What was so wrong with their teachings? They were religious, after all. They prayed publicly. They gave money to the poor and homeless, and they supported financially their place of worship. They referenced the law of Moses, the prophets and followed the commentaries of their elders and rabbis. They were devout. So what was the problem at its core? What was this “leaven”?
Christ warned: “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk 12: 1). In a word, they were hypocrites. “Hypocrite” in biblical Greek means “a pretender.” Christ said as much. “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15: 7-9).
There it is. The Pharisees claimed to be teachers sent from God but were only teaching “commandments of men.” Other translations flesh out what they were teaching: “human rules (NIV), precepts of men (RSV), human commands (CSB), and man-made ideas (NLT). They were hypocrites, for they disguised themselves as God’s representatives. They “transformed themselves into angels of light,” but were only teaching false doctrines out of human imaginations.
These doctrines of men are the “old leaven” that we are admonished to get rid of. “Purge out therefore the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened” (I Cor 5: 7-8). We are the unleavened bread; God has faith that we will respond and become un-leavened bread, for He calls things that “be not as though they were” (Rom. 4: 17). We must repent of false concepts that will permeate our whole being, as yeast spreads throughout the whole lump of dough. We are the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Therefore the leaven that must be repented of is insincerities, hypocrisies, and falsehoods.
Leaven consists of the list of errors in our worship. God looks at the intent of our hearts. Coming into Christ, we carry old baggage with us. We do not intend to worship Him with false concepts and beliefs about Him. Growing up, we were all taught many false doctrines about God and His plan. However, the gravest error is to cling to them rather than proving from the Scriptures their veracity or not. We must repent of the errors if we are to grow unto full maturity (perfection). If we really desire to go all the way to the throne room to be in His presence, if we sincerely want to walk with Christ as Peter, James, and John did, we have to get honest with ourselves about the leaven and purge it out. Getting rid of the false doctrines is a major part of the apostles’ doctrine of “repentance from dead works.”
Those that don’t purge out the old leaven will be like the five foolish virgins who had no oil in their lamps and were not ready. They will be like those who asked the Lord, Did we not cast out devils in your name and do many mighty works in your name? And He will say to them, Depart from Me; I never knew you. There will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who had a chance to be very close to the King and blew it. Why? Because they were stubborn, and they would not study to be approved of God to be one of His kings in His Kingdom. They hardened their hearts and would not repent of the old false concepts about God.
So which teachings about God are false and have got to go? Which comfortable traditions come from the imaginations of the human mind and which things are from the mind of Christ? How are we to know for sure? The answers will come from the written Word, which is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine…” In this worldly hothouse of emotions, we will quietly trust and “watch to see what He will say” to us out of His word (Hab. 2: 1). For in the end, that is really all we have. In the end, that is really all we need, for Christ is the Word now being made flesh and dwelling among us–again. Kenneth Wayne Hancock