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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Corinthians 5





An entirely new subject, to which the concluding words of the last chapter form a natural introduction, is now treated of. Intelligence has reached the Apostle, through the members of Chloe’s household (1 Corinthians 1:11), or through general report, that a member of the Corinthian Church has caused grave scandal by marrying his stepmother. This was aggravated by the fact that her husband, his father, was yet alive (2 Corinthians 7:12). Throughout the Roman empire such a union was regarded with abhorrence, and the toleration of it by the Christian community was calculated seriously to imperil the character of the early Church. Such a state of morals would be promptly seized upon by opponents, as an example of what must result from the “freedom of the gospel.” Seeing what enormous interests were thus at stake, and how the success of Christianity itself would be imperiled by such conduct, the Apostle addresses the Corinthians on this topic with an almost startling severity and vehemence.

Verse 1

(1) It is reported commonly.—Better, There is absolutely said to be fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles. All the best MSS. omit the word “named.” The force of the statement is that the fornication was of such a kind (with a stepmother) as even the Gentile world, immoral as it was, regarded with disgust, and how infinitely worse, then, was it to find such tolerated amongst Christians, whose moral standard ought to be much higher.

One should have his father’s wife.—The word “have” here used always implies in the New Testament actual marriage. It is, therefore, probable that she had been divorced from his father. The word for “his father’s wife” is the Hebrew form of expression for stepmother. St. Chrysostom suggests “he said not his ‘stepmother,’ but ‘his father’s wife,’ so as to strike much more severely;” but probably St. Paul used the Hebrew phrase instead of the ordinary Greek word for “stepmother,” as it was in this phraseology that such a union was forbidden by the law of Moses (Leviticus 18:8).

Verse 2

(2) And ye are puffed up.—Better, And are ye puffed up? &c. We have instances of similar sentences beginning with “and,” Luke 10:29. The Apostle cannot mean that they actually gloried in this act of sin, but that their temper of mind was of that kind which he has already described in the earlier chapters, puffing themselves up, one against another, in party rivalry, instead of being united in one common grief by this common cause, which would lead them as one man to remove from among them the person who had done this deed.

Verse 3

(3) For I verily.—The Apostle had fully made up his mind that this offender must be removed, and insists on the Corinthians doing it. So that the previous words imply they might as well have done it without waiting for his interference.

As absent in body.—Better, omit “as,” which is not in the best MSS.

Verse 4-5

(4, 5) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . and my spirit.—These two verses contain the apostolic sentence on the offender, and may read thus: “I have already myself decided, in the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 5:3), in the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one,” &c.

The opening words are probably the form used in all public acts of the Church as a body, and “the power of our Lord Jesus” refers to that continual presence which Christ had promised His Church, and particular power which He had delegated to the Apostles to punish (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). In this sentence we recognise, not merely a formal excommunication from church-fellowship, but a more severe punishment, which could only be inflicted by apostolic authority and power. Satan was regarded as the origin of all physical evil—hence the afflicted woman, in Luke 13:16, is spoken of as one “whom Satan hath bound these eighteen years.” St. Paul’s own bodily suffering is a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The blindness of Elymas (Acts 13:8), and the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5), are instances of the infliction of bodily-suffering by the Apostles. The deliverance of an offender unto Satan would therefore mean the expulsion of such a one from the Christian communion, and if that failed the actual infliction of some bodily suffering such as would destroy the flesh (not the body, but the flesh, the source and origin of the evil). Explicit directions for the excommunication by the Church of an offender, are given in 1 Corinthians 7, but there is no direct instruction to inflict the further punishment spoken of here. It is, indeed, probable that the lesser punishment had the desired effect (see Note on 2 Corinthians 2:6), and we subsequently find St. Paul pleading for the loving re-admission of the offender into all the privileges of Christian communion.

Verse 5

(5) That the spirit may be saved.—The object of this punishment was the destruction of the flesh, and the salvation of the man.

Verse 6

(6) Your glorying is not good.—There is possibly a reference here to some boasting regarding their spiritual state contained in the letter which had reached St. Paul from Corinth, and to which part of this Epistle is a reply. (See 1 Corinthians 7:1.) So long as there is that one bad person amongst you it gives a bad character to the whole community, as leaven, though it may not have pervaded the entire lump, still makes it not the unleavened bread which was necessary for the Paschal Feast. This Epistle being written shortly before Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8), it was very likely some time about or soon after Easter, hence the leaven and the Paschal Feast naturally suggest themselves as illustrations. The Apostle passes on rapidly from the mention of the leaven to the whole scene of the feast. As with the most minute and scrupulous care the Jew would remove every atom of leaven when the Paschal lamb was to be eaten, so our Paschal Lamb having been slain, we must take care that no moral leaven remains in the sacred household of the Church while she keeps her perpetual feast of prayer and thanksgiving.

