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11. The Parable of the Leaven

– Chapter 11 –

The Parable of the Leaven

Matthew 13:33

Montreal, August 27, 1978


Today we look at the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:33, ESV)

The church will be corrupted by the world

In the previous parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Lord Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God will spread throughout the world. But notice the perfect balance of his teaching. Just in case his disciples get too euphoric over the fact that the sun will never set on the kingdom of God, and that they will reign with him, he brings in a counterbalance with the Parable of the Leaven. Whereas the Parable of the Mustard Seed says that the kingdom will spread throughout the world in this age, the Parable of the Leaven says that as the kingdom extends into the world, the world will also extend into the church.

The Lord Jesus foresaw all this. How true it is that the church is being corrupted by the ideas of the world, by the ways of the world. The result is a situation of interpenetrat­ion between them, a mixing of the world and the church, of which Jesus warns us most seriously.

Here we have yet another parable presented in only one verse, and it is amazing how the Lord Jesus can say every­thing in that one verse, whereas most of us take a long time just to say one thing! The challenge for us is that in order to bring out all the riches in that one verse, we have to say a great deal, otherwise we would read it and see nothing. What do you see in this verse? What is it saying exactly? We can imagine the Lord Jesus saying to his disciples:

Jesus: “Do you see the woman in the backyard?”

The disciples: “Yes, we see her.”

“Do you see that she is kneading flour?”

“Yes, we see that.”

“What is she making? Several loaves of bread and some cakes?”

“Yes, we see that.”

“Do you see what she is doing? She takes a small lump of leaven — which is yeast — and puts it into the flour. She kneads the flour so that the leaven mixes into the flour and leavens the whole lump.”

Today you have self-rising flour which has leaven inside the flour, but in ancient days, they didn’t have self-rising flour. Many would use leaven (yeast) to get good baking results. They would mix the leaven into the flour until the whole lump of dough is leavened. Those of us who make bread would know what that would do. When you mix in leaven and put the dough in a warm place, not too hot and not too cold, the dough will rise. It is getting filled with air, getting puffed up, and then it becomes nice and fluffy, very crumbly and soft. You now have a nice leavened loaf of bread.

Leaven represents the world

What is the important spiritual teaching of this parable that the Lord Jesus is showing his disciples? There are only two ways to expound leaven in this parable.

One way is to say that the leaven is God’s work, and the bread is the world. In this picture, the church is the leaven that works inside the bread, and spreads its influence throughout the world. This is simply another picture of the Parable of the Mustard seed, so it is not telling us anything we have not already learned from the previous parable. If this is what today’s parable means, then the message is not even as clear as in the previous parable, because it doesn’t actually tell us in what ways the church spreads through the world.

The whole picture becomes too imprecise, and we are left with no real definitions. What exactly do we mean by “the influence of the church”? What is “influence”? Spiritual influence? Moral influence? A literal physical influence by which the church somehow spreads throughout the world and gains control? Or a mixture of all these? But if the message of the parable is a mixture of all these, it may not be necessarily correct. For example, in the present age, the spiritual influence of the church is not yet all-perva­sive in the world. So we have prob­lems right there.

The other understanding of the Parable of the Leaven is that the world is spreading into the church. I have already hinted that this is the correct exposition of the matter. Now I have to give you the reasons for this understanding, for I cannot expect you to simply take my word for it. Even if you are willing to take my word for it, I wouldn’t want you to, because I don’t want you to accept the Word of God according to my under­standing simply because I say it is so, but that you may know the evidence for this conclusion.

I have to tell you right from the start that virtually all modern commentators take the first alternative, namely, that this parable is a repetition of the previous one, in which the church is said to be spread­ing throughout the world.

The reasons given in support of this view are unconvin­cing. There are only two I have been able to find in the com­mentators. The first reason is simply that this parable follows very well from the previous parable, as if this is some kind of evidence. On the contrary, a parable that immediately follows another parable often presents another side to Jesus’ teaching. In the Lord’s teaching, no parable simply repeats the message of the previous parable.

