Sermon: “Keeping the Feast” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the Word of the Lord in 1st Corinthians 5:6-8,
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 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. 8 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. (ESV)
May the Lord bless the reading and preaching of His word here in His midst.
When I planned this sermon out, I wasn’t planning on the initial question I was going to ask to have been so recently fulfilled, but I’ll just roll forward with it. Children have you ever baked bread? Raise your hand if you’ve ever baked bread. Yes, it happened this morning. I wasn’t planning on that. It’s just the providence and goodness of God. I think the lesson had something to do with the patience and baking baking bread this morning.
Well, there’s more lessons from baking bread then patience. Patience is an important one, it takes a long time to bake bread. But when we come to this text that’s not quite the lesson that Paul has in mind. Paul is telling us something important about baking bread.
What’s interesting about baking bread is that ,if you’ve ever done it, it’s a highly memorable kind of thing. It involves all of your senses; you watch with your eyes as the flour, the water, and the other ingredients get all mixed up and turn from these different ingredients into this wonderful looking lump of dough. Then you feel that dough as you’re kneading it up and you hear it as you turn it over and thump it down softly on the countertop. As you’re working it over, you smell that dough; nothing smells as good as fresh bread dough, at least until that goes in the oven and then it smells as good as freshly baked bread. Maybe you smell it in the air right now. Then to taste, nothing tastes as good as homemade fresh bread.
Bread is an important thing to us, but the thing about making bread and baking bread is that we don’t usually have to do it. Just yesterday I myself went to the grocery store with a very small list and one of those items was a loaf of bread. We don’t often bake our own bread, if we do it’s a very special kind of occasion. It’s really really good, but it’s a lot easier to just pick it up from the store.
Well in the time when Paul was writing the people couldn’t go to ALDI or Walmart or wherever you go to buy your groceries. They couldn’t pick up a loaf of bread that was carefully packaged in plastic to keep it from fresh. It was a regular thing to be baking bread, week by week. To provide what was an important part of what these people ate. Whereas baking bread hasn’t changed much over the years, it was much more frequent in the time when Paul was writing. Everyone had to bake their own bread.
The other thing is that the recipe hasn’t changed too much. There aren’t too many ways that you can bake bread. But what Paul points out here is an important ingredient in the bread that they baked, and we don’t use anymore, that’s levean. It’s like yeast. Did you use yeast today? So some yeast was used today. Yeast helps to raise that dough up, but in the ancient world they didn’t use yeast. They used leaven. Whenever I’ve read this passage, I thought leaven is just like our yeast. It’s not and if we missed the difference between yeast and leaven we will fundamentally misunderstand what Paul is saying. So I’m going to leave that point is a teaser and tell you our big idea for today as we get into this passage.
Our big idea today is this Christ died to make us holy.
That’s our big idea today and we’re going to see three implications, or three application points, that come from that idea.
- Beware of the corrupting influence of sin.
- Break away from old sin patterns.
- Become what you already are.
Now that third phrase, “become what you already are” is not my phrase. It’s a phrase that a lot of commentators and Bible teachers use to preach and teach this passage. So I’m using it because it helpfully captures what’s going on in this passage. But I do want to give credit where credit is due. Particularly, Gordon Fee in his commentary uses that phrase “become what you already are.” So we’re going to see what Paul is saying here as we work our way slowly through the text starting at 1 Corinthians 5:6 where Paul makes his initial point; beware of the corrupting influence of sin.
1. Beware of the Corrupting Influence of Sin (1 Cor. 5:6)
Paul writes this, “Your boasting is not good”. Stop there, what are they boasting about? They boasting not because of what’s happening in the midst, but in spite of what’s happening in their midst. They think that they’re a great church, they think that the high heights of spirituality and Christianity. Yet, in the previous verses we discovered that there was an incestuous man living unrepentantly in his sin in their midst. When Paul heard of this, he immediately moved to remove the unrepentant sinner from their midst by excommunication. This man was excommunicated from their midst and now as we get into this next section, Paul is defending what he has done. Explaining why it was so necessary to excommunicate an unrepentant sinner from their midst. So, he said, “Your boasting is not good” what you think is so great about your church is in fact undercut by this horrible sin that you’ve permitted to go on in your midst.