Verse 7

(7) Purge out therefore the old leaven.—It is not the offending man who is here spoken of, but it is the spirit in the Church which tolerated the evil, and which is to be purged out of their midst that they may become actually (a new lump) as they are by profession (unleavened).

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.—Better, Christ our passover is slain; “for us” is not in the best MSS. The word translated “sacrifice” is generally used in the New Testament in the sense simply of “slaying” or “killing” (Matthew 22:4; John 10:10; Acts 10:1; Acts 10:13; Acts 11:7); and in the similar expressions regarding our Lord (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:12) the word is “wounded.”

Verse 7-8

For the Feast

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.—1. Cor. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.

There had been hideous immorality in the Corinthian Church. St. Paul had struck at it with heat and force, sternly commanding the exclusion of the sinner. He did so on the ground of the diabolical power of infection possessed by evil, and illustrated that by the very obvious metaphor of leaven, a morsel of which, as he says, “leaveneth the whole lump,” or, as we say, “batch.” But the word “leaven” drew up from the depths of his memory a host of sacred associations connected with the Jewish Passover. He remembered the sedulous hunting in every Jewish house for every scrap of leavened matter; the slaying of the paschal lamb, and the following feast. Carried away by these associations, he forgot the sin in the Corinthian Church for a moment, and turned to set forth, in the words of the text, a very deep and penetrating view of what the Christian life is, how it is sustained, and what it demands. “Wherefore let us keep the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

In the text three events are commemorated, (1) the search which the Israelites made for leaven immediately before the Passover; (2) the slaying of the Passover lamb; and (3) the Passover feast. That is also the order in which the thoughts occur to the Apostle. So we have—

I. The Old Leaven.

“Purge out the old leaven.”

II. Our Passover.

“Our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ.”

III. The Feast

“Wherefore let us keep the feast.”


The Old Leaven

“Purge out the old leaven.”

1. The appointed preparation for the Jews, on the point of keeping their Passover, was putting away leaven out of their houses. For seven whole days they were to eat only unleavened bread. In the first instance this was meant to remind them of the haste with which God brought them out of Egypt, when they took their dough before it was leavened. But it had also this other meaning, that men should labour and strive and pray to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. For that is the old leaven of which the Apostle here makes mention; the corrupt nature and bad habits of men, filling them full of malice and wickedness.

In consequence of the command that they should purge out the leaven at the Passover, the head of the household among the Jews, especially when they grew more strict in their ritual, would go through the whole of the house on a certain day to search for every particle of leavened bread. It was generally done in the evening with a candle, and the servants and others would accompany the goodman of the house to search for every crumb. Clothes were shaken, cupboards were emptied, drawers were opened, and if a mouse ran across the room and might be supposed to carry a crumb of bread into its hole, they trembled lest a curse should rest on the home. So strict did they become that our Saviour might have rebuked them as straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel. We, however, have no need to fear excessive strictness in getting rid of sin. With as scrupulous a care as the Israelite purged out the leaven from his house we are to purge out all sin from ourselves, our conduct, and our conversation.

I remember hearing a friend of mine describe what he himself once saw in Palestine, and, of all places in Palestine, in Nazareth, and, of all places in Nazareth, in a carpenter’s shop there. The carpenter would not allow him to witness the search in the house lest his presence should defile the home; but he allowed him to enter the shop and witness the search there. The man went about the work with a will; he was evidently thoroughly in earnest; he girded up his loins as if he had a day’s work before him, and then proceeded to search with the utmost zeal. Carefully and conscientiously he turned over every board, he moved all his tools, he swept out the whole place, he opened every drawer, looked into every cupboard; there was not a crevice or a cranny in the wall that was not inspected lest there might be a tiny crumb of leaven anywhere in the shop. As he drew towards the close of his search my friend suddenly heard him utter an exclamation of horror, and looking round he saw him standing as though he had seen something most alarming. If he had found a viper or a cockatrice he could not have been more horrified than he seemed to be. What was it? In the last corner that he had visited, under some shavings, he had come across a little canvas bag, and in this little bag there were a few crumbs of leavened bread; one of the workmen had left it on some former occasion. It was enough; it defiled the whole place. With the utmost possible gravity and solemnity, and with a most anxious expression of countenance as though it were a most critical and important business, the man took hold of two pieces of wood, and using them as a pair of tongs he raised up the bag, and holding it off at arm’s length, marched out of the shop and dropped the leavened crumbs, bag and all, into the centre of a fire that he had burning outside ready for such a contingency, and so he purged out the old leaven.1 [Note: Canon Hay Aitken.]

