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The Unleavened Generations

Sermon passage: (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) Spoken on: July 7, 2019
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth, young adult and young families ministries in Jubilee Church.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: The Unleavened Generations
Preacher :Rev Enoch Keong
Date:7 July 2019

I was a clerk during my National Service, since day one of enlistment till the ORD date. My eyesight was of course the reason. As a clerk, I wore the number 3 uniform with a pair of zipper boots. I never had to polish my boots as there were no regular checks on our uniforms. Then one day, I was stopped by the regimental police in my camp, who said this o me with a stern face, “Solider, can you have some pride concerning your boots.” What happened was this. No regular checks, so I never bothered to take care of my pair of boots. And as the days went by, the outer layer started to dry out, and started become flaky, peeling more and more, till it looked like it had contracted leprosy. The regimental police had a rude shock looking at my pair of leprous looking boots. And my reaction at that point was: must do something one mair?

What had happened between Paul and the Corinthian church at this point in the letter is just like what had happened between the regimental police and this once upon a time solider. Paul was in a deep shock, while the Corinthian church took it as like nothing bad had ever happened.

The on-going incestuous relationship we read in today’s text, Paul, the founding pastor of the church of Corinth, probably only knew through Chloe’s people. The church? The church was just ok, in fact very ok with it.

But it was a case of incest. According to the Old Testament, committing incest means capital punishment for God’s people. The Roman law which the Corinthians comes under had also considered incest to be illegal. Cicero, the Roman statesman, lawyer and philosopher who lived in that era, once said this concerning incest, “mother-in-law marries son-in-law…Oh, to think of the woman’s sin, unbelievable, unheard of….To think that she did not quail.” 【1】Paul is therefore right to say that incest was totally unacceptable. It is something that even pagans would not tolerate. And yet his sheep in the Corinthian church finds it so very ok. No wonder, Paul was in a deep shock.

The Corinthian church should have done some public mourning. If not, they should be doing it asap, says Paul in the letter. And they are to in that solemn meeting excommunicate the offender. Because, maybe, when his is stripped of all the approval and support from the church, and knew for himself that the feeling of self-congratulation and self-glorying has burst like a bubble, and that he is no longer within the sphere of God’s protection that he finds within the church, he might just come his senses, and repent, and his spirit be saved in the last days. Perhaps, he might even return to the fellowship when is once again sober. That’s what Paul’s hoped, and so instructed. Did the church carry out the instruction? We don’t in fact know.

What we do know is that 2 things were taking place as Paul was writing this letter, the incestuous couple continued to sin, and the church continued to boast about themselves despite the sin.

We would ask, how it could even be possible that the church was boasting about something considered to be blatantly wrong by the society, something which everybody frown upon?

It’s possible. It is possible because culture often speaks louder than Christian teachings. I am sure we can agree to this. Singapore had a stronger Chinese culture one to two generations ago, and we saw traces of Confucianism in the way churches did things in those days: high in respect and discipline. But then came the strong western influence, and we see what we see today. Culture speaks louder than Christian teachings, so loud and so powerful, that it often controls the human psyche.

It was probably the case for the church of Corinth. Corinth was a busy city, a commercial hub, a place filled with opportunities. What it had was a get rich quick culture, or we may say, an achievement culture, a culture that focuses on what have been obtained and achieved, and the next thing to be obtained and achieved. Sounds very much to me like a cousin of Singapore’s meritocracy.

So, what did the church in Corinth obtained and achieved which could have caused them to boast to such an extent? There are quite a few possible answers to the question. We will only look at 2 of them this morning.

First, they were boasting because of their new found freedom in Christ. But, they had misconstrued this new found freedom. They took it to mean that they now have the license to do anything, anything that they like. They would even look at you in the eyes and say to you, “All things are lawful for me” (6:12)

I think our antennas should start going up in hearing this. We are a generation of people that loves freedom: freedom from authority, freedom in speech, freedom to trade, freedom when it comes to love and sex. Our time has an appetite for freedom, a big and ever stretching appetite. Would we ever reach the level of the Corinthian Christian in term of indulgence in freedom since this appetite is still stretching by the day?

Second, they were boasting because they were a gifted bunch. They were able to exercise many spiritual gifts. They prayed, and people were healed. They performed miracle. They spoke words of knowledge. They saw before their eyes what they have achieved through exercising faith, and they took great pride in it. Better still, they continued to be as gifted as ever despite the ongoing incestuous relationship. I guess that’s why they not only boasted, but their boasting went unchecked.

Well, none of what is so called ‘achieved though faith’ should generate pride, not to mention boasting. But culture often speaks louder than Christian teachings. Take for example, in an environment where the focus is on being successful; many aspects of life would be understood and evaluated in term of successfulness. In a success oriented culture, we will hear terms like successful leader, successful ageing, and successful marriage. In Corinth’s achievement culture, instead of being humbled because God has chosen to work through their inadequacies, the Corinthian Christian considered themselves to be special and had made achievements through faith. What about us? We don’t live Mondays to Sundays in a general biblical culture. And the dominant culture in Singapore is so similar to the culture in Corinth. What do we measure many aspects of our life against?