And so he goes on and says, “Do not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Now children, when you were baking that bread did you use a whole bunch of yeast when you made that bread this morning or just a little bit of yeast? You put just a little bit of yeast in and little bit of yeast permeates that whole lump of dough so that the entire lump starts to rise. You don’t need much, you just need a little bit to do the trick and the whole lump will rise.
The same thing was true about leaven, but leaven was something very different than what we use today. Our yeast is clean and wholesome, as one commentator puts it. Leaven was not.
Here’s how you make leaven. You make your original batch of dough, you mix it together, and you knead it all together. Then you take a little piece of dough and you set it aside in your cupboard. It would sit at room temperature, remember this is a fairly hot climate, for about a week. During that time that dough would actually begin to ferment. The dough would begin to break down and ferment so then the next week you would have no longer dough you would have leaven.
So the next week you’d be making your lump of dough for the bread that you were going to serve to your family that week. You would take and mix all that dough together and then you take that little bit of leaven and you would mix it into your batch of dough. It just takes a little bit of leaven to lighten the whole lump. So that the entire lump of dough would begin to rise, just as if you were using yeast.
That sounds really lovely like a fairy tale or “Little House on the Prairie” like. However it’s not. Think of how unclean that piece of leaven was after sitting at room temperature, in the ancient world, in a hot climate for a week. It’s filled with uncleanness. It’s filled with bacteria, in some cases it’s filled with mold. Then you would grab that leaven and just mix it into your dough until a little leaven leavened the whole lump.
Now here’s what makes it particularly gross. It wasn’t until after mixing the leaven in with your whole lump of dough that you would take a little bit of mixed dough and set that aside for next week. So whatever contamination you brought into that dough, you would set aside to carry forward for another week of contamination. To bring that into your new dough again and the cycle would repeat again and again, week after week. Until the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Once a year Israel was commanded that they had to get rid of any unleavened dough in their midst. Now I don’t know if they realized it so much, but this was an important part of keeping the people of God healthy. For now just notice what Paul is saying about this leaven. This isn’t this nice clean piece of yeast that just made such a lovely smelling and yummy piece of bread. This was a bacteria laden thing and the only way is, as David Parlor writes, “to break the chain of baking bacteria-laden bread” was to ditch the whole batch and start fresh. What Paul is saying is that sin is like leaven; it’s unclean and corrupting. Here’s the thing, it just takes a little bit of sin to leaven the whole lump.
Now Paul again is talking about the excommunication of the offender in the church. What he is saying is if you leave someone unrepentantly in their sin, that’s going to have an affect on the entire congregation. With that one unrepentant sinner, their sin begins to spread throughout the whole congregation. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
He’s really talking about all of us. He’s saying these sins you don’t think are big deal, the ones you don’t worry about; guess what, they have a leavening effect in your life. A little bit of corruption leavens your whole life.
Now, let me be really clear that Paul isn’t saying that the rest of the church is just this group of happy, perfect people and there is one sinner in their midst who stood out like a sore thumb. Paul is not saying, why are you perfect people allowing the imperfect person to stay in their midst. Rather what Paul is saying is, we’re all sinners.
God doesn’t require perfection of you to remain in His church. He does require perfection, but it’s not yours. It’s given to you as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. God doesn’t lower His bar but He enables you to accomplish what He requires of you as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. God knows that until you die or Jesus returns, you’re going to remain imperfect. Perfection is not the requirement for ongoing membership and communion in a church, repentance is. We cannot allow these little sins in our midst to keep going in our lives, in our congregation. Paul says we have to address these things. Beware the corrupting influence of sin. Our lives should be marked by ongoing repentance. What then should we do with this sin?