Self-scrutiny is often the most unpleasant, and always the most difficult, of moral actions. But it is also the most important and salutary; for, as the wisest of the Greeks said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”2 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideally, i. 93.]

2.“Leaven” had a figurative use in Jewish speech, signifying the working of evil affections in the soul. “Lord of Eternity,” prayed one of the Rabbis, “it is open and known in Thy sight that we desire to do Thy will. Subdue that which hindereth, to wit, the leaven which is in the lump.” “If,” it is written in the paschal rubric, “a man be on the way to offer his paschal lamb, and it come into his mind that he has leaven in his house, if he can return and remove it, and then return to his office, let him return and remove it; but, if he cannot, let him destroy it in his heart.” Our Lord came not to abrogate the ancient Law but to fulfil it; and, ever exalting the spirit above the letter, He took this Jewish prescription and gave it a loftier interpretation. “If,” He said with evident reference to that article of the paschal rubric, “thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” And St. Paul taught the same lesson when he wrote to the Corinthians: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened.”

The working of leaven did not seem, at first sight, to belong to the more regular process of nature. Man’s imagination had been struck here by the likeness to something dark, ominous, evil. This strange disturbance into which the natural substances were thrown by the arrival of this alien matter—what did it portend? This secret insertion of so little within so much by which there was set moving an inner ferment, a yeasty working, a spreading excitement—what was it? What did it express? Was it healthy? Was it not typical, rather, of disease, corruption? It looked so uncanny, so uncomfortable. How insidiously it crept! How unaccountably it penetrated! It seemed to eat its way along; it insinuated its hidden force within the mass; until what was before quiet and at peace began to stir with unaccountable agitation, began to shake and heave and swell. And what a portentous inflation! What a mysterious tumult! Surely here (men said) is the very picture of what we know of the nature of sin! This is the very way of its attack. A seed, a germ, hardly suspected for its smallness, plants itself deep down within some secret recess of the soul, and from that moment the old peace has begun to break up. At first, it is a mere spot of uncomfortable disturbance; but it is ever moving forward; the stir spreads wider; there is gradual agitation; there is growing upheaval. We never quite know how or when, but somehow, point by point, our steadiness dissolves; our orderly restraint weakens; always the ferment is touching a fresh layer; always the festering eruption breaks out in a new place. And, wherever it goes, there is this same effervescence, this inflation, this overstepping of old bounds, this swelling exuberance, this irresistible turmoil. Stronger and more violent grows the heat of the motion; it rushes forward over the whole material; nothing can, at last, hold out against its devouring extravagance. It eats into the whole body as doth a canker. Like a poison in the blood, it permeates every nook and corner. And all from so tiny a beginning! Yes; like a little leaven “it leaveneth the whole lump.” So men thought of leaven. They might use it, indeed, for the homeliest affairs; but still it became for them a type of the movement of evil. Its working seemed to embody the dreadful character of the mystery of iniquity. It had, therefore, proverbially a sinister significance. And in the Bible itself it is generally used, as a symbol, under this comparison.

3. The leaven is called “the old leaven of malice and wickedness.”

(1) Malice, that is, ill-nature, envy, grudging, is a subtle thing, mingling itself with many parts of men’s conduct, where they little suspect it themselves. For example: you hear a neighbour praised for something on which you are apt to value yourself. Ask your own conscience fairly: do you feel no sort of pang, no jealousy or envy, at this? Is it not too plain, that we are most of us inclined to repine at our neighbour’s getting things which we think we might as well have had ourselves? Now, whatever you may judge of it, this is the leaven of malice, and must be purged out.

It is said of the famous English clergyman, Venn, that in his declining years he was removed to the obscurity of a country parish, and a stirring young curate was employed to help him in his work. Nobody wanted to hear the old man preach, while the curate attracted surprising congregations. Naturally the rector’s family grew jealous. They could not bear the advancement of a junior above their honoured father. But the arrows were quenched in a boundless ocean of charity, for with true Christ-likeness the old man said, “Carry me to hear him preach. God honours him, and I will honour him. No man can receive anything except it be given him from heaven.”1 [Note: G. C. Peck, Old Sins in New Clothes, 284.]

(2) So in respect of that wickedness of which the great Apostle, warns us—fraud, falsehood, cunning, insincerity. It is what people generally can least endure to be charged with: to call a man a liar is the bitterest of all affronts; and those who would confess many faults will search far and wide, and invent all sorts of excuses, rather than plead guilty to this. And many seem to think that if they affirm no direct falsehood, they are sufficiently purged from this sin. But surely they judge too hastily. There is a leaven of cunning as well as of malice, which is apt to mingle with all our conduct, and poison and infect it and make it unworthy of God, to a degree far beyond what we can imagine, till we have really watched and tried ourselves. We get into mean, pitiful habits, of setting traps for our own praise; of contriving to take the best of everything for ourselves; of getting off in all business with less than our share of expense, or trouble, or ill-will. This is the leaven of selfish cunning, so worked into the daily behaviour of most men that they are not themselves at all aware of it: they never, of course, dream of repenting of it.

