the spiritual state of the heart, their minds were on material things. “It isbecause we have taken no bread.” they reasoned amongst themselves, completely missing the point that Jesus was making.
How often do we miss what Jesus is trying to convey to us? How often do we fail to understand what He is saying to us, because our minds are on temporal, material matters rather than on the true issues of the heart that determine our eternal destiny. How often do we clean and polish our lives to make them look good to others while overlooking the leaven of sin in the hidden corners where no one sees it but God alone?
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. If malice and wickedness are allowed to persist, they will eventually take over our lives and cause us to drift further and further from the holy presence of God. As we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus, let us examine ourselves. Let us allow his Spirit to search our hearts and bring to light the things in our lives that dishonour Him. As the Israelites removed the leaven from their homes, let us – by the power of His grace – remove anything from our lives that causes offence to our Holy Father. Let us bring it to the cross of Jesus for if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)