The second reason given by the commentators is that this parable is a comfort­ing promise, as Fritz Rienecker, the German commentator and scholar, says in his German commentary Lukas. But saying, “I take this view because it is comforting,” is not proper grounds for exegesis. Exegesis or the exposition of the Bible is not meant to please people. The alternative view — that the world’s influence is press­ing into the church — may be uncomfortable to contemplate, but we don’t do exegesis by whether it is comfortable or not. What kind of reason is this? Rienecker speaks of this as a comforting promise of the deve­lop­ment of the kingdom. But this comforting promise has already been given in the previous parable of the mustard seed. Does he need two parables to express the same thing? Is one not enough for him? But apart from that, not a single exegetical reason is given.

The Bible expounds itself; it is self-explanatory. We don’t have to invent an interpretation for it. You must check how the Bible intends itself to be understood. The commentators have failed to produce any reasons whatsoever for their view of this parable. This is very puzzling to me.

These two views — that the church penetrates the world versus the world penetrates the church — were both held throughout the history of the church. But beginning around the 19th century, only one view began to predominate, thanks to German scholars, who always seem to dominate the field of theology. When a German scholar or a group of German theologians teach something, it is quite remark­able to see how the British and American theologians follow the Germans. I have never been able to figure out the reason. Almost every major idea in theology was propounded by a German theolog­ian, and it would often be the case that the British, the French and the Ameri­cans would follow the Germans. This is good when the Germans are right, but what if they are wrong? The Germans are not infallible.

When I open the commentaries, to my astonishment almost every modern commentator follows the lead of these early German theologians in advocating the first alternative, namely, that in the Parable of the Leaven, the church is spreading through the world. This picture has already been given in the previous parable (of the mustard seed), in which case nothing new is being told us in the present parable. But that is not my objection. My true objection is that exege­tically, this alternative cannot be sustained on the basis of Scripture. I am going to leave those who love the Word of God to be the judge of this, when I present the overwhelming evidence for the other view.

When I examine the matter, my heart is filled with a sense of sad­ness. Today if a pastor in a Chinese church cannot read English adequately, he has to depend on a Chinese translation of an English work. To exegete the Word of God, these pastors would often turn to the commentators whom they regard as experts. But little do they know that the com­mentators follow each other like a flock of sheep. When I look at the situation, I am filled with a sense of grief. Why has blindness struck the church? Could this parable be proving the very point that the world has penetrated the church? They don’t seem to catch the message of this parable despite the overwhelming clarity of the Biblical expository evidence in this parable.

I ask you to concentrate on the evidence for a few minutes. I only have to present a portion of the overwhelming evidence, and you will see the richness of the meaning that comes out. This parable doesn’t just repeat the previous parable in a different way. That would be adding nothing of substance to the previous parable. In fact, what it is saying is that the world is penetrating the church with its influences, and the Lord Jesus is cautioning his disciples to watch out for this. We now live in a day when we can see how true it is that the church has been penetrated by the world.

The parable portrays the kingdom of heaven

The parable begins with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven…” So you say, “Aha, there you go! So you see, the kingdom of heaven is the leaven that penetrates the world!”

That is exactly where many commentators have gone wrong, vio­lating the basic principles of expounding the parables. In saying this, I assure you that I am not trying to be arrogant, but to tell you the truth of the matter, that this is simply not how a parable is expounded.

The great German New Testament scholar Jeremias under­stood this very well. He points this out in his standard work on the parables, a work that every scholar and comment­ator of the parables reads and depends on. In fact, many of the comment­aries in the Pelican series are simply rehashing what Jeremias wrote in his standard work on the parables. Jeremias says that you don’t just take the opening words, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven,” and stop there. You have to take the entire statement. The correct meaning is, “The case with the kingdom of heaven is like the case with leaven which a woman took.” It doesn’t merely say that the kingdom of God is leaven, because the whole statement continues right up to the end without a break.

If you say, “I don’t quite follow you,” let me explain it a little more clearly. In the Parable of the Sower and also the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the Lord Jesus says something like, “The kingdom of God is like a sower who went forth to sow,” and so on. Does it mean that the kingdom of God is the sower? No, because Jesus already tells us that the sower is Jesus himself, not the kingdom. Or is the kingdom of God identical to wheat in the other parable? No, the wheat is what is harvested at the end. Or is the kingdom of God the seed? No, the seed represents the Word of God. Or is the kingdom of God the field? No, the field is the world.