2. Break Away From the Old Sin Patterns (1 Cor. 5:7)
This brings us to the second point, break away from the old sin patterns. This is where Paul gets into those festivals. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 he says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you might be a new lump as you really are unleavened for Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” So Paul is talking about the Old Testament festivals that God threw for His people. There are three big ones once a year. But sometimes there were a couple included at one time, including the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which flowed right into the other. Let’s talk about what happened at Passover and why did they celebrate Passover and Unleavened Bread in Old covenant.
When God’s people were in the land of Egypt they were enslaved and they were persecuted. The Egyptians murdered their children. God said to Moses to go into Egypt to declare to Egypt that you’ve got to let God’s people go. Pharaoh refused, so God sent one plague after another to try to get Pharaoh to let his people go. Time and time again Pharaoh hardened his heart. He refused to let God’s people go until God added the tenth plague. The plague where He didn’t just bring some misery on the land, He brought a lot of His wrath.
God said I myself will pass through the land of Egypt. When I pass through the land of Egypt, I will strike down every first born male in your midst. God said to His People Israel, here’s how you will be protected. You’re going to take a lamb, you’re going to slaughter that lamb, you’re going to take the blood of that lamb, you’re going to smear the blood of that lamb on the door frame of your house. As I pass through your midst to strike down every firstborn, I will see the blood on the door frames of your houses. Instead of passing through to strike you down in wrath of judgment, I will pass over you and the first born in your midst will be saved.
So Israel did what they were supposed to do. Because this happened so quickly, they it didn’t have time to properly make leavened bread. They had to make unleavened bread in their haste. So they had this meal of the Passover Lamb with unleavened bread as they prepared for God to jailbreak them out of the land of Egypt. And God did exactly what He said He would when He passed by the people of Israel and He passed through Egypt, striking every first born in their midst. Then Pharaoh let God’s people go.
Every year after that, God commanded His people to celebrate the Passover. During the first month, on the 14th day, they were to take a lamb, just as they had originally. They were to slaughter that lamb. That was the Passover sacrifice. They were supposed to do it at twilight, when they had originally done it. Once the Passover Lamb was sacrificed, God’s people entered into a time when they were no longer allowed to have leaven in their midst. If anyone ate leaven in their midst he was supposed to be excommunicated. Just like the leavening offender in their midst was excommunicated. If God’s old covenant people ate anything leavened, Exodus 12:19 says that person is to be cut off from the congregation Israel.
For the next 7 days, after the first day was Passover, starting on the 15th of the month, they would enter what’s called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They would have to keep searching through their house for a bit of leaven from a batch of dough that they forgot about. They were supposed to find that leaven and purge it from their midst. In doing this they were remembering their redemption. Paul says they were also looking forward to their redemption.
All those years when God’s people celebrated the Passover Lamb and purged filthy, unclean leaven from their midst; they were getting ready for what Jesus was going to do for them. Christ, our Passover Lamb, is sacrificed and so what Paul says is to cleanse out this old leaven. Get rid of it now. He’s not talking about is not physical leaven, the physical leaven is a type and shadow that anticipated spiritual realities.
What God is saying is that by cleansing out the physical leaven, you are forming this picture of how I’m going to demand my people live holy lives. My own Son is going to come into this world, not just an animal will be sacrificed, but my own Son. Then from that point on my people must live unleavened, clean, holy lives.
So Paul says cleanse out those old sinful patterns. Get rid of that old leaven that used to characterize your life leading up to the sacrifice of Christ. Break away from it. Break away from old sin patterns. It is fundamentally incompatible with who you are in Christ. That’s easier said than done. How do they get rid of those old sin patterns?
3. Become What You Already Are (1 Cor. 5:8)
That brings us to the third point. Paul says become what you already are. He says, “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.”
