(written and published March ’17)
The title of this article brings to the Christian believer’s mind an important point of spiritual distinction so necessary to be mastered internally by himself, in order to grow and mature properly as a disciple of Jesus Christ – that is, we must become competent to distinguish human intellect and reasoning in its religious forms from the wisdom of God and divine teachings. Paul deals in detail with this in his first epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor. 1:17 – 2:16) – here the apostle contrasts the wisdom of man with the wisdom of God, and the absolute dependence the believer must have on the Spirit of God given to him, in order to ever be confident he is receiving the thoughts of God from His word, that is, possessing the mind of Christ. Unfortunately, this process involving the Spirit and the word is so foreign and obscure to believers today, that most never recognize it or enter into it. It is easier to settle for the things of the flesh – human intellect, human reasoning, human wisdom, human education and academia, human scholarship – by these things we do away with the necessity of the ministry of the Spirit of God as our Teacher. Christendom has arrived at this state:
II Tim. 4:3-4 (NKJV)
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
If believers are not competent to distinguish what divine teaching is, what it looks like, they will stop desiring sound doctrine. The automatic result of this, basically by default, is the desiring and promoting of teachers who appeal to the flesh – those who make them feel good, who are easy to listen to, polished, well educated, who teach them according to their own selfish desires, those who understand me, who accept me the way I am. Today, Christendom has a form of godliness (II Tim. 3:5) – that is it, and there is no real power. Then the apostle gives this instruction: “And from such people turn away!” Yet today, we do not see many Christians obeying this advice.
When Jesus came to the Jews as their Messiah, the religious leaders of Israel were openly against Him. Their unbelief in who He was, caused their antagonism towards Him. In Matthew sixteen, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees uniting together, asking Jesus to show them a sign (Matt. 16:1-4). It is quite remarkable that these two groups of religious leaders, who opposed each other in their purpose and beliefs in Judaism, are seen banding together to oppose this One who was Jehovah/Messiah in their midst. Jehovah is the name by which God revealed Himself to Israel (Ex. 6:2-8) – the Lord God, the God of Israel (Ps. 72:18). The Messiah title refers to the Son of David, King of Israel, who would sit on the throne of David eternally (Ps. 89:3-4, 132:10-11, 17). Regardless of groups, unbelief is always willing to drop its differences and unite together against God and the One whom He sends. Jesus was the greatest sign from heaven they were ever going to see, and yet they ask for some other one – the irony of their unbelief. The religious leaders had learned to read the skies at night and morning, but they failed to discern the true moral condition of their own wicked and adulterous generation, and the impending judgment on it. The only sign that would be given to them, and this a sign they were destined to misread, would be his death and resurrection – this manifested their unbelief in who He really was, and the consequent judgment on Israel by God for rejecting Him.
The history of the Christian dispensation hasn’t proven better than the failure of the Jewish dispensation. Most Christians, and especially our religious leaders, are blind to the certainty of impending judgment from God falling on Christendom (I Pet. 4:17). Believers and religious leaders alike have failed to discern the true moral condition of the outward corporate professing church. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, our Christian leaders are guilty of thinking to highly of themselves, their own importance, and their own ministries and careers. Our discernment has returned to only being able to judge the evening and morning skies. How many examples do we find in scripture of different groups going on saying, “Peace, peace and safety,” when judgment from God was upon them? Having so little spiritual wisdom and discernment, we are oblivious to the true moral state of the group.
Matt. 16:5-12 (NKJV)
6 “And 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.”
7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”
8 But when Jesus perceived it, He said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have no bread? 9 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 you should 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.”
There are other subtler forms of unbelief, and an example of this we see in the same chapter with His disciples. It is sad to see the gross unbelief of so many religious leaders, and then how this is easily transmitted to the majority of those gathered around them – the leaders vehemently deny who Jesus really is, and the Jews, in general, fall short in their faith by saying He is the Baptist or some other prophet (Matt. 16:13-14). But the above passage shows how there can exist more subtle forms of unbelief among believers and disciples.