This is the kind of error, even absurdity, you get when you quote the words “the kingdom of heaven is like leaven,” and stop there.

You might ask, “What then is the kingdom?” To ask the question is to miss the point. None of these represents the kingdom. On the contrary, it is the whole parable in its entirety, not just one part of it, that presents the situation of the kingdom. Is it valid for us to ask, “Does my arm represent my body?” No. “Does my ear repre­sent my body?” No. The body is all these things put together, not just the arm or the ear individually. So when you look at the kingdom of God, you don’t read, “The kingdom of God is like a sower,” to mean that the kingdom is a sower. In fact the sower is the Lord Jesus himself.

If you don’t understand this basic point about parables, you will make a complete mess of trying to understand them. One moment the king­dom of God is the Son of God, the next moment it is the leaven, the next moment it is the merchant. Then if you look at Matthew 25:1, “The kingdom of God is like ten virgins,” now the kingdom is ten virgins! How then are you going to understand the kingdom of God? You will say, “Well, I give up!”

You got into this con­fusion, even error, in the first place because you didn’t understand a basic principle in expound­ing the kingdom of God. You should not assume that the first word “leaven” is the answer to the question of what the kingdom is. You take the whole statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” The whole picture is involved, not just the first word “leaven”. It is astonishing that many comment­ators don’t know this elementary principle.

You could even change the order of the words, and they would still mean the same: “The kingdom of God is like a wo­man who took leaven and put it in the meal,” or “The kingdom of God is like meal into which a woman mixed some leaven …” Do you see the point? This is a fundamental point that every exegete must understand. It is astonishing how few do. As I said, Jeremias saw it very well. He knows that it does not mean that the kingdom is equal to leaven, but that the kingdom is explained by the whole statement: the case with the kingdom of God is like the case with the leaven that a woman took and put into the meal. All this is clear to Jeremias.

So this is the first point I would like you to notice. I have to clear the ground so that you will understand the expos­ition.

In the Bible, leaven is always something sinful

The next question is, What does leaven mean in the Bible? What counts is not what I say, but what the Bible says.

This is easy, for the Bible has a lot to say about leaven, as you would know the minute you take out a concordance. I hope that many of you who study the Bible would know what a concordance is. You don’t have to take my word for it, but just open a concordance and look up “leaven”. You will immed­iately see that in the Bible, leaven always refers to something bad. This fact is stated in every Bible dictionary.

But what do the commentators do? The German expositor whom we mentioned, Fritz Rienecker, who is usually a very fine expositor, is aware that in the Bible outside this parable, leaven always refers to something evil or negative. But then he says that an exception is made for this parable! My quest­ion is, Can you kindly tell me what makes it an exception? You would have to produce strong evidence to make this an except­ion to the strong rule. But he does not produce a single reason for it. Nothing! It is because he has let his own idea determine his exegesis.

When you study the Bible, you must come with no preconceived idea. If you come with a preconceived idea, you will decide in advance what the passage means, and will make it mean what you want it to mean. This expositor wants to say that the leaven is the church that spreads through the world, so he says it is an exception. And why is it an except­ion? No reason is given.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “leaven” is used only in this parable and two other references. I trust that most comment­ators who write books do understand a bit of Greek, yet it appears that they have not noticed this matter.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:6–7, one of the two references outside this parable where this Greek word for “leaven” is used. Paul says to the Corinthians:

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. (1 Corinthians 5:6–7, ESV)

Do you see the picture? Paul is saying, “You Christians are bread that ought not to be leavened. So cleanse out the old leaven of sin in your life.” If you look at the preceding verses 1–5, you will see that the context is about a very serious sin in the Corinthian church, where a man commits incest by having a sexual relationship with his step­mother. What a dreadful situation! Paul says angrily to the Corinthian church, “Such a thing is disgusting even to non-Christians and heath­ens! Yet you tolerate a sin like this in the church. I excommun­icate this man! Sling him out of the church! Remove the leaven from the church! Remove this sinful influence so that it won’t pollute the whole church.” Those are strong words, but Paul is not afraid to deal harshly with sin.

