“The Principle of Purity”
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
April 30, 2006
You can't impose morality on the world; You've got to impose morality in the church.
I. The Problem - and Pauls solution. (1 Cor. 5:1-5)
II. The Principle - why is this important? (1 Cor 5:6-8)
III. The Tension - in the world but not of it. (1 Cor 5:9-13)
MessageIve long been intrigued by the mathematical modeling of yeast growth and other growth phenomenon. I doubt the Apostle Paul was as fascinated as I am by this, but he does use the phenomenon of yeast growth to illustrate a very important principle for the Christian life. So what is yeast growth? When you put yeast, a fungus, into a sugar rich environment, it begins to grow, consuming the sugar and producing carbon dioxide and ethanol. It grows fast, doubling the number of cells in as little as ten minutes, and then it begins to either starve for food, starve for oxygen, or poison itself with alcohol. The growth slows and finally stops. Gail has watched this countless times as shes baked bread and fed sourdough starter. The mathematical equation used to model such growth is called the yeast growth law, or more technically, a logistic function or Verhulst equation. Notice that the growth starts slowly, but then accelerates rapidly in the presence of significant resources, and only when the resources begin to bottleneck does growth level off. This kind of behavior is evident in all kinds of populations from yeast to bacteria to human.
Now Im sure Paul didnt know all this, and we dont really need to, but it gives insight into a principle of purity Paul cites in 1st Corinthians 5. In discussing a problem in that church, he emphasizes that the church must maintain purity because impurity contaminates like yeast and grows to fill the whole. Its a principle with clear application: you cant impose morality on the world but you must impose morality in the church, or immorality will consume it.
I. The Problem - and Pauls solution. (1 Cor. 5:1-5)
1 Cor. 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
Paul had received reports on the Corinthian church from members of Chloes household and possibly from others. He now begins to address specific issues growing out of those reports, and hell continue this for a number of chapters. The first he takes up is a very significant lapse in the churchs dealing with an issue of immorality. Verse 1: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you. The word actually could be translated commonly: its a matter of common knowledge that there is sexual immorality. Weve already mentioned that the city of Corinth was notorious for sexual sin, a center of temple prostitution. Its not surprising, but it is disappointing that such sin should appear in the church.
And in at least one instance even the pagans had been shocked by what was going on. Paul says a man has his fathers wife. The wording implies this is probably not his own mother, but his step-mother, a relationship recognized as incest by the Romans, the Greeks, and by the teaching of the Old Testament. But Pauls focus isnt the immorality: hell come back to that in chapter 6. His focus is on the churchs attitude toward it. Verse 2: And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief This is the same word for pride Paul used in chapter 4: puffed up. Somehow the Corinthians thought that tolerance of this immorality was a good thing. And if they tolerated this, we expect they also tolerated other sexual immorality: the word porneia, by consistent New Testament usage meant any sexual behavior which violates the Biblical norm, whether pre-marital, extra-marital or homosexual. Some or all of these were probably tolerated in Corinth.
The sad thing is that many of the same practices are tolerated in contemporary churches. The most wide-spread example is divorce: many churches offer little positive help for people in marriage difficulties, little encouragement to stick with marriage, and as people move toward sinful divorce, the church does nothing to intervene. A second growing trend is for couples to live together before marriage - and many churches are saying nothing about this sin. Addiction to pornography is also widely overlooked. And there is a growing trend among churches to sanction homosexual relationships, declaring them equivalent to marriage of one man and one woman.
How can these things happen in peoples lives? Im sure there are many reasons people give themselves permission to pursue sin, but the most frequent justification Ive heard or thats been reported to me is simply feelings. As the old song says It cant be wrong if it feels so right. It is wrong; totally wrong; dangerously wrong; catastrophically wrong. I just dont love her anymore. I cant stay married to someone I dont love. I wouldnt love this new person if it wasnt Gods will for me. A loving God wouldnt forbid his children something this pleasurable. and it goes on and on. People in this church, and not just people in the wider Christian sub-culture have spouted this foolishness, justifying their own sin by their feelings.
Paul knows how to deal with such issues. Verse 2: Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? We cant cover the whole subject of church discipline this morning, but these few verses are an important picture of the last part of a church discipline process. Remember that the goal of church discipline is the restoration of someone who has fallen into sin. The goal is repentance and reconciliation and restoration - always. And most of this process is supposed to happen before you get to the step Paul describes. Matthew 18 is our guide: if you notice your brother or sister caught up in what seems to be sin, or if an offense occurs between you and another believer, you are supposed to examine yourself, get the log out of your own eye, and then in humility and gentleness, speaking the truth in love, you go to them and explore the situation.
You may find that what you thought was sin was not. You may find that the person admits sin, desires change and wants your help. Or you may find that the person is hard-hearted: either wont admit sin or wants to continue in it. If so the process continues. You take someone else along. You get the elders involved. Together you prayerfully beseech the person to turn from their error. And only after all this fails - and were talking repeated prayerful intervention - do you bring the matter to the church. Matthew 18 says so, and our verses give valuable insight into how to do it and what it means. First, notice in verse 2 that the action taken is to put the person outside of fellowship. This means being separated from the activities of the church, including communion and worship, and even from small groups and pot lucks.
Paul is convinced that in this case, that judgment is needed: Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. Now I recognize that last week I preached out of Paul the admonition not to be judgmental. And thats valid. But I tried even last week to put that in the context of personal preferences or qualities as opposed to Biblical absolutes. Paul is perfectly prepared to judge blatant sin, the clear violation of Scripture, and he expects the Corinthians to be willing to too.
Next, notice how formal the procedure is. Verse 4: When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. This last step of church discipline is the obligation of the whole church; it takes place when you are assembled. Matthew 18 requires that the matter be told to the church, and Jesus promises his special presence when such a gathering is called. It is done in the name and in the power of our Lord, so the church acts on behalf of Jesus in carrying out discipline.
Finally, notice that church discipline delivers the sinner into the power of Satan. When we put someone out of the fellowship, he not only loses the positive benefits of being a part of the church body, but is placed in the dangerous position of being vulnerable to Satans attacks. In Pauls words, the one who is disciplined is delivered to Satan. Its not a desirable position, nor is it something any church should take lightly, but when we deliver over to Satan, we are simply giving the unrepentant Christian what hes chosen. To remain in sin is to be in Satans bondage. And yet we hope and pray that whatever harm Satan does will have the effect of turning that person back to God. The goal of church discipline, even in this last step, is not a final judgment which condemns one to hell, but a sinners present repentance and restoration. Notice too that Paul is confident about eternity: this believers spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord. Paul expects to see the disciplined offender among the Lords people. Even outright adherence to blatant sin does not threaten Gods decision to save that person, though it does threaten present fellowship and rewards in the life to come.
II. The Principle - why is this important? (1 Cor 5:6-8)
So Church discipline is exercised for the present and future good of the sinner. But Paul also sees the bigger picture, that effective discipline is needed because of an important principle of purity. Verses 6 to 8: Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
In verse 2, Paul told us that the response of the Corinthians to this great sin was opposite to what it should have been. They should have mourned and then removed this one from their midst. Instead they are puffed up with pride and have done nothing. This arrogance, Paul says, exposes the Corinthians to the spread of impurity. He borrows the illustration from Gails kitchen to show them the dangers: the sinner whom the Corinthians embrace and fail to put out of the church is like a little leaven placed in a lump of dough. In fact their arrogance is evidence that the leaven has already spread. If this sinner is allowed to remain it will contaminate the entire church. As one commentator said souls are like apples; a rotten one soon rots others. By removing this man from their midst, the church at Corinth not only seeks the sinners restoration, they also safeguard their own purity.
Paul continues the yeast growth illustration. Verse 7: Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. Its typical of Paul to tell us become what you are. The Corinthians are a new batch without yeast. But to live as that new batch they must yet rid of the old yeast, and let no vestige of it remain or reappear. Then they will be able to celebrate their salvation in purity. Verse 7 For Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival. Paul reminds his readers of Passover and the feast of unleavened bread. Both celebrated Gods rescue of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. The Passover itself was the sacrifice of blood to obtain rescue from death. And Christ is our Passover sacrifice; through his blood we are rescued from sin and death. And if Christ is our Passover and has been sacrificed, that means that now were in the feast of unleavened bread. The unleavened bread became, a symbol of purity, and leaven a symbol of sin. We are not to harbor sin in our lives, but to seek to identify and remove it. And we are not to harbor sin in the church. Like yeast, if it is present, it will grow and consume the whole thing.
As commentator David Prior, says One persistent, flagrant sinner who remains accepted without discipline within the Christian fellowship taints the whole body. Just as the Jews had to celebrate their deliverance from bondage with no leaven, so Christians must continually celebrate deliverance from sin with no compromise. Otherwise the worship and community life of the Christian church becomes a charade, full of insincerity and falsehood.
And Paul is not content to allow us to think this principle of purity should only be applied to this mans sin. In verse 8, Paul broadens the application, indicating other forms of leaven which are all too evident in the church, the characteristic sins of malice and wickedness. Too often in the church we focus on sexual sin, while allowing people to be mean and malicious and even wicked toward one another without any intervention. These sins have to go too, and in their place there should be the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth The first of these two words literally speaks of allowing the light of the sun to shine on and judge our motives and behaviors. That means the end of play-acting and pretense and hypocrisy in the church. The second word, truth, emphasizes that the standard we strive for is not relative or arbitrary, but is Gods standard of behavior as revealed in his Word.
So there is a principle at work of purity. When yeast invades, when sin penetrates the church, it must be faced sincerely and truthfully or it will do damage. If you are struggling today with some characteristic sin that weakens you and frustrates your ministry, or that would bring reproach on the name of Christ if others knew, or that simply makes you ashamed to be in fellowship with other believers, you dont need to be put under church discipline. The purpose of discipline is repentance, and you can repent right now. But the purpose is also reconciliation: there may be others you need to confess to, so your relationships can be restored. And the purpose is also purity: it may very well be that you need to contact one of the elders, or a leader in the womens ministry and get some accountability in this area of sin, so you do not fall again into Satans trap. And as individual sins are dealt with in this Biblical way, you are contributing to the purity and ministry of the whole church.
III. The Tension - in the world but not of it. (1 Cor 5:9-13)
But if sin is so bad, someone will say, shouldnt we withdraw from the world in order to avoid as much sin as possible? No. This principle of purity leads to an on the one hand, on the other hand application. On the one hand, you cannot impose morality on the world. On the other hand, you must impose morality in the church. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
Paul had apparently written to the Corinthians once already, so if this is 1st Corinthians, that would be 0th Corinthians. In that letter he apparently told them not to associate with sexually immoral people, a perfectly reasonable thing to say in that sexually charged culture, or in ours. But hes aware that some in Corinth took the teaching too far and are recommending utter withdrawal from the world around them.
This has always been a danger in the church. It was present from the time of the early Christian hermits, in many forms of monasticism, and in countless movements of withdrawal in succeeding centuries. Some aspects of fundamentalism and even aspects of the home schooling movement can be traced to this not ungodly desire. But if taken too far, it becomes ungodly. My own favorite example was the time when Gail and I were wandering around Second Baptist church and we came across the bowling alley. Not a problem in itself except for the two sweet Baptist ladies standing there congratulating themselves on the fact that their grandchildren didnt have to go to secular bowling alleys and be exposed to all that worldliness.
Verse 9 and 10: I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. Paul did not intend any kind of separationism. Even though the world is characterized by all kinds of sin - immorality, greed, scam, idolatry - we cannot isolate ourselves from it. Let me give two reasons. First, we cant isolate ourselves from it. No matter how hard we try, were here. Jesus recognized this: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Second, the more we do isolate ourselves, the less the world sees Jesus, and the less effective we are in witness and ministry. Jesus used two metaphors for the church in Matthew 5: salt and light. But salt must be in what it preserves; light is intended to penetrate darkness; they are in the world. Jonathan was telling me that a group from church went to Starbucks last Sunday night, and the Lord allowed some to get involved in a conversation and even share some music with a fairly worldly couple who happened to be there. When they finished the couple said - this was fun; next time you do this, call us. Thats being in the world to make an impact.
But we are also to be distinctive. Verse 11: But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. This is the other side of the coin: we cannot radically change the morality of the world, but we can and should impose moral standards on ourselves. Paul repeats the list of the worlds sins and adds to it: they are going to be greedy out there - dont you tolerate greed in here. They are going to be sexually immoral out there - dont you tolerate that in here. They are going to be idolators. You cant have idolatry in the church. By the way its a valid application to say that idolatry in our day is often the worship of things and pop culture: its no coincidence that the top rated TV show is American Idol. To the extent we worship such things, the world has come into the church. There will be slanderers out there - lets not have people like that in our midst. And that word implies physical violence. Statistics show that the church is not only as divorce prone as the world, but just as prone to being abusive. Paul also mentions alcoholism, which is another hidden sin in the church.
Finally, Paul mentions swindlers: way too often people ingratiate themselves into a church in order to take Christians for a ride. We had a situation not very many years ago where we had to pursue church discipline against a person who had attended Trinity and who was involved in sexual immorality and who had also used his church connections to sell financial services - to the detriment of many. This the kind of thing Paul warned against: with such a person do not even eat.
In the last couple of verses Paul summarizes and emphasizes the distinctions: On the one hand what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? God will judge those outside. On the other hand are you not to judge those inside? There is an appropriate place for purity - its inside the church, where we apply Biblical standards, speaking the truth in love, using a process of discipline, which may lead, sadly, to the decision to expel the wicked man from among you. The principle of purity, and the reality of yeast growth if we allow impurity, forces us to the realization that we cannot impose morality on the world, but we must attempt to preserve purity, to impose morality in the body of Christ.