BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“Later, after they crossed to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring any food. ‘Watch out!’ Jesus warned them. ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They decided he was saying this because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said, ‘You have so little faith! Why are you worried about having no food? Won’t you ever understand? Don’t you remember the five thousand I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of food that were left over? Don’t you remember the four thousand I fed with seven loaves, with baskets of food left over? How could you even think I was talking about food? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about yeast or bread but about the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12 NLT).
Figuratively, yeast or leaven is used in the Bible in both positive and negative ways to talk about influence. The natural yeast is added to flour to ferment it and make it rise. Once added, it is not visible, but its influence is powerful. In Matthew 13:33, yeast is used in a good sense when Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough” (NLT).
However, it is used in a negative sense, in Matthew 16:5-12 above. In that passage, because the disciples of Jesus didn’t take bread along with them, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when he asked them to “take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” The same story is recorded in Mark 8:14-21. Whereas Mark says, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:16 NLT), Matthew says, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” They are both saying the same thing as Herod and his courtiers were said to be generally Sadducees.
Jesus wasn’t talking about bread; after all, He had miraculously fed 5,000 men with the little meal available which He multiplied (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:11-17; John 6:1-14). Similarly, Jesus had fed 4,000 men the same way (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10).
Jesus’ reference to the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees was not about bread. In verse 12 of Matthew 16, Jesus explains what He meant by the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees – their false teachings. Jesus was actually talking metaphorically about the influence that the wrong teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees could have on them just as the natural yeast or leaven influences a food it is added to. And there are many false teachings going on in the body of Christ today that believers need to beware of. Every teaching must be cross-checked with the Bible, to be sure it is a sound doctrine and not the opinion of the “man of God.”
Don’t expose yourself to wrong or false teachings; they’ll influence you negatively. It is not the standing or popularity of a minister that determines the correctness or soundness of his teachings; it is the Bible; the celebrity status of no “man of God” does not in any way authenticate his teachings. The Bible is the benchmark; it’s the barometer.
Paul did not condone false teaching, and no Christian should. Hear what he told Timothy, his protégé in the ministry: “When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those who are teaching wrong doctrine. Don’t let people waste time in endless speculation over myths and spiritual pedigrees. For these things only cause arguments; they don’t help people live a life of faith in God. The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-5 NLT).
When Paul met with the Ephesian elders at Miletus to bid them farewell, he warned them about false teachers that would later do great havoc to the church. “And now beware! Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock — his church, purchased with his blood — over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you — my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you” (Acts 20:28-31 NLT). There are many of these vicious wolves in the church today doing great damage.
Wolves are carnivorous animals, flesh-eaters, related to the jackals and domestic dogs, and are known for possessing “keen intelligence, skilled hunting, and highly organized social structure.” False teachers are dangerous to the church. Paul warned the Ephesian elders of false teachers he likened to vicious or savage wolves. We have many of such today in sheep’s clothing. You must beware of them, just as Jesus said; and Paul also. Don’t let them influence you negatively; don’t let them destroy you by their unbiblical teachings.
Just as Paul warned the Ephesian elders about false teachers as we read in Acts 20:28-31, these false teachers actually came into that church in Ephesus. In the letter to the church in Ephesus that the LORD wrote to the seven churches of Asia Minor through John, the church in Ephesus was commended for testing those who claimed to be apostles but were found to be liars (Revelation 2:2).
That church would have been deceived by these impostors but the leadership of the church must have been spiritually sensitive. The church didn’t allow this satanic infiltration of her fold. The same church was also praised for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect in the early church. Some scholars have said that members of this sect were possibly followers of Nicolas, listed among the seven deacons in Acts 6:5. Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch – a Gentile who first converted to Judaism before converting to Christianity.
The Nicolaitans were injurious to the early church. The church in Pergamos did not seem to have been able to ward off this heretical sect as much as the church in Ephesus did. In the letter to the church in Pergamos, the Bible says that the church had among them those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which God hated (Revelation 2:15),
Woe unto hypocrites!