But today everything is hush-hush. “Let’s not rock the boat. It doesn’t really matter. Let us play soft with sin.” Paul has no time to play soft with sin. He says, “Remove the leaven!” That is the context to his statement about leaven. He says the same thing in Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” referring to the false teaching of bringing back circumcision into the church.

Leaven in the Bible always refers, without fail, to some­thing sinful. In the Old Testament Law, a sacrifice, say, at the Passover, could not be presented with leaven in it. Bread which is presented to God must be unleavened. For the Passover feast, leaven has to be ceremonially removed from every Jewish home, as it is still being done today. They must eat unlea­vened bread. Leaven was a sign of sinfulness. Is it not plain to us that leaven refers to something evil?

Bread refers to believers

Let us ask the next question: What does the bread refer to? If you look at the Bible’s teaching on “bread,” you will notice that bread always refers to believers, without exception. If we had followed the earlier parables at all, we would have observed this point.

What is bread made of? Wheat! The Greek word trans­lated “meal” or “flour” here refers to wheat flour. The word specifically refers to wheat flour, which doesn’t come out in the English translations. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the Lord Jesus has already given us the clue that wheat refers to believers. When we speak of wheat flour, we are talking about believers.

As we go through the Bible, we find that wheat, flour, and bread consistently refer to Christians. In John 6:35, the bread is Christ himself: “I am the bread of life.” We, by extension, being the body of Christ, are called “bread” — or “one bread” as the church, the body of Christ, is called in 1 Corinthians 10:17, for Christ is the bread of life.

If that is not clear enough yet, Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31) or wheat flour, if you like.

In every instance, wheat represents a believer. Never in the Bible does wheat refer to non-Christians. The evidence is overwhelming.

Leaven puffs up the bread

The next thing we observe is what leaven does. When leaven becomes warm, it emits a certain gas and puffs up the bread. If it were the case that the leaven represents the church that spreads in the world, it would be saying that the church contributes nothing to the world beyond puffing it up. What kind of an idea is this? To anyone who studies the matter, “puff up” in the Bible always refers to arrogance, an evil influence. In 1 Corinthians 5:2, Paul says, “you are puffed up” (NKJV), as if hinting at the connection between leaven and being puffed up (to be arrogant). Then in verse 7 Paul says, “Cleanse out the old leaven” which has puffed up the Corinthian church. How plain can you get? Isn’t it clear that leaven refers to the undesirable influences of the world upon the church, and that leaven puffs up the church by filling it with pride and arrogance?

I am sorry to say, but many times when I look at the church today, such the Catholic Church with all the parading in ceremonial gowns, gold crosses studded with jewels, and rings of precious stones, this looks like a picture of being puffed up. The church leaders have become the princes of the world. Jesus says, “You are not to be like the nations of this world in which the mighty ones lord it over the others. But the greatest among you shall be the servant of all” (cf. Mt. 20:25–27).

The world has saturated the church with its system, structure, and behavior, such that the church behaves like the world. The leaven — the arrogance and evil influence of the world — has puffed up the church. This is the Biblical teach­ing of this parable.

The kingdom of heaven is not hidden

Jesus and the apostles preached openly

Let us look at the word “hid” used of the woman who hid the leaven in three measures of flour. Hiding indicates either of two things: an act of secrecy, or covering up something.

Yet these are the very last things that God would do. In what sense would God ever hide His kingdom in the world? The kingdom of God comes into the world without any hiding, but is made known for the world to see.

The things Jesus did were open to everyone to see. All of Palestine could see what he was doing. He did nothing in secret. When they came to arrest Jesus secretly at night, he said, “Every day I sat in the tem­ple or stood in a field to teach and preach openly to the public, yet you never seized me. So why do you arrest me secretly in the dark?” (cf. Mt. 26:55; Lk. 22:53) Do we have eyes to see that the world acts in secret, but Jesus does not? He does nothing secret or underhanded in some hidden corner.