It is important to bear in mind that, in speaking of sin and sinners, we are apt to take as our type of sin one particular class of sin, the sins of the “publican and the harlot.” It is natural that, revolting, ruinous, flagrant as they are, they should represent sin to our mind. Yet there are sins more malignant, and more difficult to conceive cured. I can conceive many of these poor creatures, whom the world speaks of as “lost,” blindly “seeking after God.” It is difficult to me to conceive this of those who, with full knowledge and all advantages, prey on human happiness in one way or another—the selfish seekers of their own interest and pleasure.1 [Note: Dean Church, Life and Letters, 265.]

As are those apples, pleasant to the eye,

But full of smoke within, which use to grow

Near that strange lake, where God pour’d from the sky

Huge showers of flames, worse flames to overthrow;

Such are their works that with a glaring show

Of humble holiness, in virtue’s dye

Would colour mischief, while within they glow

With coals of sin, though none the smoke descry.

Ill is that angel which erst fell from heaven,

But not more ill than he, nor in worse case,

Who hides a traitorous mind with smiling face,

And with a dove’s white feather masks a raven,

Each sin some colour hath it to adorn;

Hypocrisy, almighty God doth scorn.1 [Note: William Drummond.]

4. For power to purge out the old leaven, we must have some participation in Christ, by which there is given to us that new life which conquers evil. In the words immediately preceding the text, the Apostle bases his injunction to purge out the old leaven on the fact that “ye are unleavened.” Ideally, in so far as the power possessed by them was concerned, these Corinthians were unleavened, even whilst they were bid to purge out the leaven. That is to say, be what you are; realize your ideal, utilize the power you possess, and since by your faith there has been given to you a new life that can conquer all corruption and sin, see that you use the life that is given. Purge out the old leaven because ye are unleavened.

Power, that is the great practical matter for us men, once our faces are set towards the light; and in the life in Christ the way of power is marked out. Everywhere, all over the world, in its darkest places, as a man follows the light he sees, the power comes, and more light comes, and power grows anew, Divine power flowing in upon him and through him, whether he knows it or not. But in the Christian faith we are given an open vision of the way of power, as well as of the light and truth of men; open-eyed we may yield to Christ being made Man in us—the Christ who ever comes to enlarge the realm of His Incarnation; and we may possess and wield His power as our own, reason giving consent, heart warmed by the vision, and the presence of Him who reigns. In this, too, Christianity stands at the centre of things, and fulfils and completes them all.2 [Note: William Scott Palmer.]

When God was about to call Abraham to a higher level of service and a higher range of truth—to require of him a perfection which might seem unattainable, and to unfold to him a grace which might seem incredible, He prefaced the call with the revelation, “I am El Shaddai—God Almighty, the Wielder of power, the All-sufficient.” After that nothing is impossible, nothing incredible. The august title reveals the infinite resources from which man can draw, the Divine energy which ensures his success. Absolute reliance on God’s almightiness is the condition of power. For every duty there is an appointed dynamic: “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” The Almighty will not let His servants fail or be put to shame, else that is not His name. He links His power to His imperatives. What we can do in our own strength is one thing; what we are empowered to achieve by omnipotent grace is far different. The possibilities of life are to be measured, not by the ability of man, but by the power and will of God. Instead of desiring a lower ideal, we should pray for a higher energy. “Lord,” said Augustine, “give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.” “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God,” said Carey. “Who is sufficient for these things?” asked St. Paul, and presently answered, “Our sufficiency is of God.”1 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideals, i. 97.]

It does not matter how intricately sin may have been woven into all the tissues of life and coloured word and deed and thought; Christ by the Spirit can take it all away. He can “purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.” A lump of ore, when mixed with clay and mire, may be washed clean, as the soul by the washing of regeneration; but fire acts upon it in a different way. It liberates the metal from the stoney or clayey surroundings, and sets one free from the other. Often more than one mineral is contained in the same rock. Take, for example, a piece of Cornish arsenical mundic. Here is stone speckled all through with minute but thoroughly distributed portions of the poison known as arsenic. Here also in close neighbourhood is a vein of pure copper ore. Mixed with both is the quartz and earthy matter in which they are imbedded, which is the earliest deposit. We will call the stony portion the simple creature life; the arsenic the evil nature, injected as a foreign substance by some external power; and the copper representing the new life, also foreign to nature, and also external in its introduction into the heart. Here they are together in close association, though not in fellowship. Can nothing separate them? Yes, fire can, and every particle of the arsenic can, by its power, be separated from its companions.


