BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
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 the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (NLT).
However, it is used in a negative sense, in Matthew 16:5-12. In that passage, because the disciples of Jesus didn’t take bread along with them, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when He warned them: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (verses 6b NLT). He repeated the phrase in verse 11b. The same story is recorded in Mark 8:14-21. But Mark says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:15b NLT). 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 explained 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.
Many false teachings are 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 a “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 whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God. The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine 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. “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and 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). Many of these vicious wolves are 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 whom 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 through 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 commentators 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 Greek drama, from where the word used in the New Testament, hupokrites, is derived, a hupokrite was “an actor” or “a stage player.” Greek actors wore masks to conceal their true identities and play different roles on the stage.
The religious hypocrites who wanted to trap Jesus got to him and asked him whether it was right to pay tax or not. But “Jesus saw through their hypocrisy” (Mark 12:15b 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, “Why are you trying to trap me? 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 Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.’His reply completely amazed them” (NLT).
Hypocrisy in charitable deeds
Some people in the church today pretend 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. “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-2 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 of dry fasting and you’re about to start another round! What is that for? Probably 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: “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 tell you the truth, 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 in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, 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, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (NLT). It is only God who answers prayers. So why are you seeking the praise of men over your prayer and fasting? Will you listen to Jesus and stop it?
Hypocrisy in the latter days
1 Timothy 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 down to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the Lord, but then they worship Molech, too” (Zephaniah 1:5 NLT). Some people are 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, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 NLT).
Deal with the rottenness inside you, and stop pretending. 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 7:4-5).
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 12:9a 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 others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law” (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 that 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 God raised Him on 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 a palm tree and grow like a 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 of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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