The Leaven of Hypocrisy Stephen Clark
The following transcript is edited for grammar and readability
Imagine there’s a cardboard box in the corner of your house. It’s nothing special and it’s been there for a long time -- so long that you can’t even remember what’s in it.
Let's leave the box there for the moment and let me ask you a question.
How easy is it for you, me, or any human being to be deceived? Have you ever been misled or deceived by someone and felt really hurt they may have misled you?
When we think about our relationships in the Church there’s a high level of trust because we have high expectations of each other, don’t we? I expect I can take you at your word and you expect you can take me at my word. If anyone was to in any way abuse that we’d be very disappointed.
So, how easy is it for us to be deceived?
There are lessons we need to draw from the Days of Unleavened Bread that might help us understand the cardboard box and the matter of being deceived.
I’d like to begin in Exodus 12 which are the instructions Moses, under inspiration and the direct command from God, gave to the nation of Israel as they were about to prepare to leave Egypt.
Let’s read from Verse 14:
Exodus 12:14-20 So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
If a person ate leavened bread during the Days of Unleavened Bread, the penalty was to be cut off from the nation of Israel – a very serious penalty indeed!
16 On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat - that only may be prepared by you. 17 So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, for whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native in the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.
These are very clear instructions, parts of which are repeated over in Exodus 13:6-7:
6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters.
We take that instruction seriously and diligently rid our homes of leavening before the Days of Unleavened Bread. Leaven is a symbol of sin and the parallel for us is that if we’re not diligent in removing the spiritual leaven we may be cut off from the Kingdom of God.
At the end of these days it’s fine to eat leavening, but the lessons we have learned have to remain. It is so easy for us to think “The days of unleavened bread have finished for this year; we’ll just move on”.
Much like Israel was given the unleavened manna wandering through the wilderness, we too are to eat of the unleavened bread of Jesus Christ. Every day through the wanderings in this spiritual wilderness we have to have a commitment to remove spiritual leavening.
Do you and I recognise the leaven in our lives? We might look back over the past twelve months and be disappointed with ourselves. If we’re honest and humble before God, we realise just how much we haven’t done and just how carnal we still are. The more we are committed to God’s way of life the more we see ourselves. How diligent are we in seeking to remove the very subtle elements of our nature that lead us to sin?
James talks about the lusts that reside in our hearts, which is where sin comes from.
How about the following, do we recognise any of this kind of leaven?
Luke 12:1 In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, Christ began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”.
Christ describes the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees as leaven.
He’s not talking about those who are followers of Christ, who have committed their life in a covenant relationship, through baptism to God, and had their sins forgiven. They’re now in a special relationship with God through His Spirit dwelling within them. They’re called saints and the elect and are precious to God. When they sin and fall short they go before God and seek repentance.
That’s a whole different mindset to what He’s talking about here.
However, in using this example, there’s a danger I want to bring to our attention. The hypocrites, in the context of what Christ is referring to here, didn’t set out to be hypocrites. Typically hypocrites don’t recognise their hypocrisy and, as a result, are deceived.
They have a box (or many boxes) in the corner of their house that should have been removed years ago. They put a nice cloth over it, and become so comfortable with it they rest their feet on it. It has become part of who they are. It defines them.
The Scribes and Pharisees believed they were righteous. It wasn’t a charade. They actually thought they were the standard.
Luke 18:9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
Could this ever become us? Is there anybody within the body of Christ whom you or I have despised? Maybe that’s a strong word to use: disliked, not wanted to be in the same room as, may be better.
The Scribes and the Pharisees believed they had a special calling -- that they were the standard by which others should be measured.
How easy could it be for us to start thinking the same thing, to come to a similar mindset? And this mindset, as Christ clearly shows in this parable, results in other attitudes and actions that compound the leaven of hypocrisy. The result is harsh judgement, condemnation and despising others. Have you ever done that? I have.
Hypocrites don’t believe they’re hypocrites. We look back at the times when we may have harshly treated somebody, harshly judged somebody and can feel justified in what we do We may call it righteous indignation.
You may have heard me say previously that as far as the human experience is concerned I don’t believe there is any such thing as “righteous indignation”. I don’t believe any indignation we have is righteously motivated, because we are still human, and have other attitudes and mindsets that drive why we do what we do. These attitudes tend to be more carnal than godly.
You know, hypocrites don’t believe they’re hypocrites. They staunchly defend their righteousness, which is what the Scribes and Pharisees did. Their cardboard box has become a part of the furniture and is no longer recognisable for what it is.
Notice the effect:
Luke 18:10-14 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee and the tax collector both had a relationship with God. They both were involved in going to the temple.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
Have you ever looked around the Church and thought, I’m glad I am not like so and so. They’ve been in the Church all these years and they still haven’t got it together.
That attitude is leaven.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
You know, if we see ourselves as the standard it’s easy to despise others, to judge and condemn others. To judge others inferior, by definition, we have to have already judged ourselves superior. We dwell on ourselves - what we do, who we are. We find ourselves, as the Pharisee did here, before God in the temple, rolling out our resume to God, and saying ‘Look at what I have done, and “Aren’t you God glad that I’m not like so and so?”
