Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Leaven of the Pharisees

The Problem

Jesus warned his disciples about the "leaven of the Pharisees":

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”
But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matt 16:5-12).  

It's clear that the "leaven" or doctrinal teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees can also attack the church and must be guarded against.  Christ cannot mean simply that we should discern the presence of the persons of Pharisees and Sadducees in the church, and avoid them.  He must mean that we must beware of being infected with their kind of doctrine ourselves.  It's clear that most of the Pharisees and Sadducees were blind to their own sin, as they opposed the Person of Christ and his teaching.  They cannot discern their blindness at all, as they make false judgments in the name of "righteousness."  And, so we also conclude that when this "leaven" affects us, this same blindness begins to grow over us and turn our spiritual vision and Christian behavior into paths more characteristic of the Pharisees than of Christ.

So, we need to investigate what this self-deception is, and we need to learn how to deal with it.  As true believers, we ought to have power by the Spirit, to become aware of self-deception, and to begin to fight against it.

The Law of God

A first principle of Pharisaical leaven has to do with the Law of God.  In Romans, chapter 2 we observe Paul rebuking those who judge others:

Rom 2:1 "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things."  

Paul can never mean that people, even believers, give up all judgment.  What Paul is talking about is the propensity to willfully find fault in others, with the intention of destroying them.  This fleshly propensity is fed by knowledge of the Law of God: 

Rom 2:17 "Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. 21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?"  

The flesh, in a self-deceptive manner, feeds on the doctrine of the Law of God, in order to apply it to others, but not to itself.  Blame-shifting has been characteristic of mankind since the Fall.  It is subtle, because the Law that is taught or preached according to this doctrinal leaven may indeed be truth, but it is preached from a hidden, unacknowledged false motive.  It is preached to tear down or subordinate others.  The leaven of the Pharisees thus masquerades in the conscience as Truth.  But, depravity secretly lies behind the real reasons that this "truth" is being applied to others, in order to bring them to judgment.

James speaks of this:

 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

It is certain that the desires for pleasure -- the lusts that James criticizes -- are not manifested outwardly in so carnal a manner, but are mostly put forth as righteous judgments!  After all, prayer is part of their lustful activity!  Yet, it all stems from depravity!  It is clear then, that simply speaking the truth, outwardly and literally, is not necessarily a spiritual activity!  The hidden reasons for the speaking must be evaluated.  Why is the Law used to judge another?  It cannot be simply that the other person is wrong.  There is a Pharisaical reason why that other person is being brought to judgment, and it cannot be simply because they are sinning!

James goes on to say:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

The conclusion is that the hidden depravity in fleshly hearts -- even in believers' hearts -- can parade as "righteousness," masquerading as having the right to judge, but, in spite of all, with the secret intent to blame and judge the other rather than to minister the gospel to him.  All the outward warfare of mutual judgment wears the garment of righteousness, even while its engine is secret inward depravity.


How do I get the log out of my own eye, especially since the hidden motives of my own heart are mostly hidden from me?

A hint appears in the text of Romans 2:

21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.

Please notice how Paul indicates that the "judges" are equally guilty of the sin that they judge in others.  He clearly implies that the false "judges" are guilty of the very type of sins that they judge in others!  Those who preach the law of sexual morality, but do so in a legal and non-gospel spirit, and who have the hidden intent to blame and destroy such sinners instead of save them, are guilty of the very sins that they disparage in the "sinners." 

There is a clue for self-diagnosis here.  It is this principle:

The very sins I am most exercised about when I complain, inwardly or outwardly, about my spouse, my church, my pastors, my boss at work, my government, etc., are, in some parallel manner, the very sins that I'm committing against God, and against my spouse, etc., while hiding them from myself!

We can at least begin to read off our own secret sins from the judgments we apply to others, and begin to discern the secret motives of false and godless judgment we bring against one another.  Repentance can begin here.  And, God help us in this process, because we cannot deliver ourselves!  Only the grace of the Holy Spirit can deliver us, and give us a righteous vision.