Jesus said unto them, ”Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” They did not understand Him; they reasoned among themselves; and whenever Christians begin to reason, they never understand anything. “It is because we have taken no bread.”
There is such a thing as sound spiritual thinking. The difference is that wrong reasoning always starts from man and tries to rise to God, while correct reasoning starts from God coming down to man. The natural (carnal) mind can only infer from its experience, and thus forms its ideas of what God must be. This is the basis of human speculation in divine matters; however, God is the source, strength and guide of the thoughts of faith. When Jesus hears they are discussing about bread, He immediately remarks, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?” Granted, the disciples weren’t even close to understanding what He meant about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees; still, I believe, He uses the opportunity to scold them of their little faith, if by chance they were correct to be reasoning about food (which they weren’t) – He says essentially, have you so soon forgotten the five loaves and the five thousand, or the seven loaves and the four thousand? It is as if they have so quickly forgotten who He is, who they were with, what He had already done.
How do I know God? From the bible, which is the revelation of Jesus Christ from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. I see Jesus there, the key-stone of the arch, the center of which all scripture speaks of; and unless the connection of Christ with everything is seen, nothing is understood correctly. This is the great fallacy – leaving out of our reasoning how God has revealed Himself in His Son. It is not the light behind the veil as in the Jewish system, but infinite blessing now that God has come to man, and man is brought to God. In the life of Christ I see God drawing near to man, and in His death man brought near to God. The veil is rent; all is out, of man on the one hand, and of God on the other, as far as God is pleased to reveal Himself to man in this world. Everything stands in the boldest relief in the life and death of Christ.
But disciples are prone to be very dull about such things today as they were then. What is our knowledge of God, now that we have a settled relationship with Him through Jesus Christ? And do we see Jesus as the source and means of that knowledge? Why did the disciples not consider this One who was walking with them? Would they have troubled themselves about loaves if they had thought correctly of Him? And how often do we worry about similar things today, forgetting who it is we are sons of and who it is we walk with? It is a form of unbelief, even among disciples. They were anxious about bread, about physical necessity! So soon they had forgotten His previous teaching on the mount about the birds of the air, the flowers of the field (Matt. 6:24-34) – this describes the Christian’s walk of faith in this world; it is trust and confidence that our heavenly Father loves us and already knows we need these things. So why worry about them? Why reason about them? It only shows a lack of faith and trust in God our Father!
How is it that you do not understand that I didn’t speak to you concerning bread, but that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then they understood He didn’t speak to them about the leaven of bread, or about physical want, but of the evil doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And this is His main point, the understanding He was attempting to teach His disciples. The evil leaven contained in much religious teaching, even today, is very subtle and deceptive. Jesus gives His disciples a stern warning to avoid such religious subtlety and danger.
And this is what Christians even now often misapprehend. They do not understand the hatefulness and unbelief of unsound doctrine. They are aware of great moral evils. If a person gets drunk or falls into any other gross sin, they know, of course, it is very wicked; but if the leaven of subtle and deceptive doctrine works, if it is the prideful humanistic leaven of Judaized or Arminianized Christian teaching, they do not feel or sense it, and are taken in by it. Why is it that disciples are more careful of that which mere natural conscience can judge, than of hidden doctrine which destroys the foundation of everything, both for this world and for that which is to come? What a serious thing that disciples should need to be warned of this by the Lord, and even then, not understand! He had to point out their little faith, their poor reasoning, and explain the real meaning to them. There was the darkening influence of unbelief, even among the disciples, making the physical body the great aim of blessing from God. Worrying about physical needs, they failed to see the far greater danger of corrupt and evil doctrines, which do menace so many individual souls in its many insidious forms. In Christendom’s history, the three measures of meal represent Christendom filling up to saturation with hidden teachings, evil and corrupting in their character (Matt. 13:33).