Similarly, the apostle Paul says, “We have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9). You wouldn’t hide a spectacle, for a spectacle is meant for the whole world to see. There is nothing hidden about a specta­cle. In Acts 17:6, the Christians were accused of “turning the world upside down.” If the world is aware that it is being turned upside down, how exactly do you hide that? That is why they tried to kill Paul and persecute the Christians. Again, Paul says in Acts 26:26, “The king [Agrippa] knows about these things, and I speak boldly to him. I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

These things are not hidden from human view. So to talk about hiding the kingdom of God is to miss the point entirely because it is not hidden at all.

The gospel is the “gospel of the kingdom” (Mt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). The gospel that Paul preaches is not hidden, but if it is hidden, it is hidden to those who are perish­ing (2 Cor. 4:3). Why are they perish­ing? Is it that God wants them to perish? Not at all! Paul says in verse 4 that it is because the god of this world has blinded their eyes so that they cannot see the glory of Christ who is the image of God. God does not hide the gospel. If it is hidden, it is Satan who does the hiding, to blind the eyes of those who do not see the glory of Christ.

The church does not act in a hidden way

Jesus says in Matthew 5:14, “A city set on a hill cannot be hid­den.” Is the Scriptural evidence not plain enough? It is not that the church is hiding in the world, but that the world enters into the church through its secret pervasive influence.

We see this in Jude 4: “Certain people have crept in un­noticed who long ago were designated for this condemnat­ion, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God.” It is the world and false teachers who work in the church in a secret and hidden way. The world works secretly, but the church works openly in the world and does not hide itself.

Hence a wrong understanding of “hid” in the Parable of the Leaven misses an important point about the kingdom of God. The influence of the church never works in a hidden way, but works by crisis after crisis. What do we mean by this? Turning the world upside down produces a crisis. When you hear the gospel, it grips your heart, and you begin to feel a crisis inside you. “Will I turn away from sin? Will I become a Christian or remain an unbeliever? Do I dare become a Christian? If I become a Christian, what will my family say to me?” It is a crisis, and there is nothing hidden about it. In the history of the church, the kingdom of God develops from crisis to crisis. You immediately face a crisis when the gospel confronts you, and the crisis is something obvious to anyone who observes you grappling with it.

As with the individual, so it is with the church. If the church is hidden, it would not be persecuted. But it is perse­cuted! The church may try to hide for a while, but it is very hard for the church ever to hide. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. The Romans could locate the Christians easily. Just command the people to offer incense to Caesar, and those who refuse will be picked out immediately.

You cannot hide as a Christian. How is that even possible? The only way for you to hide is not to confess the name of Jesus. But no Christian can do that because we are chosen by God to witness for Jesus. Take the case of my friend, a surgeon, who was baptized with me. When the government told him to stop witnessing to his patients, he said, “I can do no other. My Lord has commanded me to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. I have to speak forth.” Paul says that he who believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth shall be saved (Romans 10:10). This makes it imposs­ible for you to hide.

The church is the city set on a hill. It shines out for every­one to see. To speak of the church hiding in the world is to fail to understand the very nature of the church as it is taught in the New Testament. It may be the case that the church is hiding in the world today, but we are talk­ing about the New Testament church that did not hide. Oh no, it stood forth glorious and fearless, as Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body” (Mt. 10: 28) — words meant for those who are not afraid to proclaim, and to stand up for, the truth.

The world erodes the church stealthily

How then does the world penetrate the church? We have seen that it is not the church hiding in the world, but the world hiding in the church, working from the inside to puff up the church and ruin it. That is what Jesus warns his disciples of: “Beware! Watch yourselves so that your heart may not be weighed with dissipation and drunken­ness and the cares of this life” (Luke 21:34).

Nobody preaches on this anymore, as though people no longer fall into temptation; but even if they fall into temptat­ion, it supposedly doesn’t matter much. But the Lord Jesus warns us not to fall into temptation, but to watch out for the leaven of the world that will enter into our lives stealthily.

