Leavening the Lump:  Divorce and Remarriage in the Church 

The New Testament states that remarriage after divorce is adultery (Mark 10; Rom. 7).  The Old Testament teaches that God hates divorce and that divorce is a type of treachery against one’s spouse (Mal. 2:16).    

In First Corinthians 5:6 Paul asks the rhetorical question “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the entire lump?” The context of this passage is sexual sin. A man in the Corinthian church was involved in a sexually immoral relationship with his father’s wife.  Paul warned the Corinthians not to allow sexual sin to go unchecked by the members of the local congregation.  If believers allow sin to continue in their midst then it is like allowing leaven to leaven the lump. 

In Scripture leaven or yeast is used as a symbol for that which affects all it comes in contact with.  When yeast is introduced into bread meal it permeates all of it and causes it to rise.  Leaven can be used in Scripture in a good sense, i.e. the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:33). In First Corinthians 5 it is used in a negative sense to illustrate the affects that sin has on those associated with it.  In the same way that yeast permeates the lump of dough and affects all portions of it sin will permeate the body of Christ and adversely affect it.   

Although the immediate context of First Corinthians 5 deals with a sexually incestuous relationship it can be applied to all sexually immoral relationships and beyond that sin in general.  Those who sin in the fellowship of believers are like yeast that is added to a lump of dough.  Their sin will permeate the local congregation and affect other members of the body.  Some directly in that it may encourage others to sin in a like manner.  Some more subtly in that it may cause them to lower their standards.  Oftentimes members of a local fellowship will even defend the actions of those persons who should be placed under discipline.  

Practical Ramifications 

Remarriage after divorce is called adultery in the New Testament.  Adultery is a sexual sin and therefore should not be practiced by those who claim to follow Christ.  If allowed to go unchecked it will adversely affect those in the congregation. How does divorce and remarriage leaven the lump?  In and of itself remarriage after divorce is adultery. This sin affects the purity of the congregation.  It may also affect other marriage relationships of those in the assembly.   

God cannot look upon acts of adultery with favor.  All sexual sin may be forgiven but it must first be repented of and forsaken.  If persons who have divorced and remarried are allowed to fellowship with out first repenting of their sin of adultery this sends the wrong message to others in the body of Christ.  It tells them that adultery is allowed in the fellowship.  It tells those who are currently married that they may divorce their spouse and marry another person and no discipline will be administered.  It tells individuals that marriage is not truly a covenant relationship that lasts “as long as you both shall live”.  It sends the message that marriage is a temporary relationship that can be separated by man.  It conveys to others that vows taken before God may be broken.  

Some may claim that allowing sin to go unchecked shows that the church is compassionate and willing to forgive individuals who commit adultery.  The church should be willing to forgive all sin including adultery.  Like any other sin divorce and remarriage is forgivable.  Like any other sin remarriage after divorce is to be forsaken if a person wishes to be received into fellowship. 

Actions to be Taken 

In context with his teaching that leaven will leaven the entire batch of dough Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that believers are not to associate with others who profess to follow Christ but commit sexual immorality (I Cor. 5:9).  He specifically states that Christians are not to worry about (judge) those outside of the body of Christ who live in sin.  God will judge them (I Cor. 5:12).  Christians are to be concerned with (judge) the actions of those who claim to be Christians but do not live like Christians.  The remedy is to “remove wicked persons from among yourselves” (I Cor. 5:13). 

Though this action may seem harsh this is exactly what the Scriptures teach.  Those who commit adultery, which includes those who divorce their spouse and remarry, are to be encouraged to repent of their sin.  If they refuse to repent and continue to live in sin they are to be removed from fellowship.  The natural mind may come up with a myriad of excuses why those who sin should not be disciplined for their sin.  Paul warns that allowing persons to remain in fellowship without repenting of their sins are like leaven leavening the lump.


Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle.  All rights reserved.