“Let us therefore celebrate the festival.” He’s talking about the Festival of Unleavened Bread. He’s saying that you don’t have to clean yourself up, it isn’t that you have to make yourself holy in order to be qualified to come before God as His people. Understand that Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. That marks the beginning point when God’s people must live holy unleavened lives. But you don’t make yourself that. Notice what he says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” What Christ has done through his sacrifice is to make you unleavened. To give you this new identity as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Earlier in the membership reception I read 1st Corinthians 1:2,” To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.(ESV)
Therefore what Paul is saying is you’ve got to become what you already are. Christ has set you aside as holy, therefore you need to live out your calling as saints. You’re not only sanctified in Christ Jesus, you are called to be saints along with all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. It’s an identity, something that Christ does to us. He makes us no longer a leavened, corrupted lump. He makes us into a new uncorrupted, unleavened lump of people for God that is holy. What God says then is that you have to celebrate the feast by looking through the house of your lives and purging leaven. Purging the old sin wherever you find it. Become what you already are.
How does this happen? Let’s look at three application points of what it means that Christ died to make us holy.
Our first application point is this, don’t tolerate sin. Let me ask where do you tolerate sin in your life? What do you excuse, what do you ignore? What would you defend as small and insignificant. What have you become desensitized to, the things that used to bother you, but now they don’t so much anymore. That’s not progress, that’s desensitization to sin. That means that your heart has been hardened and your conscience has been seared. Don’t tolerate it. Beware of the corrupting influence of sin. What begins in a small way begins to take root and affect your entire life. Don’t tolerate even a small sin because even a little bit of leaven, a little bit of old sin patterns in your life, can grow and develop and increasingly permeate. The corruption of the old life into what God has made to be new in Christ Jesus. Number one, don’t tolerate sin.
Number two, cleanse yourself through faith in Jesus Christ. The big question that this passage demands us is to think about is this; how do I live as a new unleavened, holy lump of dough? How do I avoid continuing to bring in the old leaven, the sins of my past, into my new life in Christ? While the Corinthian option, that Paul says is not acceptable, is to ignore it. The Corinthian option is if we ignore it into oblivion, someday this problem will get taken care of. It doesn’t work that way to ignore it. But there’s another error here that is the opposite of what Paul is teaching in this text.
How are you going to cleanse yourself from your sin? A mistake would be to think I need to clean myself up. I can’t come to Jesus, I shouldn’t be here in the service today, unless I fixed myself, then I can go before God. Once I’ve done that hard work to clean myself up, then God will accept me and love me. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t de-leaven yourself, the only hope you have is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Your only hope is that by His blood, God’s wrath will pass over you and by His blood you will be purified as a holy unleavened people, set apart and sanctified for the purposes of God.
Because you can’t clean yourself up on your own, you are defiled and helpless. If you’ve ever tried to clean up your life, if you’ve ever said you know what this week I’m going to change that, you know how hopeless that can be. You know how weak you are, you know how prone you are to wander from Christ. Hear then the good news of the gospel. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed. Everything that the old covenant looks forward to and anticipated year after year as the Israelites would offer their sacrificial Passover Lambs, was all fulfilled in a sacrifice offering once for all. The Lord Jesus Christ, when He laid down His life and shed His blood, when no bone in Him was broken so that you and I could have our sins blotted away. So that God’s wrath could pass over us, because the wrath of God is coming into this world to judge all those who have held themselves in rebellion against Jesus. But Christ has already died, so that God’s wrath has passed over. Not only that, but Jesus Christ has brought us into the holy Festival of Unleavened Bread. Not that we have to eat physical unleavened bread anymore, according to the shadows of the old covenant. But that we are called to live, spiritual, holy lives. We do this not because of anything we do, but we do this because we received the salvation of Jesus Christ as a gracious gift.
Have you looked to Jesus for salvation? Have you wrestled with the fact that you can’t save yourself and have you recognized that only Jesus can do it. Do you trust in Christ, our Passover Lamb, as your final salvation? O sinner, if you don’t know Jesus today and don’t believe in Him and trust in Him, you can’t fix yourself and you can’t cleanse yourself. Look to Jesus in faith.
The third application is that we must become what we are rather than remaining what we were. We cannot remain what we were, we must become what we are in Christ Jesus. If you have trusted Christ the question is are you recognizing, first and foremost, that you’ve been saved by grace? Do you realize that you are saved because of what Jesus has done by His sacrifice and His blood in order to make you new through the power of the Holy Spirit?