Persecution is usually not what causes Christians to fall. I have seen Christians withstand persecution unflinchingly when they are thrown out of their homes, or dispossessed of an inheritance. This is not an exaggeration. I had a friend who was an heir to a rubber plant­ation in Malaysia. He was a fellow student of mine in London. He came to the Lord, and was dispossessed of his inheritance because of his faith. His father gave him a choice: “You either don’t become a Christian, and you will receive an inheritance; or you become a Christian, and you won’t inherit my fortune.” He chose to be dispossessed. He was thrown out of his home, hounded and persecuted, yet he stood unflinchingly.

But do you know what broke him in the end? The secret influences of the world! This is far more dangerous, my brothers and sisters! I beg of you to understand this parable.

Jesus knows that most Christians will stand in persecu­tion. Some might break, but most will not. I have seen people in China standing like a tree in a storm, shaken yet unflinching and unbroken. The branches are torn off, yet the tree stays rooted in God.

But do you know what the world does to undermine that? It sends a tiny bug, a little disease that enters through the bark and works into the fibers of the tree, corrupting it from the inside. Fungus grows inside and destroys the tree. What the mighty storms cannot do, that silent, insidious influence can. I beg of you, brothers and sisters, to understand this most important teaching that we must not let anyone rob us of. This is what Jesus is telling us in this most important little parable. Beware of the leaven that will destroy you if you are not careful.

The leaven of the Pharisees: Hypocrisy

What then is the leaven? The Lord Jesus explains it perfectly. He is so wonderful, for he doesn’t leave us guessing what the leaven means. In Matthew 16:6, 11–12, he warns his dis­ciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” He is saying, “I am confident that you will stand firm in the fearful days ahead. You have stood with me in my trials and persecut­ions, but I want you to be aware of that insidious influence that can destroy you from the inside. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

What is the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing either. In Luke 12:1, the leaven of the Pharisees is hypo­crisy. Hypocrisy is not something that comes suddenly. On the contrary, you slowly shift away until you become a hypocrite. People do not start out intending to be hypocrites. The Pharisees were not insincere people who wanted to be hypocrites. That would be a great misunder­stand­ing of the Pharisees. They were sincere people at the start, just as many Christians were sincere when they first committed their lives to Christ. But after a time, they started to slowly shift away.

That is why Paul says in Colossians 1:23, “not shifting away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard.” This shifting is a slow process of being moved away, perhaps by the currents, perhaps by the wind. Whatever may be the cause of the shifting, it happens slowly and imperceptibly. Hypocrisy then sets in. It is the disease that kills many Chris­tians. They start out as genuine Christians, but they slowly cool down. Then one day, they find that they have become hypocrites.

The church has too many hypocrites already. They did not begin with the intention of being hypocrites, yet they imper­ceptibly shifted away, so that eventually only the out­ward is left, but the inside is gone. They honor God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him. I beg of you to under­stand this most important point!

In this connection, let us consider how leaven works. Leaven prospers in only one kind of atmosphere. What kind? A luke­warm atmosphere! All of you who bake bread would know that. If you put leaven — yeast — in a cold place, it does nothing. If the place is too hot, the leaven will die and won’t leaven any­thing, for you did not give it the lukewarm condit­ion which it needs to rise. It cannot be too hot or too cold.

The church must never be leavened, but be either hot or cold. As the Lord says in Revelation 3:16, “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold …” The church in Laodicea has been so leavened that they are neither hot nor cold! That is hypocrisy: neither hot nor cold. They have departed from their first love.

The leaven of the Sadducees: Unbelief

The second kind of leaven is the leaven of the Sadducees. What is the leaven of the Sadducees? We learn from Luke 20:27 that it is unbelief. Unbelief coming into the church is a fearful thing. There are plenty of unbelieving Christians. How did this happen? Well, you begin to have doubts in your mind about God or the Bible or your faith. If you don’t deal with these doubts, they will grow and slowly eat away your faith. You have questions you don’t know how to answer. Gradually you will have many, many questions. Unless you know how to combat these questions, unbelief slowly takes over.

