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

Luke 11:53-12:3 – Be Careful How You Bake

bad bread

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed nor hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (NIV)

One Sunday, many years ago when I was a young pastor, I went to a church to fill-in and preach sermons both in the morning and evening. I had believed my morning sermon went quite well, until I walked into the church building for the evening sermon only to have the deacon at the door exclaim to me, “Man, did you stir up the pot!” When I asked him to explain, he said that a lot of people were upset because I walked around and didn’t stay behind the pulpit, thus losing my authority; and, what is more, I did not preach from the King James Version of the Bible. The deacon went on to explain that some complained I talked too much about grace and not enough about God’s law.

Indeed, much like Jesus in our Gospel lesson for today, I ended up getting deluged with questions before the worship service began. Frankly, I had just been myself, and it caused trouble to the point of families in the church being divided over what I did and did not do. So, I decided on the spot to purposely cause more trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle. I, of course, never returned to that church.

In biblical times, yeast was a common symbol for evil, which is one reason why the Jews ate unleavened bread.  Jesus was trying to get the point across to his disciples that, like yeast, just a little bit of duplicitous teaching can have the far-reaching effect of distrusting God.

It takes only a pinch of hypocrisy to work through the whole batch of dough.

Not long before this encounter with the religious leaders, Jesus had done the miraculous feeding of the five-thousand people. With only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus fed a multitude – and even had leftovers afterwards. The math lesson that Jesus explained to the disciples at the time about the baskets of food they had gathered was that a little bit of Jesus goes an incredibly long way.

A small amount of Christ’s compassion was able to feed thousands of hungry people.

So, the issue really gets down to the ingredients. Are we baking the bread of our lives with compassion or hypocrisy? Speaking from my own experience, dealing with hypocrisy and hypocritical folks is a huge drag. Unless you can be on their page of promoting themselves and their agenda, they can make life downright miserable. Conversely, it feels like the balm of healing to be around compassionate people who are authentic and genuine with no pretense or posturing to get in the way of enjoyable relationship.

Eventually, sooner or later, the little bit of hypocrisy in the bread will get eaten. And it will taste awful. Like Ellie Mae Clampett’s homemade biscuits from the 1960’s show, Beverly Hillbillies, you might not even be able to bite into them because they are so hard and nasty. To avoid this, we need to be vigilant about the preparation process before anything unsavory gets into the oven of our lives. Enjoying a good bite of warm soft compassionate bread happens when we are careful and attentive to Jesus, the real source of mercy and grace. Jesus has the best recipe I know. Hypocritical religious teachers, not so much. Their bread is half-baked, at best, and not fit for consumption.

How do we remain on guard against hypocrisy and attentive to genuine compassion?

  1. Use the cookbook. Becoming familiar with Holy Scripture informs us as to the proper ingredients for baking. A straightforward reading of the Gospels enables us to focus on Christ’s compassionate and finished work, and not hypocrisy and keeping up religious appearances. With the help of the Master Chef we are able to: see the internal pain and hurt behind the outwardly obnoxious behavior of a co-worker; love a relative even though they have offended us; have a spiritual conversation with a neighbor; freely give to others what we have freely received; and, so much more. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NIV)
  2. Avoid condemning other’s methods. Be a champion of grace, not judgment. When in doubt about what to do or say, always default to grace because the world spins on the axis of mercy and love, not hypocritical judgments. Cooking and eating are meant to be enjoyable experiences, not frustrating encounters. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV)
  3. Trust your nose. If you intuitively sense something does not pass the smell test, then be wary of putting it into your bread. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV)
  4. Be vigilant about conversations. The interactions we have with others while making our bread are significant. If you would not say something to someone’s face, then absolutely do not say it behind their back. Secret recipes in the form of hidden agendas are the stuff of hypocrisy. “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” (Ephesians 4:29, CEB)

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pure and pleasing to the Lord our God.

Blessed God forgive me for those times I have been two-faced and hypocritical. I want to honor you with every word that comes from my mouth and every action I take throughout the day. Holy Spirit give me a humble heart that lives to glorify you. Help me to become aware when I am being judgmental of others. Thank you that you have wild and abundant grace for me that will not cease, will not end, and will not let me go. Teach me your ways and help me be receptive to them, so I will not fall through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.