Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
We looked in the previous study at ‘the race’, we now turn to another word Paul uses: leaven. Leaven was used, in Bible days, in bread making, particularly in the fermentation process, so that the bread would rise. This process takes time, and so when the children of Israel remembered the Exodus it was with unleavened bread, in order that they would not forget that is was all done in haste Deut.16:3.
Once we get into the NT we see that leaven represents (typifies) a spiritual principle, which Paul now uses in connection to the Galatians’ situation. Paul uses this word in another epistle in relation to a particular problem in Corinth.
A2.1 Leaven of wickedness
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
I Cor. 5:1-13
In the Corinthian Church there was a man who had fallen into sexual immorality, and Paul was writing in order to apply the required discipline. His judgement was to put away that wicked person from the fellowship. Before proceeding it will be instructive to note that in the second epistle, Paul calls for his restoration after having come to repentance. The point being that discipline is meant to bring restoration to the one who has fallen. II Cor. 2:1-11
Apart from being a tool of restoration for the fallen believer discipline is also for the sake of the fellowship. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Leaven makes the bread to rise and the sin of this person would, if allowed, have spread and infected the whole assembly. Hence the need to cast out the wicked one.
We are to keep our Passover as the Jews did theirs. This does not mean that we engage in the Jewish ritual of Passover, as some would have us do, but rather apply the spiritual principals that the Jewish feast represents. We are told clearly here that Jesus is our Passover and our keeping it is to do with that fact.
When the Jews had the Passover they would search their houses diligently to cast out all the leaven that was in it. So likewise we are to partake of our Passover, that is JESUS, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness. In other words we are not to allow any evil to be part of our life in Christ. We are delivered by new birth from sin, but we are responsible not to introduce any sin back in. And just as the Jews kept their Passover without leaven so we are to keeps ours in sincerity and truth.
A2.2 Leaven of the Pharisees & Sadducees
And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Jesus also refers to leaven, but this time in connection with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Reading the above account the conclusion we are brought to is that this leaven is that of doctrine. But what was the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees? The NT leaves us in no doubt as to what these are:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
The Pharisees had the reputation for adding to the Mosaic law. Here Jesus says that they were heavy burdens and they were grievous to be borne, laying heavy weights on the shoulders of men and women, yet not helping to move the weights themselves! What a contrast to Jesus’ burden, which is light and easy! Matt. 11:28-29. Later in Galatians Paul also mentions the fact that these false brethren care nothing for the law and regulations they seek to impose on people, but rather to glory in those whom they seek to control, Gal.6:12-13.
If the Pharisees’ doctrine was to add to the law and burden people with regulations, the Sadducees subtracted. About the only thing we are told of them in scripture is that they denied angel, spirit and resurrection. They appear to have been the sceptics of the day. Thus we see that the Pharisees’ doctrine leads to legalism and that of the Sadducees to unbelief
A2.3 A little leaven
So why does it matter? Surely a ‘small’ sin won’t be harmful to a large congregation, nor a small error in doctrine be that important will it? As to the so called small sin, once allowed a sinful practice will spread, and eventually, if allowed, be accepted as normal. Thus an assembly, instead of being an expression of the beauty and holiness of Her Lord, becomes a defiled temple full of wickedness. The Lord wants a Bride that is holy and without wrinkle, whilst we have no power to cleanse the body we do have the responsibility to see that sin is not allowed in, and apply discipline if necessary. Take for example, Peter’s dealings with Ananias and Sapphira Acts.5:1-11
But what about doctrine, surely a bit of error here or there is not going to harm anyone, is it? First of all we are talking here, not of peripheral issues but rather the basics, the fundamentals, the essentials of the Faith. and anyway why call it leaven?
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
Here we have, at least part of the answer. When writing to the Romans Paul says that they had obeyed the form of doctrine that was delivered to them. The teaching they had received had turn into practice, in their case obedience to the truth. Teaching leads to some form of practice. False teaching will lead to false practice. The smallest tendency to err will lead to larger errors in time; as the old Chinese proverb says: a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Let it also be understood that we are here talking of the basics, the fundamentals of the Faith, and not the non essential peripherals about which men seem to endlessly argue, to the detriment of many and benefit of no one.
It only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole lump. Whether it be sin in practice or in doctrine, both will cause the whole lump to be infected. Once a small point is conceded then it is only a matter of time before the next step, and so on until false doctrine and practice is rife amongst the believers. Take our previous example of believers insisting that Christians ought to partake of the Jewish Passover (despite of what we have said about it above) If believers did so, what next? The feast of Dedication? Atonement? And then what? Circumcision? One step leads to another , so let us not take even the smallest of smallest first steps.
Let us then be single minded and not allow any leaven, whether it be a practice or doctrine to creep in. In Jude’s words.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Jude vv. 3 & 20 – 21