The Lesson of the Leaven
1 Corinthians 5:6
Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?…

It is very confidently affirmed that leaven is always used in a had sense in Scripture, and is the illustration of the working of evil principle. Some forcing of Scripture is, however, necessary if a bad sense must be always found; and while we must admit that leavening is, in measure, a corrupting process, we should also recognize that the permeating influence of leaven may be used to illustrate the advance and extension of good principle. Undoubtedly it is the tendency of evil to propagate itself rapidly, and infect all around it, on which the apostle here dwells - a tendency which may be also illustrated by the insidious spreading of contagious and infectious disease. It may be helpful to give some account of the character and action of "leaven." Hugh Macmillan says, "It consists of myriads of the cells of the common green mould in an undeveloped state. If a fragment of the dough with the leaven in it be put aside in a shady place, the cells of the fungus in the leaven will vegetate, and cover the dough with a slight downy substance, which is just the plant in its complete form. The swelling of the dough, and the commotion which goes on in the leavened mass, are owing to the multiplication of the plant cells, which takes place with astonishing rapidity. By this process of vegetation, the starch and sugar of the dough are converted into other chemical products. But it is only allowed to go to a certain length, and then the principle of growth is checked, by placing the dough in the oven and baking it into bread. Leaven is thus a principle of destruction and construction - of decay and of growth - of death and of life. It has two effects, which are made use of as types in Scripture. On the one side, the operation of leaven upon meal presents an analogy to something evil in the spiritual world; for it decays and decomposes the matter with which it comes into contact. On the other side, the operation of leaven upon meal presents an analogy to something good in the spiritual world; for it is a principle of life and growth, and imparts a new energy and a beneficent quality to the matter with which it comes in contact." Archbishop Trench says, "In some passages, the puffing up, disturbing, souring propotries which leaven has are the prominent points of comparison; in others, its warmth, its penetrative energy, the power which a little of it has to lend its own savour and virtue to much wherewith it is brought in contact."


(1) the insidious nature,

(2) the rapid propagation,

(3) the corrupting influence, of evil. Observe, the evil was not a matter of example, but of contagion. Such a one as this incestuous man - wicked, impenitent, and unpunished - would infect the rest of the Church. Who does not know how the tone of evil has communicated itself? Worldly minds, irreverent minds, licentious minds, leaven society. You cannot be long with persons who by innuendo, double meaning, or lax language, show an acquaintance with evil, without feeling in some degree assimilated to them, nor can you easily retain enthusiasm for right amongst those who detract and scoff at goodness. The corrupting influence of evil in the Church may be illustrated from the history of the great heresies, more especially those which have been started by immoral and unworthy men.

II. SUCH MORAL EVIL IS SURE PRESENTLY TO ATTRACT PUBLIC ATTENTION. And so it brings a wrong estimate of the Chinch, and excites prejudice against it. The Church has most gravely suffered, in every age, from her unworthy members, who have been only too readily regarded, by outsiders, as the Church's representatives. "The student of history wilt remember how dexterously Gibbon contrives to throw discredit upon Christianity by enlarging upon the shortcomings of the early Church, and by evading the comparison between its moral elevation and the shocking demoralization of heathen society."

III. SUCH MORAL EVIL HAS A DANGEROUSLY ACTIVE AND PERVASIVE INFLUENCE, "It leaveneth the whole lump." It spreads in the soil as the roots of bindweed. Therefore, as, in preparation for the Paschal feast, the Jews carefully and minutely searched forevery particle of leaven, to turn it out of their houses, so must the Christian Church watch lest any bad person come into its membership, and must strictly exclude those who may take bad ways after joining its membership, lest their evil influence should be found to pervade the whole lump. The very first symptoms and indications of moral evil demand resolute dealing, and should be immediately met by the strong yet charitable discipline of the Church. In simple language, suited for children, the poet expresses the danger dealt with in this homily.

"One sickly sheep infects the flock,
And poisons all the rest." R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

WEB: Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole lump?

The Leaven of Sin Works
Top of Page
Top of Page