Conflict and discipline are not well received in today’s culture. Parents are criticised for disciplining children and there is a new generation of ‘parents-as-best-friends’ rising. We are a culture that prefers to ‘live and let live’, sensitive to the political correctness of our statements and open to multiple ‘truths’. In this setting it is hard to call out poor behaviour without being labelled as ‘over bearing’ or ‘restrictive’. It is no different within the churches. We expect people to advise us on good and moral behaviour, but not restrict our choices or self-expression. In this context there is a similar danger of turning a blind eye to sin as there was for the Corinthian church. Will we continue to live in a way that honours God showing ourselves to be God’s Kingdom people?
Paul specifically calls out the sin of one man, and in doing so the sin of the whole Corinthian church. This man was guilty of both incest and adultery; a serious charge for a Corinthian citizen. In the secular context it was punished by the stripping of all money and rights, and exile from the community, with no statute of limitations. This punishment was the loss of all privilege, all position and all protection from remaining in the community. Yet we see the church turning a blind eye. Commentators suggest this was most likely due to his position or prestige within the church. Paul insists strongly that the man must be removed from the fellowship.
The illustration of the yeast and leaven is not only about the influence of this sinful man on the wider church, but also illustrative of the church and their focus on position and prestige over faithfulness. The issues Paul has been talking about for the past four chapters are illustrated here. The leaven was used as a starter to a bread dough, and a bit kept from each loaf for the next one. If the leaven became diseased it would continue to spread to new loaves of bread until you went to the effort to make a new starter. The Passover was a time where they restarted this process. They broke with the old and started something new. Jesus makes that possible. We are not to be people of the world, we are to be people of sincerity and truth. In our churches the temptation is strong to keep the peace and not call out sin in our congregations, our life groups, or our ministries, yet we are called to live as God’s Kingdom people, holding each other accountable to live in a way that honours him as our King.