Matthew 16:5-12 – Be Careful of Bad Teaching

Do not be deceived
“Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you do not understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (NIV)

I tend to think in metaphors, which is probably one reason I like the teaching of Jesus so much. While on this earth, he used a range of metaphors from common everyday life to communicate his point. Seems as though the disciples were more concrete thinkers.

Yeast was a common symbol for evil, which is why the Jews ate unleavened bread.  Jesus was trying to get the point across to his disciples that, like yeast, even just a little bit of unhealthy teaching can have far-reaching effects. Partaking of bad teaching works through the whole batch of dough and ruins the spiritual life.

We might think that after seeing Jesus heal the sick, raise a paralyzed man, cure the blind, restore the demon-possessed, walk on water, and feed the masses with only a few loaves of bread that his disciples would be clamoring with praise and responding with a big “Wow! Look at what Jesus did!  Tell us what to do next!”  Instead, they stood around mumbling about how to interpret the great feeding of the four thousand.

The math lesson Jesus explained to the disciples about the baskets of food that they had gathered was that the less the disciples had and the bigger their problem, the more Jesus did.  Jesus Math adds up to grace.  And grace means that who we are, or are not, and what we have, or do not have, is immaterial; what matters is that we have Jesus.  We give him what little we have, along with ourselves, and let him do the work.

We must avoid the trap and the temptation of thinking, “If only I had ___; If only I were ___.”  This is unsound doctrine because it denigrates the image of God within us and the good gifts God has already given to us, as if we ourselves are not enough. Yet, even if we have next to nothing, with few abilities, when offering it to Jesus, he turns it into a miraculous bounty of blessing for the world.

Seeing ourselves, our relationships, our stuff, and our world through the person and work of Jesus Christ is our task.  It does not take great powers of interpretation to see that the times are evil and bad information gets disseminated and spread.  What is more difficult for us is discerning that there is a great opportunity for mission and service amid this decaying world.

We will miss that wonderful opportunity if we partake of bad teaching. It is imperative that we feed upon sound teaching and be very discerning about who we listen to and what they are really saying to us. Words which are heavy with judgment and light on grace are to be suspect because such teaching is antithetical to the gospel. Instruction which sets apart and demonizes groups of people or characterizes certain individuals as monsters or animals is completely out of step with the way of Jesus Christ.

Wolf in Sheep Clothing

We are to be on our guard against any teaching which places an unrealistic and dispassionate heavy load of guilt and shame upon people. We must be vigilant to not accept teaching that plays upon people’s fear and twists reality, making groundless and unsubstantiated claims without evidence. In short, the Holy Scriptures are not to be used as a club to beat people into submission toward our way of thinking and acting.

The spiritual abuse and objectification of others by using the Bible is a terrible condition which unfortunately exists in today’s world. The sad reality is that there are people who engage in harassing others by using God’s Holy Word. People have been created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect and civility, regardless of their creed, color, or condition.

So, let me be clear and deliberate about the use and abuse of God’s revelation to us:

I do not condone any use of the Bible which seeks to intimidate, bully, impede, or affect any person’s ability: to work effectively at their jobs, to worship joyfully at their church, or to live without fear of being blacklisted or red-lined to the periphery of society.

I do not condone any use of the Bible which intends to control either by threat or by use of physical force any person, their family, and/or their property through inducing fear.

I do not condone any use of the Bible which justifies touching any person without their consent, or coerces, or physically forces another person to engage in a sexual act against their will.

I reject any use of the Bible which encourages any sort of hate crime, act of violence, or hate speech against any person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, or religion.

I reject any use of the Bible by any clergy and/or church leadership which demeans and marginalizes women in their basic humanity, role, function, or leadership.

I reject any use of the Bible by any church member and/or attender which demeans and discounts the worldwide Christian community.

I uphold any use of the Bible which seeks to communicate its theology and message gently, carefully, graciously, and lovingly for the spiritual edification and healing of all people.

I uphold any use of the Bible which intends to cultivate one’s own soul and develop a teachable spirit.

I uphold any use of the Bible which looks for truth, wisdom, beauty, and humility.

I champion use of the Bible for both personal and corporate encouragement.

I champion use of the Bible for critical inquiry, scrutiny, and learning.

I champion use of the Bible for all people, regardless of age, including genuine seekers and spiritual misfits, as well as the hurt, abused, lonely, lost, confused, and concerned.

Soli Deo Gloria

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