Our Passover

“Our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ.”

It is very remarkable that this is the only place in St. Paul’s writings where he articulately pronounces that the paschal lamb is a type of Jesus Christ. There is only one other instance in the New Testament where that is stated with equal clearness and emphasis, and that is in St. John’s account of the Crucifixion, where he recognizes the fact that Christ died with limbs unbroken, as being a fulfilment, in the New Testament sense of that word, of what was enjoined in regard to the antitype, “a bone of him shall not be broken.”

1. The words carry us back in imagination to the last night of Israel’s bondage in the land of Egypt. That was a season of horror and anguish to the Egyptians, for at midnight the firstborn of every household was killed by the Angel of the Lord. It was a memorable night to Israel also, though they passed it in perfect safety. The Hebrews had been informed by Moses and Aaron of God’s purpose to slay the first-born of the Egyptians, and had been instructed as to the mystic ceremony by the observance of which they would protect themselves from being overtaken in the same terrible doom. On the night of the Exodus the head of each household was to kill in sacrifice a lamb, or a kid of the goats. He was to put the blood in a basin, and afterwards sprinkle it with a sprig of hyssop on the upper door-post and the two side-posts of his house. The lamb was then to be roasted whole, and eaten with unleavened bread and a salad of bitter herbs. The family were to eat it in the attitude of pilgrims about to set out on a long journey—with their loins girded, their sandals strapped on their feet, and their staves ready in their hands. All this was done in the evening; and a few hours later, at midnight, the first-born of every Egyptian family was smitten by the Angel of Death. But no one died that night in any Israelitish house the door of which was marked with the blood of the paschal lamb. In giving the command about the sprinkling of the blood, the Lord had added this gracious promise: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” And God announced that the Passover was to be to the Jews an ordinance for ever; it was to be an annual festival commemorative of the deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt; the people were to observe it with solemnity and gladness; and parents were to teach their children its significance.

2. There are three thoughts contained in the statement that Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us.

(1) It emphasizes, with each great approach of the redeemed people to God as their covenant Lord, that a “Passover” is necessary. It becomes a memorial to be kept at Sinai, at Gilgal, and again with special solemnity after periods of backsliding from God, as in the great Passovers under Hezekiah and Josiah, and at the return from the captivity under Ezra, after their separation from the filthiness of the heathen. Besides this, it is the annual covenant feast to be kept unto the Lord throughout all their generations. Thus it bears witness through all the Old Dispensation to man’s need of redemption and God’s pledge to meet that need, till that day when the disciples asked the great Antitype Himself, “Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?”

Think of these two chains which have always fettered the spirit of humanity, and say whether Christ accomplished nothing for man’s redemption in breaking them—the sense of guilt on the conscience and the fear of death. I do not mean to say that men have actually been delivered from these. We are too ignorant of our own franchise, like the poor Israelites who despised their freedom, and perished through their unbelief in the wilderness. But the chains are broken for those who will enjoy their freedom; and countless multitudes have tested to the full their emancipation, and all Christendom feels some common benefit from the deliverance.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies.]

(2) It offers, next, the Divine provision for that need. If we ask, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” we receive the answer: Not in that ancient service with its filaments stretching back into the remote past, not even in its great Christian counterpart, which unites in one link of loving rite the Lord’s Supper with the Jewish Passover, but in that of which both alike speak so clearly, “the death of the Cross.” Christ by His own blood has “entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

If Christ hath died His brethren well may die,

Sing in the gate of death, lay by

This life without a sigh:

For Christ hath died and good it is to die;

To sleep when so He lays us by,

Then wake without a sigh.

Yea, Christ hath died, yea, Christ is risen again:

Wherefore both life and death grow plain

To us who wax and wane;

For Christ who rose shall die no more again:

Amen: till He makes all things plain

Let us wax on and wane.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 168.]

(3) It also expresses the simple appropriation of faith, whereby alone the blessings of Christ’s Passion can become ours. The paschal lamb was offered, not as in any way worthy of God’s acceptance; but, being looked on as a substitute for the family, it saved the first-born from death. God did not wish to smite Israel, but to save them. But He did not simply omit the Israelite houses and pick out the Egyptian ones through the land. He left it to the choice of the people whether they would accept His deliverance and belong to Him or not. The angel of judgment was to recognize no distinction between Israelite and Egyptian save this of the sprinkled, stained doorposts. Death was to enter every house where the blood was not visible; mercy was to rest on every family that dwelt under this sign. God meant that all should be rescued, but He would not force any—we may say He could not force any—to yield themselves to Him.

