Not to boast or anything, but I am a pretty fair cook if I do say so myself. One of the things I like to make is yeast bread. I love the feel of the fresh dough as I knead it to develop the gluten so the bread will rise. I love the smell of the yeast as it does its thing, creating tiny pockets of gas in the glutinous lump of dough. I love to slice the first slice while the bread is still hot from the oven, load it with lots of butter and let it melt into the yeasty goodness and enjoy it with nothing else.
In making bread, one wants to take care to properly nurture the yeast in order for it to most efficiently do its work. Warm liquids – not hot or cold – promote the rapid growth of the yeast while sugar provides nourishment as does the starch in the flour. While rising, one wants to place the dough, properly covered, in a warm place so as to encourage the growth of the yeast.
Yeast was very familiar to people in Bible days. They used it all the time except during the Passover – the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yeast was not hard to come by. All one has to do is mix some flour and water and allow it to stand uncovered for a few days until it ferments and one has “sourdough” starter. An “impurity” (yeast) finds its way from the air into the exposed mixture and changes it. This probably (if you’ll pardon the pun) gave “rise” to the idea of yeast as a “corrupting” agent.
But there are kinds of “yeast” that one does not want to allow to exist, much less to grow. The Bible sometimes speaks of leaven in an unfavorable way. Jesus warned His disciples of the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6).
The disciples at first did not understand what He meant. They thought He was speaking about bread. Verse 12 of the same chapter tells us that they finally came to realize that He was talking about the teaching of these Jewish sects. An erroneous idea – a corrupting influence – once embedded in the mind will keep working until the whole thought process of an individual becomes affected. And once that idea begins to be accepted among Jesus’ followers it will continue to work until many come under its pernicious influence and ultimate damnation.
When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church he had to deal with an issue of sin within their number. In doing so, he compares sin to yeast. One man was involved in immorality but the church hadn’t dealt with the problem. They were going on as though nothing was wrong. In effect, they were proud, boasting that they were a good, sound, pure church.
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Among these people, immorality and pride were two “yeasts” that threatened to destroy the purity of the church. It could not be allowed to grow unchecked. It had to be “cleansed” or “purged” out of the church. If the man would not repent, they were to withdraw themselves from him so as to nullify the influence of evil among themselves.
Paul urged them to “celebrate the festival” – a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover – with “unleavened bread.” The Passover was the observance in which all yeast and yeast risen bread was removed from all the houses in the land. This was done in memory of their hasty departure from the land of Egypt when God delivered them from slavery.
Paul, in writing to the Corinthians evokes this feast to remind them that they had been cleansed from their sins and that they were to “celebrate the festival.” This was not the Passover to which he refers, but the whole of their lives for whom our “Passover Lamb” has been slain. The leaven they were to cleanse from their spiritual houses was the bread made with the “leaven of malice and evil.” Instead, they were to celebrate the feast with the bread made without yeast – the bread of sincerity and truth. The old leaven by which they formerly had lived their lives had permitted deception and lying – the essence of hypocrisy! Paul is saying here that Christians must be genuine and uncorrupted by the taint of sin.
Hypocrisy is a corrupting influence among God’s people. Paul related a problem that had occurred soon after the first Gentile converts had been made. Peter had accepted the Gentiles and would go into their homes and eat with them until some Jewish brethren came along. He would then withdraw himself from the Gentiles for fear of upsetting the Jews who were insisting on the Gentiles being circumcised.
“For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:12-13).
Others were affected by the actions of Peter. Other Jewish brethren and even Barnabas were “led astray” by their hypocrisy. Hypocritical, insincere actions offered as genuine reverence is a great deterrence to belief. People can see through the charade and are repelled by it. People know what a genuine Christian is supposed to look like and they know a hypocrite “ain’t” one!
Of course there are those who use hypocrites in the church as a handy excuse for not being a Christian, but it is a pretty lame excuse. Instead of looking to Christ as the foundation of faith, or to the best examples of Christians that can be found, they look at the poorest excuse of a Christian and refuse to believe in the One who can save them. Hypocrisy does create a hindrance to the gospel. Let us purge out the old leaven – whatever it may be and live open, sincere, pure lives of genuine faith and loving service.