"In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
(Luke 12:1, emphasis added)
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John has compiled the first-hand experiences of the disciples with Jesus. It is such a blessing even for us these days to be able to read from the Word of God what Jesus himself had said one time or another.
I love the above verse which presents what Jesus said at some point in time. Here we find Jesus giving a warning to his disciples. Now, if you would look up the words of Jesus when he mentions the word "Beware", there are particularly three categories that are mentioned, two of which are repeated over and over in the gospels.
First, Jesus mentioned about false prophets. He has given a warning against false teachers that will eventually lead many to believing a different gospel. Second, Jesus mentioned about men, who will pretty much persecute the believers by delivering them up to councils and scourging them in the synagogues. Third, Jesus talks about the leaven of the Pharisees.
Interestingly, the third one is not a direct person. He didn't say beware of the Pharisees, but beware of the leaven, or the yeast of the Pharisees. I'd like to share with you in this post why I believe the third category is very special and needs our utmost consideration.
The yeast mentioned by Jesus was pertaining to the yeast used for baking bread. We know this because in Matthew 16, Jesus clarified to his disciples that he wasn't talking about literal yeast and baked bread, but of something else.
YEAST, as we all know it, is made up of unicellular fungi. Its function in baking is to ferment the sugars present in the flour. The fermentation process give off carbon dioxide and ethanol. When this happens, the CO2 becomes trapped within tiny bubbles and results in the dough expanding, or rising. It is very interesting that these very minute organism, when added in just small quantities, can cause an entire batch of dough to expand and rise.
I remember seeing this phenomenon first hand inside the bakery that my parents used to run. The dough, mixed with yeast, is placed in a warm room and left there for some time to allow the yeast to do its magic. The process doesn't really happen immediately. It expands the dough slowly. If left in the setting room for a longer period of time, the dough could rise to its maximum stretch depending on how much or how little yeast is placed in the batch.
Now Jesus specified that what he was talking about was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Why he considered them as such is because the Pharisees sought mainly to attract the attention and admiration of men. These group of men who were considered to be "set apart", under the pretense of maintaining God's law intact, has added "traditions" and burdensome instructions that were so numerous and trifling for the Jews.
They have managed to come up with innumerable regulations that were pretty much frivolous and of slight worth. They managed to come up with an exactly opposite conclusion to what Jesus aimed to teach as true piety. Jesus taught men that true piety "consisted not in forms, but in substance, not in outward observances, but in an inward spirit."
These Pharisees love to expect to see people show outward observances and condemn them so easily if they perceived not what they wanted to see. The spirit of their religion was summed up in a proud self-righteousness. Jesus clearly denounced them early on for their pride, covetousness and pretentious display of religiosity meant to impress others.
I believe this is why Jesus clearly warned against the Pharisees' yeast. There is that little, itty bitty seed of religiosity, that could slowly blow us up over time. If we aren't careful, our focus on forms and outward observances will become the spring board for a well-risen proud self-righteousness!
We have to look into our lives every so often in order to become aware of any little Pharisee head that might start to pop up. This is what Jesus meant when he said "BEWARE!", because this yeast could be very minute to become recognizable and it might just get the better of us in the end when we're already proud and become too self-righteous to even consider what 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 speaks of.
I believe there is a gauge for us to see if we already have the yeast of the Pharisees making OUR righteousness rise within us. If we become judgmental of others, not considering what is really truth, rather than striving to build up others, then we might need to sit in a corner and examine our hearts. If we become so critical of others based on the highly visible observances we expect to see, rather than considering the inward spirit of an individual, then we might need to hit the brakes to see if we're going too fast and too furious with our prideful self-righteousness.
When we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ and know God who is Love, then we ourselves must make sure that our love is genuine. Instead of becoming like the Pharisees in Jesus' time who were so quick to give out their opinion regarding matters as they perceived it to be, let us instead be rebuked by the Word of God and read Ephesians 4:29 again...
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
Let us not be deceived by our own religious masquerade. Let us not try to bake our spiritual bread the Pharisee way.
Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.