And now Christ our Passover is slain and we are asked to determine whether we will use His sacrifice or not. We are not asked to add anything to the efficacy of that sacrifice, but only to avail ourselves of it. Wherever there was faith there was a man in the twilight sprinkling his lintel, and resolved that no solicitation should tempt him from behind the blood till the angel had passed by. He took God at His word; he believed that God meant to deliver him, and he did what he was told was his part. To us God opens a way out from all bondage and from all that gives us the spirit of slaves.

Stephen Grellet was the child of French parents of the nobility, and was born in the city of Limoges, in the beautiful district of Limousin, a few years before the great Revolution broke out in France. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and shared in the sufferings of the Royalist party like other members of the nobility. In the fortunes of war he was captured and ordered to be shot. But at that moment a commotion arose and he escaped to America, and began soon after that life of wonderful usefulness which carried him several times across Europe on errands of mercy, brought him before kings and popes, exposed him to perils of war and imprisonment, and made him one of the first workers in the United States for the abolition of slavery. Upon what did that career turn? First, upon a sense of conviction of sin so keen that an awful voice seemed to call from Heaven to him as he walked in the fields “Eternity! eternity! eternity!” and he felt himself sinking as in the lowest hell. Then, when he was like one “crushed under the millstones” with the sense of his sin, there came “the fulness of heavenly joy” through trust in a living Saviour. He realized that “there was One, even He whom I had pierced—Jesus Christ the Redeemer—that was able to save me. I saw Him to be the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.… On my earnest petition being put up to Him, the language was proclaimed, ‘Thy sins are forgiven, thine iniquities are pardoned.’”1 [Note: W. Guest, Life of Stephen Grellet, 24.]

Safdar Ali was the son of a Moslem judge in a native state of India, and attended Agra College, studying among other things very closely the Moslem faith. After leaving college he obtained the post of Deputy-Inspector of Schools in the Punjab, and there he came across Sufi philosophers and fakirs. From them he learned to practise austerities of life in order to obtain purity of heart. But he failed to find it, and when he told them of his failure they answered that he must find an infallible director. Among sheikhs and fakirs he sought for such a one in vain, till at length he decided on the pilgrimage to Mecca. As he was preparing for it he met with a copy of Pfander’s Mizan-al-Haqq, or “Balance of Truth,” a defence of Christianity against Moslems. This led him to decide to study the Christian faith, and for three years, instead of going to Mecca, he pondered over the Bible and Koran side by side, deserted by his wife, but helped by a Christian convert Nehemiah. The result was that he found Christ as a personal Saviour, and could say:—

My Friend was near me, and I roamed far in search of Him;

My well was full of water, while I was parched and thirsty.

Praise upon praise, to-day my journey is ended.

Now the last stage is reached—my pilgrimage is o’er.2 [Note: History of the C.M.S. ii. 555.]

3. But the particular reason why the Apostle here states that our Passover has been sacrificed is to offer a reason why the old leaven should be purged out. His thought, accordingly, is that Christ is our representative; in offering Himself He offers us to God; and we are no longer our own.

Christ is our passover, because through Him there is made the acknowledgment that we belong to God. He is in very truth the prime and flower, the best representative of our race, the first-born of every creature. He is the One who can make for all others this acknowledgment that we are God’s people. And He does so by perfectly giving Himself up to God. This fact that we belong to God, that we men are His creatures and subjects, has never been perfectly acknowledged save by Christ.

Only those of us who can see that we ought to live for God can claim Christ as our representative. Only those who wished to go free from Egypt to serve God sacrificed the paschal lamb; the service of God, the living as His people, was the object they had in view. What object have we? If we mean to be of His spirit, if we mean to count it our meat and drink to do God’s will, if we are really disposed to seek the advancement of God’s purposes, and not to seek great things for ourselves, we may speak of Him as our Substitute and Sacrifice. If He is our Passover, the meaning of this is that He gives us liberty to serve God, that He comes to redeem us from all that hinders our serving Him. The one question is, Do we at heart wish to give ourselves up to God? Do we find in His life and death, in His submission to God and meek acceptance of all God appointed, the truest representation of what we would fain be and do, but cannot?1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]


The Feast

“Wherefore let us keep the feast.”

1. “Wherefore,” exclaims the Apostle (and remember that “Wherefore” loses its force unless we have appropriated to ourselves the benefit of the Paschal sacrifice), “let us keep the feast.” When we know that for us the Paschal blood has been shed, that word “wherefore” indicates a logical conclusion which must follow from Gospel premises; and this inference is so patent and powerful, that there is no escape from it. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: wherefore let us keep the feast.”

