Removal of the Leaven
During Passover, observant Jewish people refrain from eating leaven. This tradition comes from God’s commandment to Israel in the Torah, “For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread” (Ex 12:19-20). As Jewish people prepare for Passover, each family removes the leaven from their home. Then, during a ceremony called Bedikat Chametz, every traditional household conducts a final search for leaven throughout the house, gathers it together and burns it, after which the house is kosher for Passover.
Paul uses this Jewish practice as the background to his discussion in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
At that time, the believing community of Corinth was tolerant of gross immorality. Paul compares sin to leaven and commands the congregation at Corinth to clean out the sin from within their midst in the same way the Jewish community removes leaven from their homes during Passover. Just as leaven permeates an entire lump of dough, sinful behavior affects the entire life of an individual and congregation. If the congregation at Corinth did not deal with the wicked behavior in their midst, then this behavior would defile the whole community.
When making Challah, the traditional Jewish bread for Shabbat, a small amount of yeast is added to the dough, and this bit of yeast leavens the entire loaf of bread. In the same way, sin affects a person’s entire life. We cannot compartmentalize our lives and isolate sin in a particular area so that it does not affect the other areas of our lives. God created us as holistic people, and we deceive ourselves when we think the small or hidden sins in our lives will not affect the other areas of our soul. Even small and hidden sins will permeate and corrode our entire being. As Paul wrote, the reason we must remove the wicked behavior from our lives is that our Messiah was sacrificed, like a Passover lamb, to remove our unrighteousness.
Therefore, we should pursue righteousness, since our Messiah has removed the chametz (leaven) from our lives. Paul describes people with leaven as depraved and wicked, whereas people who are pure in motives and upright in character have no leaven. The “unleavened” person does not have a hidden or secret life.
The preparation for Passover can remind us to think about the unrighteous behaviors we tolerate in our own lives. If we tolerate immoral thoughts or actions, they will begin to affect our spiritual lives and ultimately destroy our soul. If we are serious about honoring God and having a healthy spiritual life, then we cannot tolerate the hidden and secret sins. In the spirit of Passover, let us remove the sin from our lives, so that we are kosher for Passover.