Acceptance of Habitual, Unrepentant Sinners

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 RSV
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. 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.

Paul has been admonishing the Corinthian church for allowing (even welcoming) within their midst a man who is knowingly sinning . . . and continues to sin. This is a huge deal in our churches today because we embrace, even in our leadership, those who not only have sinned in the past, but who continue to embrace their sin in one way or another. We refuse to judge them based on the scripture in Matthew 7: Judge not, that you be not judged (v. 1, RSV). But I think the reason we refuse to judge is revealing. I think we refuse to judge, not out of some sense of obedience to God’s word, but because we don’t want anyone messing around in our lives. The old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” We embrace sinners because we are sinners ourselves, but more than that: We don’t have to give up our own sin. By embracing the sin of others, we feel protected, justified.

Paul cuts to the heart of all this: Your boasting is not good. You might say, “Well, I don’t boast.” But by insisting that you are accepting, tolerant, basing your argument (wrongly) on Matthew 7:1, you are boasting. I am boasting when I embrace the sinner without addressing the sin in her life. There are many churches in America who define themselves as reaching out to the disenfranchised, the lost, the hurting. Unfortunately, for most of the people attending these churches, the issues of their sins is rarely addressed. “Oh, well,” you might say, “at least they are saved.” But are they? Are they truly living lives obedient to the Word of God? Paul tells in a number of places in the Word that those who embrace sin consciously and continually will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Does a sinner who chooses to sin truly love God?

Not only that, but Paul tells us here (as he has stated earlier in chapter 5) to refuse to associate with the unrepentant believer: “Cleanse out of the old leaven . . . the leaven of malice and evil.” Here Paul gives two synonyms: kakia and poneria. Think about how one uses synonyms. They are most often used to make a point, to emphasize what one wants to say. Both these words connote evilness, wickedness, maliciousness. Paul is telling us that sin, chosen over and over again, has not place within the family of God. Not within our corporate family and not within our own lives. As Father God—through scripture, through the words of another, through the soft voice of His Spirit—reveals the sin within our lives, we are to cut it out, to discard it, to abandon it completely.

Why would Paul, then, tell us to embrace “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth?” Think about it! When we turn our backs on sin, regardless of where it is found, we are being sincere in our faith. When we leave sin behind, wherever we find it, we are being truthful about being believers.

Matthew Henry states:

“Christians should be careful to keep themselves clean, as well as purge polluted members out of their society. And they should especially avoid the sins to which they themselves were once most addicted, and the reigning vices of the places and the people where they live.”

Do we avoid the sins of America, of our society, of our culture? Or do we embrace them, excuse them, justify them, ignore them? As Christians and as Americans, these are questions we need to seriously consider.