2. The “feast” alluded to in these words is neither the Passover of the Law nor a Communion season of the Christian Church. It is the whole life of the followers of Jesus, as that life is led in Him, and as, in it all, they are partakers of His joy. Their Paschal Lamb is for them always slain. For them the incense of Christ’s offering continually ascends before the throne of God. They have put the leaven of sin out of their hearts and lives, not for an hour only, or a day or a week, but for ever. Therefore they keep constant festival. Their whole life, with its memories of deliverance from bondage, and with the first-fruits of a spiritual harvest ripening around them in their free and independent home, has a festival light thrown over it. They always eat the flesh and drink the blood of One who never fails either to support or quicken them. The Christian Passover never ends.1 [Note: W. Milligan, in The Expositor, 3rd Ser., viii. 164.]

3. Two things are suggested by keeping the feast.

(1) Taking food.—For the point to be observed is this, that just as in that ancient ritual the lamb slain became the food of the Israelites, so with us the Christ who has died is to be the sustenance of our souls, and of our Christian life. “Wherefore let us keep the feast.”

Feed upon Him; that is the essential central requirement for all Christian life. And what does feeding on Him mean? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” said the Jews, and the answer is plain now, though so obscure then. The flesh which He gave for the life of the world in His death, must by us be taken for the very nourishment of our souls, by the simple act of faith in Him. That is the feeding which brings not only sustenance but life. Christ’s death for us is the basis, but it is only the basis, of Christ’s living in us, and His death for us is of no use at all to us unless He that died for us lives in us. We feed on Him by faith, which not only trusts to the Sacrifice as atoning for sin, but feeds on it as communicating and sustaining eternal life—“Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, wherefore let us keep the feast.”

Again, we keep the feast when our minds feed upon Christ by contemplation of what He is, what He has done, what He is doing, what He will do; when we take Him as “the Master-light of all our seeing,” and in Him, His words and works, His Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Session as Sovereign at the right hand of God, find the perfect revelation of what God is, the perfect discovery of what man is, the perfect disclosure of what sin is, the perfect prophecy of what man may become, the Light of light, the answer to every question that our spirits can put about the loftiest verities of God and man, the universe and the future. We feed on Christ when, with lowly submission, we habitually subject thoughts, purposes, desires, to His authority, and when we let His will flow into, and make plastic and supple, our wills. We nourish our wills by submitting them to Jesus, and we feed on Him not only when we say “Lord! Lord!” but when we do the things that He says. We feed on Christ, when we let His great, sacred, all-wise, all-giving, all-satisfying love flow into our restless hearts and make them still, enter into our vagrant affections and fix them on Himself.

To feed on Christ is to get His strength into us to be our strength. You feed on the cornfield and the strength of the cornfield comes into you and is your strength. You feed on the cornfield and then go and build your house, and it is the cornfield in your strong arm that builds the house, that cuts down the trees and piles the stones and lifts the roof into its place. You feed on Christ and then go and live your life, and it is Christ in you that lives your life, that helps the poor, that tells the truth, that fights the battle, and that wins the crown.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

(2) Enjoyment.—In the second place, the word suggests the thought of enjoyment. Our life is to be a feast; that is to say, a season of continuous happy festivity. Not only when we reach that better land, and sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb; not only then are we to be privileged to feast with Him. The feast of heaven begins on earth, and only those who know from their own experience what it is to feast with Jesus now will ever feast with Him yonder.

The Christian is not only to take the doctrines which concern Christ, to build up his soul with them as the body is built up with food, but he may draw from them the wine of joy and the new wine of delight. It is meet that we rejoice in Christ Jesus. He is the bliss of the saints. Is it not a joy unspeakable and full of glory, that my sin will never be laid to my charge if I believe in Him; that my sin has been laid at His door, and He has put it all away, so that if it be searched for it shall not be found? Is it not an intense delight to believe that Christ has so effectually put away sin that no destroying angel can touch one of His saints? There being no condemnation, there can be no punishment for us either in this world or in that which is to come. We are safe as were the Israelites when the door was sprinkled with the blood. And then, being justified, we rise to a higher position, we are adopted into the family of God, and if children, then heirs. What a vista of glory opens before our eyes at the mention of that word, heirs of God! All things are ours, because Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.

As if to one who in a dungeon lay,

Laden with chains, and hidden from the sun,

For some dark evil deed that he had done,

For which he must his life a forfeit pay,

Should come a messenger of glad reprieve,

And lead him out into the sunlight gay,

Pardoned and free, on some high holiday,

To joy his trembling heart can scarce conceive;

So in his veins the wine of life should run,

So should he still rejoicing keep the feast,

Who is from guilt and fear of death released,

By the sure promise of the Mighty One,

That, as in Egypt passing Death was fain

To spare the house where blood he might perceive,

Sprinkled by those who did the Lord believe,

So, for us too, our Passover is slain.

For the Feast


Aitken (W. H. M. H.), The Highway of Holiness, 220.

