The unfolding story in 1 Corinthians 5 is the early believers are still trying to figure out what it looks like to be the church. How do they live in community with all their differences and what do they do when someone crosses the line?
In chapter 5, we see the early church dealing with something we can all relate to – their old nature is still within them pulling them away from their true identity in Christ. The Greek word Paul uses often is “sarx” – it’s translated as “flesh” or “human effort”, and it is what leads us to sin. The apostle John clearly tells us in 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” This means we can all relate to the early church’s struggle…because we still fight it today.
In this chapter we learn, there is obvious sin within the church – a man is sleeping with his step-mom, and everyone knows about it. While Paul chastises the church for allowing this, it is true that someone has brought this to Paul’s attention, so it has not been completely ignored. The issue is that the community is allowing it to continue – they need guidance.
Being nearly 2,000 years removed, it can be easy for us to read this and say this is so obviously wrong, because it is. Yet, how often do we become aware of things, but we don’t want to rock the boat – we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl”. This is where they found themselves. At least some of them know it’s wrong. They’ve allowed it to continue, but they have brought it to Paul’s attention to get his help.
Paul does not play Willy Wonka – he does not sugar coat his response. He is passionate about keeping the purity of the Gospel and the Gospel is seen through community. In chapter 3, Paul reminded them that they (together) are the temple of God – the “you” in “you are that temple” is plural. The issue is allowing obvious sin to remain within the community will inevitably create disunity. It will destroy the temple of God (the church gathered together). So, Paul guides them through how to handle this issue.
Paul’s guidance –
- Don’t ignore sin within the community.
- Deal directly with those trapped in their sin (with the desire to see them restored).
- By so doing, the community is protected from disunity.
The key to dealing with this in a way that helps the one trapped in sin and benefits the community is found in verse 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.”
A little background is helpful in understanding Paul’s point. The Festival of Unleavened Bread commemorated God freeing His people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. For us, in Christ, Paul is making the connection of how God has freed us from the bondage of sin.
During the festival, the people would cleanse their houses of all leaven. Paul seems to make an impossible request of us – to cleanse our lives of all sin (leaven). However, Paul reveals what is true about who we are in Christ when he writes, “you really are unleavened.” Paul declares we are already unleavened – we are freed from our sin.
How is this possible? “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Our true identity, at our core – in our spirit, is holy (unleavened – without sin). Not because we have successfully purged all sin from our lives, but because Jesus has made the sacrifice that covers all of our sin! When we believe, our spirits are transformed to be holy.
The evidence of this transformation is the Spirit of God is able to indwell us and we survive. Recall the stories about those encountering the Spirit of God in unholy (impure) ways. The result was always instant death. For the Spirit to indwell our spirit and for us to be able to live to tell about it, reveals that at our core, in our spirit, we have been made completely pure by the finished work of Jesus!
If we keep our true identity at the forefront of our lives, in community, we can navigate the many struggles we all face together.
In this specific instance, it appears this man is unrepentant in his sin, and Paul gives specific instructions to remove him from the community. Why?
Paul sees that this man’s flesh (his human or natural effort or reasoning) has led to rationalizing this obvious sin. As believers, we are in Christ, and we have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). When we rely on our own human reasoning we will attempt to justify sin in our lives, but when we are reminded of our true identity in Christ, we will recognize sin for what it truly is – and we will want to purge it from our lives.
In this case, Paul is saying that this man needs a wake up call – He needs to be physically removed from the gatherings of the community, in order for him to truly see how disgusting his sin is and how it is detrimental to the entire body, God’s temple, the church. This is for his benefit, as Paul finishes his reasoning by stating, “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Our spirit is the eternal part of us that has been made one with the Lord’s spirit, as we will see in chapter 6 (1 Cor. 6:17).
The truth is, we are all sexually immoral people. Jesus told us if we have ever looked at someone in lust we are adulterers (Matt. 5:28). Paul is addressing those inside the church who instead of turning away from their sinfulness and leaning back into the grace of God, instead excuse (or even celebrate) their sin. These are the ones who will create disunity within the body. Therefore, Paul says we need to remove them. Note that in 2 Corinthians 2:7, Paul tells them to bring this person back into fellowship (forgiving and comforting him) so he can once again experience the authentic love of the church (versus the perverted love of sexual immorality).
One final thought. Paul writes in verse 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.”
If sin is not dealt with, the community will continue to split further and further apart, because sin brings death (in the sense of broken relationships) not only to the one caught in sin, but also to the whole community.
Therefore, Paul encourages us to deal with sin by celebrating “sincerity and truth.” Jesus is our truth; He is the Truth. We need to speak Jesus to each other – reminding each other of who we are in Christ, with a sincere love for one another. A sincere love for each other is only possible when we experience how much the Father loves us. It’s an overflow of the Father’s love lavished upon us (1 John 3:1) that allows us to sincerely love those around us, and to speak truth (Jesus) into their lives. It’s this same love that allows us to hear when those around us speak truth into our lives.
When we truly love within the church, we will help each other see when our flesh (human effort/reasoning) is pulling us away from the truth of who we are because of the pure Gospel of God’s grace, revealed perfectly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is how we realize that our sin is hurting us and the people around us. When we remember our true identity in Christ, our desire will be to choose health and community by turning away from our destructive decisions and reasoning.
When we all do this together, as the church, we move from brokenness to being ONE.
This post originally written for Coastal Community Church.
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