Jesus also talked about the yeast of the Pharisees in Luke 12:1-3, and here reduced it to their hypocrisy. So to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees was to beware of their hypocrisy. In His ministry, Jesus had to speak against this yeast – the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Pharisees were synonymous with hypocrisy. In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced woe on the scribes and the Pharisees – “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Verses 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29) The scribes of Jesus’ day were also called lawyers – the teachers of the law, the experts of the Mosaic Law, which governed the civil and religious lives of the Jewish people. In the Bible, the scribes were usually associated with the Pharisees, a religious society and political party with a reputation for pretentious holiness and emphasis on the observance of the law in accordance with the scribes’ interpretation.
In Luke 20:20, the chief priest and the scribes wanted to seize Jesus on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous” (Luke 20:20a NKJV). Did you see that? They only pretended to be righteous but were not. A hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be what (or who) he is not. In the Greek drama, from where the word used in the New Testament, hupokrites, is derived, a hypocrite was someone who would wear a mask and played a part on the stage, mimicking the speech, body language, and behavior of the character portrayed in a play. But no matter how perfect he was, he was just an imitator, not the real person.
These religious hypocrites who wanted to trap Jesus got to him and asked him whether it was right to pay tax or not. But Mark 12:15 says, “Jesus saw through their hypocrisy” (NLT). He knew they were setting a trap for Him. He knew they had an ulterior motive. They were insincere; they were not real. Verses 15-17 say, “‘Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you. When they handed it to him, he asked, ‘Whose picture and title are stamped on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. ‘Well, then,’ Jesus said, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.’ This reply completely amazed them” (NLT).
Hypocrisy in charitable deeds
There are still many people in the church today, pretending, as it was in the day of Jesus. Make sure you’re not a hypocrite and don’t be fooled by any. Jesus was not fooled. Hypocrites do their charitable deeds to call attention to themselves. Their giving is not because they love to give. There is no reward for them. “Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to someone in need, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do — blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I assure you, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-3 NLT). You must be careful that you’re not a hypocritical giver.
Hypocrisy in prayer and fasting
Jesus also condemned hypocrisy in praying and fasting. Imagine that! Are you praying and fasting to show off? Are you quick to tell people you’ve been on prayer and fasting for a certain number of days? Or maybe you’re always announcing that you’ve just finished a marathon dry fasting and you’re about starting another round? What is that for? You want to boost your ego and earn people’s respect? There is no reward for you other than the applause of men that you receive. Hear what the Master said: “And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6 NLT).
Jesus continued with this thought in verses 16-18, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you” (NLT). It is only God who answers prayer; so, why should you play to the gallery; why seek the praise of men over your prayer and fasting? Will you listen to Jesus and stop this circus?
Hypocrisy in the latter days
1Timothy 4:2 says in the latter days, some will depart from the faith, and will, among other things, be speaking lies in hypocrisy. We are already in the last days. You must beware of the hypocrisy of those around you, those who relate with you. Don’t follow their hypocrisy; otherwise, you will be led astray. Galatians 2:13 talks about how Peter exhibited a form of hypocrisy that led others astray and how Paul confronted him. That was Peter, the great apostle! Because of one reason or the other, if one is not careful, it is easy to be a hypocrite even if just for a short time.
Zephaniah 1:5 talks about the idolatry, and indeed hypocrisy of the people of Judah. “For they go up to their roofs and bow to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the LORD, but then they worship Molech, too. So now I will destroy them!” (Zephaniah 1:5 NLT) There are many people like that in the church today living in duplicity: one leg in God and another leg in Satan. They claim to be worshipping the Living God but are also fellowshipping with the devil.
Ensure you’re not a hypocrite – a Pharisee! Be sincere, be genuine. Beware of play-acting – that’s what hypocrites do. They appear clean outside but they are rotten inside. Jesus says, “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs — beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 NLT).
Deal with the rottenness, inside you, and stop playing to the gallery. Don’t concentrate on pointing out the faults or sins of others. First, remove the plank in your own eyes before you try to remove the speck in the eyes of others (Luke 6:45-42; Matthew 7:5).
Walk in love; no hypocrisy
Beware of hypocrisy, by others; and get rid of it in your life. Don’t become a victim of hypocrisy, and don’t be a perpetrator. Walk in love, towards all, both friends and foes. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matthew5:43-48; Luke 6:35). That’s God’s concept of love. With the God-kind of love, you can never go wrong. And the Bible is not talking about hypocritical love but sincere love. Romans 12:9 warns, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NKJV). But why is love so important? It’s important because loving is obeying all God’s laws. “Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements” (Romans 13:10 NLT).
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T.O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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