The reference made to the, passover and to the feast of unleavened bread in 1 Corinthians 5 is very important and instructive. Although these two were instituted together in Exodus 12, and were to be inseparably connected, yet, in their spiritual meaning, and in their application to the people of God now, they are distinguished, inasmuch as they set forth different truths and blessings. These, however, as in the type, should never be separated, though we are often, alas! in danger of doing so, like the Corinthians; and therefore we, too, need the exhortation of the Spirit of God - "Let us keep the feast."
This feast does not in any way refer to the Lord's Supper, but is an allusion to the feast of unleavened bread, which began with the passover, and was kept up for seven days. It was specially marked by the entire putting away of all leaven. Their bread, their food, was to be entirely free of it; nor was it to be found in any of their houses.
The application of this to believers now is as simple as it is solemn and important. Leaven represents, as always in Scripture, the energy or activity of evil, whether displaying itself in our outward conduct, or working in the mind and desires, where it always begins, and if not detected and judged, works out in a manifest way, either in bad conduct (as with the Corinthians - compare carefully 2 Cor. 11:3 with 12:20, 21), or in the way of doctrines and teachings contrary to, and subversive of, the truth. (See Gal. 5:8-10.) Hence the apostle exhorts the Corinthians to keep the feast, "not with old leaven" - their evil habits and ways before conversion - "neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness." All of this character must be entirely refused and judged in order to keep the feast. Then there is the positive side, the eating of "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth," for thus only can it be kept.
Now this feast of seven days' duration refers to the whole of our lives here as a redeemed people. It means for us that from the moment we believe in Christ as our Saviour, and are therefore seen under the eye of God in all the cleansing efficacy of His blood, we are called to walk in practical separation from evil of every kind, whether in mind, ways, or doctrine; for thus only can the heart feed upon, and find present enjoyment in, Christ as the One who suffered for our sins, and thus removed them from the sight of God for ever, besides revealing God to us as a Saviour-God, whose purpose it was to have a people for Himself, clear of all judgment, and able to have communion with Him.
Hence in the type the passover necessarily came first, inasmuch as it typified, as is clearly stated in the passage, the sacrifice of Christ. The passover lamb presents Him to us as "the Lamb of God" "without blemish and without spot." The sprinkled blood sets forth the efficacy of His precious blood before God, which not only shelters us from the judgment of God, but by which we have been redeemed.
We learn first its value as sheltering us from divine judgment; but we must not stop here. God's thought was not only to have a sheltered people, but a redeemed people, and the blood of the Lamb secured both; though before they could enjoy the latter they had to be brought out of the enemy's land, and from under his hand altogether.* It is in the consciousness of our sins and our misery that we first learn to receive and appreciate the blessed work of Jesus; for it was to remove all the sins, all the evil connected with us, from His sight, that God gave up His beloved Son to be the sacrifice for sins; and as we truly learn our need of Christ and of His work, we must necessarily feel in some measure how hateful and evil sin is in God's sight. Now this will produce a real judgment of all our thoughts, words, and ways, and the practical refusal and putting away of all that is discovered to be evil in His sight, as revealed in the death of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only thus that our hearts are free to enjoy the love of Christ, as expressed in all the atoning sufferings He endured for us, or to enjoy communion with God, who has called us "unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Cor. 1:9.)
*For this they had to journey through the Red Sea, which represents for us the death and resurrection of Christ. We can only enjoy redemption, or deliverance, as we apprehend and receive in faith that He (Jesus our Lord) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. This is much more than the sense of being sheltered by His blood. All blessing has been secured for us by His precious sacrifice; but we must learn our need of it, and by faith appropriate it, as led by the Spirit according to the word of God, which reveals the thoughts and will of God to us.
The Corinthians were forgetting this. They knew that Christ was their Saviour, that He had died for their sins; but they had got sadly careless as to the feast; that is, as to maintaining in their hearts and ways what was suitable to God, so as to be free to enjoy communion with Him. They were forgetting His holiness, as declared in that judgment of sin borne by Jesus. Hence, instead of spiritual gladness, the apostle had to call them to sadness, to mourning and self-judgment about their ways and associations. And indeed the Lord's hand was upon them in discipline to produce this very result. "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (See chap. 11.) Still His thought and purpose ever is to bring His people into the enjoyment of His own presence and love. This, however, can only be by the maintenance of what is suitable to His holiness, as we read, "Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, for ever." At the same time let us remember that it is also written, "In Thy presence is fulness of joy," for holiness and happiness always go together, slow though our hearts are to understand, and lay hold of, this. (Compare 1 John 1:3-6.)
We have thus sought to point out what is meant by the feast, and what is meant by leaven. We must bear in mind as to the latter, that association with evil is leavening. The leaven had not to be found in all the houses of the Israelites; telling us that all the surroundings and associations of the one who would keep the feast must be maintained according to the truth and will of God. This is a deeply-important principle, both searching and far-reaching in its application. Let us recall the warning of the Spirit of God to these very Corinthians in chapter 15, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners."
Surely if ever there was a day when the people of God needed to be aroused to this it is the present time. What mixing of the precious and the vile there is! What contact of holy with unholy! (See Jeremiah 15:19, and Haggai 2:12, 13.) Still the exhortation is given to us by the Spirit of God, "Let us keep the feast . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Sincerity means for us true uprightness of heart. No unworthy motives are to be allowed to work in the mind and heart, no guile nor duplicity practised, no assuming of an outward position or manner, which is not in keeping with the desire and purpose of our hearts. We are to be affected and formed by the truth in all the moral springs from which our actions flow; for the truth has a sanctifying, cleansing action on the heart and thoughts, when we submit ourselves to its operation. Then, practically cleansed by the word and Spirit of God from all that is defiling and unsuitable to the presence of our God, we are free to keep the feast "with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." S. M. A.