Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 9 2013 - 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 – Fermentation

Jesus spoke about the way in which a little yeast can work quietly and unseen to transform a large lump of dough. He was speaking about the hidden power of the kingdom and of the way those who follow him should have a transforming influence upon the wider society in which they live.

Paul uses the same picture but, in applying it to the chaos of the church at Corinth, he turns the image on its head. Here, instead of the Christians having a transforming influence on their society, their society is influencing them and shaping their conduct – even to the extent that gross immorality is found among them. Paul reminds them of the story that is to shape their lives: the Passover was celebrated with unleavened bread – bread without yeast. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” Paul writes, “Therefore 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” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Christ is our Passover lamb. His blood was shed for us so that we might be kept safe from the judgment of God and be freed from the dominion of an evil empire. We do not celebrate the Passover in the same way as did the Jews. We celebrate the death of Jesus as we eat bread and drink wine together. We are to celebrate his death as a people who have died with him to the patterns of life which characterise this present world and who have been raised with him to live the life of the age to come. We celebrate as those who have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. We celebrate looking forward to the day of his coming and anticipating that day not only in our praise and worship but also in the shape of our lives.

So we are to live intentionally as disciples of Christ, seeking always to live to please him. We are to keep watch over ourselves and over one another to ensure that this present world does not draw us back into its self-serving patterns of life. We are to live by the Spirit which animated the Lord Jesus and who now lives in us.

We might think that the best way of guarding ourselves against the influence of this present world might be to cut ourselves off from it – to develop Christian ghettos in which we surround ourselves only with others who share our faith. Paul makes it clear that this is not what he is saying. We are to be careful of those who claim to be Christian brothers and sisters yet are “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler” (5:11). We are not to receive them as part of the Christian family. But we are not to cut ourselves off from a self-seeking, self-pleasing but deeply needy world. This is our mission field. This is where we are to be the powerful yeast of the kingdom, working for the transformation of society.

The contrasting ways in which Jesus and Paul use this picture of yeast present us with the challenging question of who is influencing whom?

Heavenly Father, help me to follow the Lord Jesus in showing love for, and spending time with, the “sinners” of this world without becoming like them. May your Spirit continue the work you have begun in us. May he work through us to touch and transform the lives of others, that they too might be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of your beloved Son.

Peter Misselbrook