This is another hard passage to our modern (or postmodern) ears. The apostle Paul commanded a church to kick a man out of the congregation.
“Let him who has done this be removed from among you,” Paul said. “You are to deliver this man to Satan.” There was to be a moment when the church secretary was to get out the membership spreadsheet and delete a man’s name from it.
And this wasn’t to be done quietly – in secret. The church leaders weren’t supposed to take the man aside and tell him privately not to come back. They were to bring this issue before the whole church – “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus …”
Churches through the centuries have done this very thing. And it probably is needless to say there is a right way and a wrong way to do something like this. The barring of a member of the church – maybe we can call it a “dis-membering” – can easily become a spectacle of self-righteousness among the leaders of the church.
But the task is laid before the church: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.” The church is supposed to be distinct from the world. But in many cases, the world finds ways to creep into the life of the church. Not wanting to offend anyone, we refuse to confront our brothers and sisters in Christ who have fallen into sin.
I know I have been guilty at times of turning a blind eye to the sin of my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I am sure others have done the same with me. Whose business is it anyway?
Well, Paul would say it is the church’s business. “Anyone who bears the name of brother (or sister)” has an obligation to the church. Once a person enters into the family of God, that person subjects himself or herself to accountability by the church. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are the judge?”
This makes us uneasy.
I once was part of a church that cracked down on the pastor because he enjoyed playing the card game Rook with his friends. Isn’t this a bit too far – an unwarranted intrusion into a person’s personal life? I would say that it is. Again, the instruction from Paul here is a sensitive one, and it easily can go awry.
At the same time, some churches are willing to tolerate virtually any sin their members fall into. You can imagine those scenarios. We must welcome anyone into the church, but we cannot affirm sin. Christ died because of sin.
Paul’s concern was that the church should strive for holiness. He wasn’t calling the church not to associate with nonbelievers who commit sins. Rather, he was calling the church not to associate with people who claim to be Christians and who unrepentantly and unashamedly commit such sins.
There’s something to be said for sincerity and truth. “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.”
We’re to purge the sin from our lives. We’re to strive ceaselessly toward perfection (even as we fail time and again). We strive toward perfection out of gratitude to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us on the cross – a sacrifice that set us free from sin and death. Jesus doesn’t demand perfection. But I imagine he enjoys it when we honor him with our efforts.
So we get rid of the old leaven of sin – of malice and evil – and we break bread in the church with sincerity and truth. Sincerity means we are free from from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. Things are as they appear. We are honest with one another. We live open lives and desire to hide nothing. Truth, of course, is the definition of Jesus Christ – the sinless Savior – who is way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
How does our church do when it comes to living in sincerity and truth? How do you or I live in sincerity before our brothers and sisters in Christ? These are good questions to spend time today pondering.