The Corinthians Christians were wrongheaded, and so can we, especially when the voice of culture is so powerful and the cultures are rather similar. What should be the way forward? Paul spells it out by briefly stating a theological fact.

How might I introduce what Paul was trying to say to the church of Corinth?

Simba, does the name sound familiar? Simba, the son of his father Musfasa the lion king. When his uncle Scar killed the father, Simba escaped, henceforth believing himself to be a weakling. Things finally took a turn when ghost of Mufasa visited him in the night sky, and told him that he must return to his homeland and take the rightful place as king. With the knowledge of who he really is, he reclaimed the throne.

If it was too long since we watched Lion King. How about this one? For us who have watched the movie, remember the scene where Arthur the Aquaman and Mera was rescued by Atlanna, Arthur’s mother? Atlanna then points out to Arthur that the staff that they were searching for, the trident of Atlan, is located behind the waterfall right before his eyes, but only the one true king may enter that waterfall, retrieve it and come out alive. Arthur of course did retrieve the trident. And with the knowledge of who he really is, Arthur secured peace for the land and the sea.

The characters in both stories did what they did simply for who they really are.

To Christians, Paul says, “…you really are unleavened.” We are unleavened. No leaven, no impurity in us. Pure, that’s us, because Jesus has made it so. How not to get things wrong like the Corinthians, stay pure, be who we really are, that’s our calling. It’s not for us to strive to become pure, to attain purity. We strive to stay pure.

But we would have to say, purity is our eternal status, but it also an unsteady state. What I mean is this, we are forever pure in God’s eyes because of Jesus, but as human, staying pure is a formidable challenge. So, there are things to do.

First, again in verse 7, we are to cleanse out the old leaven. It’s a very apt metaphor that Paul is using here. We are familiar with yeast that is used for baking. But leaven and yeast are not the same thing. In ancient times, people would keep a piece of dough when they make bread. A week later, that piece of dough would have fermented. And when it is mix into the new batch of dough, it will cause fermentation and the dough will rise when it is baked. It was an economical method, but not problem free. Because when a piece of dough is passed on from week to week, dirt and impurities may be get into it, giving rise to health problems. So, once a year, Jews would break the chain, and restart with a totally new batch of unleavened dough, removing all the health threats. 【2】

Purity is our eternal status, but it also an unsteady state. As humans we would accumulate along the way impurities in term of sin and disobedience and sense of self-sufficiency. Paul recognizes this, and so he suggests a periodic cleanse out of the old leaven. If confession in the weekly worship service could help us do this, praise the Lord. If not, we just have to be more deliberate and take time, extended time before God, to reflect and repent and stay pure.

Second, do this not only by ourselves, but as a group. Let’s keep one another accountable. Ours is a time where Christian teaching is constantly redefined by secular ideas. One of our local author wrote this in his recent article on secular influence upon the church, “Sin is no longer seen as rebellion against God, but a human weakness to be understood and even accommodated, if it could not be defeated.” 【3】Sin reinterpreted as human weakness and ideas like these don’t come across as public announcements, but subtlety, often even without us knowing that we have been carried away by them. But when there are accountability groups, we can send and receive godly reminders, we may encourage and admonish and pray for one another with the word of God. Granted that accountability groups would not guarantee that we will never deviate from being faithful Christians, it will nonetheless grant us strength to press on in our pilgrimage. Think of running and cycling, would it be easier to press on when we are doing it alone or in a group?

Thirdly, Paul builds on the metaphor and urges us to celebrate the Passover festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The way Paul says it in the original language suggests a perpetual celebration of the Passover. In other words, the Christian life is to be an ongoing, continuous, perpetual, lifelong celebration of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh’s control. For what? To become his people. Christians are to always remember that they have become God’s people: from Sunday to Sunday; from Mondays to Mondays. In this case, we need to tear down all forms of compartmentalization and dichotomies. The first thing to go would be the idea of being a Sunday Christian. And whether we are students, employees, employers or homemakers, our identity is always build on us being Christians, fulltime Christians. Do we still need periodic cleanse out? Yes, simply because we are humans. But are we convince by Paul and committed to live a life which constantly reflects our identity as the unleavened and the reality that we are God’s new creation?

I have entitled this morning sharing as “The Unleavened Generations”, plural. My hope is that our generation will keep reflecting our identity as the unleavened; that we will be godly influence to the younger ones in our midst, so that generation after generation, we will live out what have been saved to be, the unleavened.

【1】 Anthony C. Thiselton, The Frist Epistle to the Corinthians; NIGTC, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, 200. p.385.
【2】 See, ibid p.401.

1 Corinthians 5 (Listen)

5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

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 Passover 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.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”