I have seen people eaten away by unbelief. They read some philo­sopher and get confused, and soon their faith starts shaking. They read about this idea and that idea, and are blown about by every wind of doctrine. Soon their faith is eroded by unbelief. I have seen so many theology students who went to semin­ary with the intention of serving God, but came out shaken! Some have been broken. That is because we are confronted with so much unbelief in the seminaries, so much unbelief in the faculty of theology. The theology students didn’t survive, for they lacked the spiritual depth to draw strength from God to overcome these things.

I was trained in a liberal Faculty of Divinity, and every day I was pounded by unbelief and liberal teaching. But thanks be to God, it did not scathe me! Why? Because I knew whom I had believed. But these students did not know whom they had believed — even by their own admission. Thus the leaven of the Sadducees, unbelief, takes its toll.

The leaven of Herod: Self-will, opportunism

The last kind of leaven is the leaven of Herod. The Lord Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to what this leaven is. Mark 8:15 speaks of the “leaven of Herod”. You can read about the Herods in a Bible diction­ary, but I will save you the trouble, and give you the general picture. Herod is a picture of the utterly self-willed man. Because he is self-willed and worldly, he is opportunistic.

Such people bend with the wind every which way, and don’t stand up for anything. They are afraid to stand up for Christ at their college, for fear that somebody will snigger at them. They don’t want to pray when you are sitting by them or in front of them, for fear of being called a holy Joe: “I don’t mind being Joe, but not holy Joe.” People see him among the church peo­ple, and say, “Look at him, he is all religious! He has gone funny upstairs.” These opportunists are scared of this religious label­ing. “What are you doing, praying?” “Oh no! My eyes are tired, so I am rubbing them a bit.” They dare not pray because they are scared of what people will think of them, that people will laugh at them, “Huh? Nobody’s a Christian these days!”

This is the leaven of Herod, an opportunist. You can read up on the history of the Herods to see how they often changed sides. This time a Herod is the friend of a certain ruler. When the next nat­ion comes along and conquers Palestine, he becomes its friend too. He is the friend of the Romans, he is the friend of the Egyptians, he is every­body’s friend. So long as you leave him to be king of his empire, he doesn’t mind whose friend he is. If you are on the winning side, he will fight for you. If you are on the losing side, he will push you out. He is an opportunist.

How many Christians are opportunists? They want to have the best of this world, yet also the best of God’s kingdom. They want to have everything. They want to have one foot in the kingdom of God, and the other in the grave, in the hope that the foot in the kingdom will support them when the grave opens up. What kind of Christianity is this? Opportunistic! This is the dreadful thing. These Christians are self-willed. They want to do their own thing, and go their own way.

The world works in us by influencing our will and desires: “Come on, you’ve got to stand up. Be self-willed, and do your own thing. Why do you need to listen to what God tells you to do? That is not practical nowadays. There is no use trying to love everyone. If you love them, they will slap you in the face. That is not the way to live this life. This kind of Christianity is useless and not practical. We have got to be practical. By all means, be a Christian and go to church. But if any­body slaps you on the face, punch him twice. Give it back to him with interest. And if he is stronger than you, go and take lessons in kung fu and be ready to give it to him. That is wisdom!”

In our self-will, we want to have the best of everything. We say, “I like the Lord Jesus’ teaching, but sometimes it’s not very practical. So I will do my own thing. I don’t mind getting baptized so long as I can do my own thing. I’ll still be a Christian because Christians are nice people. So long as I can do my own will, that’s fine.” So the leaven of Herod comes in. Opportunists! Worldly people!

Beware of the subtle influence of the world

The Lord Jesus warns us of how the world’s influence will come into our lives. I warn you again: The slow and subtle influences of the world will break you where persecution cannot. We are not afraid of persecution, but what I am afraid of is the insidious influence of the world that draws your heart to it. “Just put in a little bit of self-will. Do you know how nice the world is? Look at this forbid­den tree, nice to the eye, good to the taste. Have a go at it.” (cf. Gen. 3:6) Or be lukewarm and let yourself be shifted. Or let doubts grow in your mind to gnaw at your faith. Or be self-willed: stand up and do your own thing. Why listen to what God tells you to do? Thus we are drawn away by the world. I beg of you to understand this.



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