God makes a very clear point for us by comparing sin in our lives with leaven. Leaven is the ancient version of what we know as yeast. Like yeast, sin often seems like a small thing at the beginning. But due to its very nature, if it is not purged, it always changes us in a big way and leaves us very different then when we started. It also only takes the smallest bit of sin to change a life. Sin never stays contained. It always twists us in ways that are much greater then we expect.
If you have ever baked bread, you are familiar with yeast. It is the small oval shaped granules that you add to the dough to get it to take shape into the bread that we commonly eat. It is the difference between light fluffy white bread and flat heavy matzoh. Yeast works by taking sugars that are naturally present in dough and changing them. The sugars get consumed by the yeast and processed into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The result is that after yeast works on a batch of dough, it is transformed into something much different and much larger than the heavy gloppy ball of four and water that started out. Without yeast, the loaf of wonderful French bread that comes out of the oven ready to pair with cheese would look like a thick and heavy brick of Matsoh more suitable for holding open doors than eating.
The thing about a grain of yeast is that it is really small and innocuous looking. It looks almost like tiny wheat grains. Its small size is deceiving. Each grain of yeast is extremely powerful. The results of adding yeast are much greater than its size. It is also self-replicating. As long as the yeast has a food source available, it will continue to work and continue to produce more yeast. As a result, a very small amount of yeast will always alter a much larger batch of dough. A few pinches will always cause a reaction no matter how big the batch of dough. Due to its very nature, those few grains of yeast will always eventually multiply, spread and infect everything it is in contact with. Allowed to grow uninhibited, it will eventually affect even the biggest bowl of dough.
If you have seen a lumpy loaf of bread rise you can understand the picture. Blowing up a raft is a similar process as it starts to rise after initially appearing to do very little and all of a sudden it is completely filled with air.
If it is allowed to remain in us and in the church, sin will always grow and multiply. By its nature, it can’t stop spreading out, fermenting and growing into everything it comes into contact with.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is addressing the church in Corinth specifically about the sexual sin of one its members. A man is evidently carrying on a sexual affair with either his stepmother (ew!) or his mother (double ew!) depending on how you read the Greek word used to describe the woman.
Everyone inside and outside of the church knows about the problem. They are doing nothing about it. Even worse, rather than being saddened by the clearly sinful actions of their brother in Christ, the Corinthian church is patting themselves on the back. They are proud that they are keeping the brother with them and thinking they are sophisticated or loving or tolerant for accepting this fellow.
This is not regular old fleshly struggles of the type that people deal with on an everyday basis. This is just full out unrepentant sin. Someone knowing their conduct is wrong, that it violates God’s Word and they just don’t care. They are not fighting sin, they are just purposefully choosing sin. The church is filled with people who are struggling with various temptations and we are called to love each other, bear our burdens and encourage one another. This fellow made his choice to embrace sin.
While the conduct itself is bad, it is actually the attitude of the church in response that has Paul so upset. They are allowing yeast to remain among the dough of their church and acting surprised that there is an ongoing reaction. Reading the two letters to Corinthians in the Bible, you see all the ways that their church has been twisted by the sin that has been allowed to dwell among them. They are suing each other, drinking at Communion, having affairs and all other sorts of illicit behavior. The yeast is fully at work among them and its impact is growing.
Sin is never satisfied to stay with one person and one area of their life. You can never, ever accept sin and not be affected by it. You cannot keep sin in a box – it is like the leaven. As long as sin is kept around it will always grow and spread and effect everything it touches.
In the church, the sin affects not only the one committing the sin but every person around them. Whether it be from people excusing conduct, refusing to repent, or changing doctrine to fit the sin changed culture of their church, the Body of Christ is always affected by the sin of one of its members. Sickness in a Body spreads.
The great news is if you confess your sins, God shows His great mercy and forgiveness and cleanses out all of the grains of yeast that are waiting to infect you. He washes you clean from what you have done. The problem is if you refuse that mercy and claim to be doing okay when your life is overrun. The sin grows and twists until there is nothing good left to feed on. Satan lives to steal, kill and destroy. Solomon presented a similar picture in Song of Solomon. He describes life as a vineyard and the sins that we tolerate in this life as little foxes that invade the vineyard and are allowed to run amok. Over time, those little foxes destroy the much larger vineyard.
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.
13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
God’s picture for us is very clear. Sin cannot be tolerated without a cost in our lives and our churches. That sin will always have some effect no matter how “little” we claim it is. This impact will grow as long as we continue to tolerate the sin.
Our choice is therefore very simple as well. If we wish to have a holy life that is dedicated to God as He intends, ruthlessly purge the leaven. Drive away the little foxes from our lives. Then we can truly enjoy the abundance of the vineyard as God intends us to.