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1 Corinthians 5:8

“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.”

Exodus 12:14–20 and several other Old Testament passages tell us that once a year, in preparation for the yearly festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Israelites had to remove all leaven from their homes. Leaven was not pure yeast; instead, it was a bit of dough that was reserved when bread was baked as a starter for the next loaf. The first leavened loaf of bread made after Passover took longer to create because there was no leaven to start it. However, once that dough was leavened, one could take a piece of it to start leavening the next loaf. Then you would take a piece of dough from the second loaf to make the next one. This continued throughout the year until just before Passover, when all the leaven was discarded and a brand-new dough was started that had no part of what came before it.

This imagery forms the basis of the theological explanation for the excommunication of the man in the Corinthian church who was in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. His sin was like leaven that could contaminate everything, and purging him would heal the church and make it a new lump of dough like what the Jews worked with after Passover. This had to be done because, in reality, they were already the new lump of dough, an unleavened loaf, on account of the sacrifice of Christ, the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:6–7). Christ had removed the leaven of sin from them, so it could not be tolerated among them any longer. God in His wrath had passed over their transgression in the atoning death of Christ, with Jesus bearing the punishment for their sin in their place (Rom. 3:21–26). To tolerate sin would be, in effect, to pretend that the reality of His atonement and cleansing had never happened.

Of course, there is a broader application to Paul’s teaching, which he gives us in today’s passage. Christians cannot tolerate grievous sin in the community, but in a broader sense we must endeavor to cast out all sin (1 Cor. 5:8). We should not tolerate any malice or evil, but we should be open to reproof and correction, ever seeking to reform our lives and our congregations so that we become more and more what we already are in Christ—namely, holy.

As today’s passage tells us, we celebrate the reality of Christ’s Passover sacrifice by living in sincerity and truth. Let us not tolerate or excuse sin, but let us sincerely seek to form our lives and churches according to the doctrine and ethics of God’s Word.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Serious, unrepentant sin is a contagion that can spread and pollute an entire church. When believers see that serious sin continues without rebuke, they begin to think that their own sin is acceptable. Thus, sin grows in the church. Church discipline is vital to help keep this from happening. And we must watch our lives, for our serious sin can pollute an entire local church. Let that encourage us to be faithful to Christ.


For Further Study
  • Joshua 24:14–15
  • Psalm 51:6
  • John 17:17
  • 1 Timothy 1:5

The Leaven of Sin

Right Associations

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue