Jump Start # 2910
1 Corinthians 5:6 “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?”
A word that has come out of this pandemic is “quarantine.” I have known several that were “quarantined.” They were exposed to someone who had the virus, and even though they did not have any symptoms and even felt fine, to be safe, they quarantined themselves for several days.
Quarantine is not a new concept. Generations ago it was used to slow the spread of tuberculosis and small pox. In the Bible, lepers were isolated away from everyone to slow the spread of that contagious disease. Medically, we understand these things.
Spiritually, there is concept of quarantining to protect others. We don’t call it “quarantine.” Our expression is withdrawing fellowship. And, here in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul makes that concept very clear. The apostle tells the church to:
· Remove him from your midst (2)
· Deliver such a one to Satan (5)
· Clean out the old leaven (7)
· Not to associate with (11)
· Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (13)
Tough language. Few churches follow those words today. It seems too mean and insensitive. Some would say, “You are kicking someone out.” Others borrow language from other faiths such as the Amish “shunning,” or the Catholic “excommunication.” Some will declare it never works. Some fear reprisals and lawsuits.
However our verse today gives us some background context to why spiritual discipline is necessary. Borrowing an idea from the kitchen, Paul uses the concept of making bread. This was something that nearly every household understood back then. To make bread rise, some leaven was needed. Not much. Just a little bit. Just a tad of leaven works through the whole lump.
Got it when it comes to bread. What is he driving at spiritually? The leaven represents influence. When that leaven or influence is not good, it changes and impacts the entire congregation. It doesn’t take much to turn things inside out and upside down.
Specifically in this Corinthian chapter, someone was living immorally. It wasn’t a secret. It seems everyone knew about it and worse, nothing was being done about it. Now, here is how that leaven works. If that person can do that and get away with it, why can’t I? Or, if he can live immorally, why can’t I get drunk? Someone else, influenced by that leaven, may conclude that he can cheat and be dishonest. Once the door was opened, there was no closing it. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. And, the result is a church that looks like the world and not like Christ. It results in revealing that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says. One doesn’t have to be holy as Peter said. One doesn’t have to put aside the old man as the Ephesians were told. One can dance with the devil and still go to Heaven. That’s what leaven does. It changes things. And, when that leaven is not good, it changes things for the bad, not the good.
So, to stop the spread of spiritual poison, the ungodly brother was to be “removed.” Isolated. We might say, “quarantine” him. He will no longer be considered walking with the Lord. His fellowship with God ended when he made his immoral choices and now his fellowship with God’s people ends. Is this a permanent, life long sentence? It is, as long as he remains out of step with God. Walk in the light again, and fellowship is restored with God and His people.
Now some thoughts:
First, this is hard. It’s hard to draw lines where God draws them. When we mix emotions, family connections, friendships into all of this, some no longer see clearly. They’d rather side with the immoral than with God. This happens—it happens far too many times. As the immoral is removed, so goes the family that support him. They love their little darling more than they love the Lord. But God’s people cannot be moved, nor fearful of what others might say. Doing nothing means the whole lump will be leavened. Doing nothing means the church is changing and it’s not changing for the better.
Second, to make this work, it must be consistently practiced both within worship and outside the church building as well. It does little good to pretend discipline has taken place if others continue to eat, play, hang out with and vacation with those who are not in step with Jesus. This is intended to be shocking. This is shameful. This ought to open one’s eyes as to how serious their sinful choices have been. There is a two fold purpose of this: first to protect the church. To keep the leaven from leavening the whole lump. And, secondly, to awaken this person to the promise and commitment he made to the Lord.
Much too often a letter is sent and there has been so little contact and fellowship that it means nothing. The letter is tossed in the trash and everything is forgotten and everyone continues on their own way. Maybe a better way would be to meet with this person face to face. Maybe it would be good to remind them why they were first baptized. Maybe one on one, more good could be accomplished.
Third, we are to protect the church of our Lord. We wouldn’t allow anyone to stand behind the pulpit and preach anything they wanted. Yet, why would we allow someone who refuses to change their sinful ways to be named and numbered among us? We would not dare drink a cup of water if we knew someone had put just a couple drops of poison in it. No. Foolish. Risky. Why? Why pretend everything is fine when it is not?
Fourth, our verse today, leaven and lump of dough shows that each of us impacts and makes a difference in the lives of others. The leaven leavens. You and I influence others. People notice. People see. They see you sing. They see when you come in. They see if you are engaged and participating. They see if you are sleeping. They watch. They notice. They are influenced by you. Your words. Your attitude. Your behavior. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Some may be shocked by the spirit of indifference some carry. Others will be encouraged by the love for the Lord that is demonstrated throughout their worship. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
It’s good to think about these things. It’s better still to do what God wants us to do.