“Every word of God is pure,” but the same can’t be said of all the words human beings say about God’s words (Prov. 30:5, KJV). This is one of the problems Jesus called attention to in His earthly ministry. The religious leaders of His day bound heavy burdens on their followers, got distracted by seeking recognition, shut the kingdom against God’s people, greedily profited off the offerings made to God, misrepresented the truth, and focused on minutia while ignoring weighty matters of the law. In short, they were hypocrites (Matt. 23).
In Matthew 16, Jesus told His disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, KJV). The disciples were confused at first, but after some discussion they realized He wasn’t telling them to “beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:12, KJV).
How Leavening Works
The New Testament speaks of leavening representing hypocrisy, malice, and wickedness (Luke 12:1; 1 Cor 5:8). And when we consider the physical affect of a leavening agent like yeast, we see leaven as something souring, spreading, fermenting, and puffed-up.
Matthew Henry suggests that the warning “take heed and beware” in Matthew 16 is given because disciples are especially vulnerable to this type of deception. We can easily fall victim to those like the “Pharisees, who are great pretenders to devotion, and Sadducees, who pretend to a free and impartial search after the truth” (MHC on Matt. 16:5-12).
We’re not talking about a corrupting influence from outside the church. These people operate within, corrupting the doctrine that came direct from God. This practice is closely entwined with hypocrisy — playing a part that seems Godly but does not accurately show the state of their hearts. And there’s often deception involved as well. The one who’s spreading the leaven can be self-deceived into thinking that they’re right, and they’re also attempting to deceive others.
Antichrists Among Us
When we talk about the Matthew 16 passage, we usually apply it to being wary of church leaders who aren’t teaching pure, unleavened truth. And that is the context. We are meant to test the different things we hear to see if they line-up with God’s word.
Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3, WEB)
Out-right attacks on our faith are relatively easy to counter. The most pressing danger comes sneakily from within. Earlier in this letter, John wrote that many Antichrists “went out from us, but they didn’t belong to us” (1 John 2:18-19, WEB). We need to be careful who we listen to, even within the Christian churches.
Antichrist teachings won’t always be so easy to spot as someone blatantly rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. It might be them questioning His divinity. Or someone reinterpreting His doctrine so much that they’re preaching “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Or saying, “I don’t think Jesus really meant ____ when He said ____.”
Handling The Word of God
When church leaders are spreading leavened doctrine it affects their entire church. In fact, some people who’ve come into Christian churches might never have heard doctrine which wasn’t leavened at some point in the past and then spread until it became a denomination. That’s often the sort of church people who say, “I left Christianity because they don’t even follow their own holy book” came out of.
But it’s also dangerous if individual church members start adding leaven to the creed they hold. That can spread through a congregation just as easily as leaven that comes from church leaders, souring, puffing-up, and even dividing the church. So we each need to ask ourselves, “Is my devotion a show? Am I only pretending to a free and impartial search for the truth? Am I leavening God’s word?”
But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2, WEB)
We need to pray that the Lord open our eyes to any ways in which we handle His word deceitfully. Or, as another translation phrases it, if we’re “adulterating the word of God” with our own ideas that don’t line-up with unleavened doctrine (2 Cor. 4:2, LEB).
The Gospel According To Me
We aren’t given license to believe whatever we like and still call ourselves followers of Christ. We have to consistently check that are beliefs are in line with God’s teachings.
What? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone? If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:36-37, WEB)
Too many people say they’re following Jesus but are really practicing their own version of “the gospel according to me.” They take what they like from the Bible, add their favorite church traditions, layer in their own opinions, and then call that faith. But it’s not.
God defines how He wants to be worshiped. You don’t get to say you know better than He does what will honor Him. If you have a disagreement with the Bible, then you’re the one who’s wrong. And if you believe otherwise, then why even call yourself a Christian? If you won’t accept Yahweh Elohim as the authority in your life, then why call Him your God?
Whether we’re listening to a teacher or studying on our own, we must seek pure, unleavened truth. There is no other source for that than the Word of God, which comes to us in the Bible. The more time we spend within the pages of His word while praying that God would reveal to us what He wants us to learn the closer our own walk will line up with the pure, unleavened truth that is in Jesus Christ.