This Week's Focus Passage

This Week’s Focus Passage: Matthew 16:12 ‘But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Matthew 16:12

‘But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’


    In the text that we are looking at this week, we are told that Jesus made it clear to the disciples that when He spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees that He was telling them to beware of the teaching of those men. How are we to reconcile that statement with another in the twenty-third chapter of this same gospel account, and verses one and two, where Jesus tells His audience, an audience that included His disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not.’ It seems on the surface that Jesus has contradicted Himself. This calls for a closer look. In the passage from chapter sixteen, the word rendered teaching could be, and often is, rendered doctrine. We would venture to say, with others, that while the connection between doctrine and teaching is apparent, they can not necessarily be and with certainty be declared to be the same thing. One’s doctrine should inform one’s teaching, and one’s teaching should be in agreement with one’s doctrine, yet this is not always the case among mankind for these things are, to a greater or lesser degree, affected by the remains of sin. When our Lord told His disciples, and ourselves, through this Scripture, to beware of the teaching of those Pharisees and Sadducees, He was most likely, making and allusion to the hypocrisy of their behavioral teaching. This would go far to explain how they could sit on Moses’ seat teaching and expounding the law which that patriarch had received directly from God, and yet applying it in such a way that their behavior was frequently inconsistent with what the law truly intended. For this reason, Christ in that twenty-third chapter already alluded to, solemnly imprecates their behavior in a series of denunciations beginning with the startling, ‘But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’ The title hypocrites was deserved by these men. Christ defends His accusation with examples of their hypocritical attitudes and patterns to which He had reference. These several charges could be summed up in the claim which He had already made when He said that, ‘They say and do not.’ 

    As Christ elsewhere spoke of those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and of those whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, when He asked, ‘Think ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans?’ So we might ask ourselves if these Pharisees are worse sinners than all others? Is it not the case of mankind that we are all naturally hypocrites? David has said that we all come forth from our mother’s womb speaking lies. Is this not almost the same thing as saying that we all come forth to the birth as hypocrites? How many times have we heard a parent tell a child, or an employer an employee, or a teacher a student, in effect, ‘Do as I say, don’t do as I do?’ have we never spoken some form of these words ourselves in our lifetime? Surely it is much easier to say than to do what is right and just. While we are naturally more comfortable sitting in the place of a judge than to be standing in the dock, as it were, it would be well for us to have James’ mirror before us that we may judge ourselves, and not to walk away forgetful of what manner of man we have just seen. May God help us by His grace to expunge every and all vestiges of Pharisaism that we may witness in that very mirror.

    Hypocrisy is not the sole property of the Pharisees. It evidently tainted the Sadducees as well. Even though the Sadducees greater concern was for the political well-being and continuation of their nation, they were not free of those Pharisaical appendages which so tenaciously cling to mankind.  Even so, this form of legalism and hypocrisy is not the sole property of those we think of as ‘Reformed.’ It is conspicuous in the attitudes and demeanor of, not only the ostensibly reformed, but in the lives of Baptists and Presbyterians alike; in the lives of Fundamentalist and Liberals equally; in the mannerisms and carriage of both Conservatives and Charismatics with like force; yea, with the Sabbatarian and the anti-sabbatarian with a similar vehemence. Must one necessarily be a member of any of the afore-mentioned groups in order to be a hypocrite? Indeed, is it not only likely, but apparent, that in the realm of politics, few are those who do not say one thing and do another? 

    A definition of Pharisaism offered by a renowned dictionary states that it is a, ‘hypocritical observance of the letter of religious or moral law without regard for the spirit of [of that law]; sanctimoniousness.’ In other words, one may be just as much a Pharisee or hypocrite with respect to their position toward any number of moral issues confronting society today as any religious person toward the teachings and tenets of their particular system. Yet, unlike ourselves, these have not been called to be salt and light in this world; may God help the child of God to be consistent in his or her life. May we be enabled daily to hold up before ourselves the mirror of the Word of God, and after pleading, ‘Search me, O God, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me,’ to be able to pray, ‘who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright, and I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah!      


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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