If you’re resting in that, and if you’re not trying to merit that for yourself, are you also recognizing that your holiness is not complete? That your sanctification has not all been worked out, that there’s more to go? We all have that. There’s so much more to go. I have more to go, you have more to go. We are called to keep pursuing that, to keep growing into the holiness that Christ has set us apart to for the rest of our lives.
Become what you are. Dallas Willard once wrote that, “Grace is not opposed to effort but grace is opposed to merit.” In other words, grace goes right along with striving and pursuing after the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. We’ve got to strive after this, we’ve got to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. It’s not opposed to grace, because you recognize that it’s God who works in us, He both wills and works for it is His good pleasure. We need God’s grace and we are called to work because God has worked. It is an outflowing of God’s first working us. But we’re called to work, to live out our calling. Grace isn’t opposed to effort but grace is opposed to merit.
At no time do we ever earn this, we can’t. We are dependent upon Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb. We are have, therefore, to pursue our calling. That means that we recognize our identity is being set apart as holy and now we have a holy calling. We are called to be saints, that we have to live out. The opposite of this though is to remain what we were. That is not pursuing your calling, that’s presuming upon our identity. We have an identity as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and we have a calling to live as His holy ones. Well, if we recognize that our calling is supposed to flow from our identity, that’s very good. But if we presume upon our identity, well I made holy what more do I need to do? What we do is to treat Christ sacrifice it’s something that is cheap and something that is insignificant. Let me show you the subtle way that this works its way into our lives
We use excuses all the time. I’m talking about my excuses, but you probably have used them at different times as well. Here’s an excuse, “That’s just how I am,” ever said that? The Bible says that’s the way you were, that is the old leaven of sin in your life and you can’t let it back in. If that’s what you were, you can’t remain what you were, cleanse it out. Purge it out and get rid of that or it will leaven the whole lump. You have been made new, you have to become what you are because you can’t remain what you were.
What about this, “Well that’s an area where I struggle.” Now as a pastor I know that whenever someone is talking about an area they struggle with typically, nine times out of ten, they’re not talking about an active struggle where they’re actively trying to put their sin to death. What they’re saying is this is something that bothers me every time I willingly do it. They’re saying it isn’t something I’m struggling against. It’s something that they struggle from, “I hate that I do that but I’m not really trying that hard.” Now if you don’t know Jesus, there’s no way to struggle against your sin ultimately and finally. Again you have to come to Jesus first, through faith, but we’re called the struggle and called the strive. It’s not an excuse to say that is somewhere you are struggling and remain you were. You’ve got to strive and struggle to become, in the grace of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit in His power, to become what you are.
How about this one, “I don’t want to be legalistic about this.” That’s one that is used so often. I use it. Understand that obedience isn’t the same thing as legalism. When we obey Jesus, we do what He commands. Jesus says, “If you love me you will do what I command” John 14:15. Legalism is when we say, “Okay, that’s what Jesus commands, so I’m going to go a step better and I’m going to enforce that extra step.” That’s legalism. It’s is adding to Jesus’ commands.
Obedience to what Jesus commands is not burdensome. It’s freeing, it’s God honoring, it’s Christ exalting, it’s done in love for Jesus. That is the new lump that you were created to be and that’s the calling you have been called to pursue as the holy people of Jesus Christ. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Do you not know that Christ, our passover has been sacrificed? Do you not know that it is time to celebrate the feast of the holy, new unleavened life in Christ. Brothers and sisters let us celebrate the festival!
Pray with me. Heavenly Father, we ask that you would be gracious to us. You have done far more than we can think or imagine by sending Jesus Christ into the world is our Passover to be sacrificed for us. Hundreds, over a thousand years ,of the people of Israel looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, they sacrifice these Passover sacrifices. But now we have our once and for all fulfillment of that, in the person and work is Jesus Christ. Our Father help us to live holy lives, to purge and cleanse ourselves of the leaven in our lives by the grace of Your spirit. So that we may be the new lump that we already are, because of what Jesus has done for us through His life, death and resurrection. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.