Beeching (H. C.), The Bible Doctrine of the Sacraments, 86.

Burrell (D. J.), The Gospel of Gladness, 255.

Davies (J. LI.), The Work of Christ, 85.

Dods (M.), Footsteps in the Path of Life, 97, 100.

Green (T. H.), The Witness of God, and Faith, 1.

Grubb (G. C.), The Light of His Countenance, 9.

Gurney (T. A.), The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, 57.

Hepher (C.), The Revelation of Love, 157.

Jerdan (C.), For the Lord’s Table, 62.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Easter—Ascension, 1.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., ii, 256.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 1 and 2 Corinthians, 83.

Maurice (F. D.), Lincoln’s Inn Sermons, iii. 245.

Morgan (R. C.), The Cross in the Old Testament, 81.

Moule (H. C. G.), The Pledges of His Love, 97.

Pope (R. M.), The Poetry of the Upward Way, 29.

Smith (D.), The Pilgrim’s Hospice, 37.

Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, ii. (1856) No. 54.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvi. (1870) No. 965.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xxiii. (1883) No. 1244.

Waterston (R.), Thoughts on the Lord’s Supper, 153.

Watt (L. M.), The Communion Table, 223.

Wiseman (N.), Children’s Sermons, 72.

Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 121 (Aveling).

Church of England Pulpit, lxiii. 237 (Sandham).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Easter Day and Season: vii. 195 (Keble).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xv. 300 (Gurney).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., ix. 161 (Barry).

Homiletic Review, xliii. 333 (Dieterich).

Verse 8

(8) Old leaven—i.e., in their old state generally; and then the Apostle proceeds to particularise. Sincerity and truth are to take the place of malice and wickedness in the continuous life of the Christian. St. Chrysostom well remarks: “He said ‘Let us keep the feast’ as pointing out that the whole of time is a festival unto Christians, because of the excellence of the good things which have been given.”

Verse 9

(9) I wrote unto you in an epistle.—These words have given rise to some controversy as to whether the Apostle here refers to some former Epistle addressed to the Corinthian Church, and which has not been preserved, or whether the reference is not to this Epistle itself. It has been suggested by some who adopt the latter view that these words may have been added as an interpolation after the completion of the Epistle, and be intended to intensify the remarks made by the Apostle on this subject in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20. Such an interpretation, however, seems rather strained. It is more natural to suppose that the reference is to an Epistle written to the Corinthians, probably from Ephesus, after a visit paid to Corinth of which we have no record, for in 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1, we read of a third visit being contemplated, whereas only one previous one is recorded. (See also Introduction.) The condition of the Church which caused the Apostle that “heaviness,” which he connects with this visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1, would naturally have given rise to an Epistle containing the kind of direction here referred to.

Verse 10

(10) Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world.—This is a limitation and explanation of the command given not to associate with fornicators. It would have been almost impossible for the command to be literally obeyed without the Christian withdrawing altogether from the business of life, so the Apostle explains that it is the fair fame and purity of the Church which he is anxious to preserve. There are so many fornicators, and covetous, and idolaters in this world (i.e., the heathen world) that men must meet with them. But the Christian must tolerate no such sins among themselves; they must exclude from the social circle any brother who, bearing the name of Christ, indulges in the vices of the heathen world. The Church is to be the light of the world, and not the recipient of the world’s darkness.

Verse 11

(11) But now I have written unto you . . .—i.e., “But what I meant was” that you were not to associate with a Christian guilty of these things. It may seem strange that the word “idolater” should be included in this category; for in what sense could a “brother” be a worshipper of idols? It is probable that the word “idolater” has involved in it the idea, not merely of worshipping an image, but of the sensuality which accompanied various forms of heathen worship, and of which evidently some of the Corinthian brethren were partakers. (See Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5, where “idolatry” is identified with a vice kindred to lasciviousness.)

Verse 12

(12) For what have I to do . . .?—The Apostle in this verse at once explains the grounds of the limitation of his remarks to Christians, and seems to hint also, by the form of expression here, that the Corinthian Church ought to have been able to have understood his remarks as only applicable to themselves and not to the heathen.

Them also that are without.—The heathen. It was a common form of expression amongst the Jews to designate the Gentile world (Mark 4:11).

Do not ye judge them that are within?—As the Christian Church could sit in judgment only on its own members, so they should have concluded that only on them had St. Paul passed judgment.

Verse 13

(13) God judgeth.—In the best MSS. the verb is in the future tense: God will judge. He is the judge of the whole earth; we are to leave the heathen world in His hands.

Therefore put away . . .—Better omit “therefore.” The Apostle in this passage adopts the form of pronouncing sentence on great criminals, with which especially the Jewish converts would be familiar (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 24:7).


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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