13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What’s the lesson? Simply put, before God it’s better to be like the tax collector. It’s time to acknowledge the box, or the boxes. It’s pretty safe to say we all have at least one box in the house, that doesn’t belong.
Additionally the leaders of the Jews, the Scribes and the Pharisees, believed they had the authority to supersede Scripture. They imposed the traditions of the elders in the place of Scripture. That’s why Jesus not only warned the apostles about the leaven of hypocrisy, but also the doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees, because if you think about it, one follows the other.
Let’s go back to Matthew 16, beginning in verse 5:
Matthew 16:5-12 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 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 Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought 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 to 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.
I believe we understand that at least through the inter-testamental period prior till the coming of Christ, the people of Judah did not want to go back into captivity and slavery again, and so they tried to make sure the law would never be broken. Through the process of time, and certainly by the time Christ came, they had established the traditions and oral teachings of the elders, as more important, and possibly more valid than the law of God and, as such, made the law of God irrelevant.
I think there are parallels in our time.
Let’s go to Matthew 23. This is a chapter where Christ really strongly chastises and corrects the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Matthew 23:13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
Who is the door to the Kingdom of Heaven? It’s Jesus Christ. He said so Himself. What the Scribes and the Pharisees, the experts in the law were doing, caused by the leaven of hypocrisy and false doctrine, was to prevent others from entering the kingdom as well as themselves.
Why? Because they denied Christ. They denied the door. He was standing before them. He was the door, and they rejected Him.
Let’s go to John 8, beginning in verse 41:
John 8:41-47 You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father - God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.
They had bought into Satan’s lie. The lie hasn’t changed since the time Satan influenced Adam and Eve. The lie that you will not die...that God is withholding something from you. God is not giving you all the information. He is misrepresenting things, or He’s even lying to you.
For the scribes and the Pharisees, their Saviour, who had come from God, was standing before them and they couldn’t recognise Him. They were diligent and earnest yet they were deceived and didn’t know it. They truly were, as Christ says here, of their father the devil. He’s the arch deceiver.
Let’s go back to Matthew 24.
I asked at the beginning is it possible for you or me to be deceived? Notice Christ’s warning here in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let’s begin in Verse 3:
Matthew 24:3-5 Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately saying, Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of this age. 4 And Jesus answered and said to them: Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ and will deceive many”.
Christ’s not talking about false religion. There are all sorts of permutations of preaching a false Christ and some religions don’t preach Christ at all. No, Jesus is directing His sermon to His disciples and to us. He says there will be those who come among you and preach a false Christ seeking to take a following after them. He says Don’t YOU be deceived by that.
Drop down to verse 9:
Matthew 24:9-12 Then they will deliver YOU up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
Who’s going to be offended? The Bible is speaking of Agape - godly love here. The Godly love of many will grow cold. You and I might think to one degree or another that has already happened, and maybe to a certain degree it has. It happened right down through the ages and will yet happen again. The only way a person can have can have Godly love is if he has God’s Holy Spirit.
The warning is that we not be deceived. How easy is it for you and I to be deceived by those who come preaching a false Christ? But he who endures to the end shall be saved; he who stands fast; he who is diligent in spiritual de-leavening and recognises the boxes he has allowed to stack up.
I mentioned to someone in Tasmania last week, How is the box coming? and he replied Which one? – which is a very honest thing to say. I think for most of us have multiple issues we know are leaven, and we’ve not been anywhere near as diligent as we need to be to get rid of them.
He who endures, he who is standing at the end, he who is characterised by an unleavened life-- not characterised by hypocrisy, but characterised by an unleavened life, will be saved.
Over in verse 23:
Matthew 24:23-24 Then if anyone says to you, Look, here is the Christ or There! Do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
I don’t believe this is talking about the deception which the false prophet and the beast are going to foist upon the world mentioned in the Book of Revelation. The language there is very specific, and talks about deceiving the world.
Christ’s message to us is about those who will come in among us and deceive us, preaching false Christs. There are those who claim “Christ is with us” and “If you are not with us you will not be in the Kingdom? Look at what we have done, and look at who we are, and look at the great work we are doing.”
We need to be very careful about the language we use, and how we present what we’re doing. We know the account of Paul and Peter and others talks about false apostles and false preachers leading people away.
What can happen if we don’t get the leaven out? Christ is referring to false teachers who preach a false Christ - that is, false doctrine. He is referring to members who will betray members and to losing your first love. These are all effects of spiritual leaven and can happen when you begin to consider yourself more righteous than others. Or worse, more righteous than God. They have to improve the law; they have to add things to the law, which in some cases is nothing more than tradition. That actually happens today.
I said before that the example of Jesus Christ is what we go back to -- how He related to others, what He taught us to do. That’s the standard.
The most insidious form of deception is self-deception, thinking ourselves to be righteous. Are we capable of being deceived in this way? We need to consider how we might have allowed this particular piece of furniture to take up residence and how to get rid of it.
Let’s go to Proverbs 6, beginning in verse 16:
Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
There’s a regression here that begins with pride – I use the word “regression” deliberately. It begins with pride which then leads to the subsequent attitudes or actions. Pride will mask the other sins and we begin to rationalise and justify them. The scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ did all these things. They were literally of their father the devil.
Think about what Lucifer did when the rebellion took place:
- He rose against the throne of God. We too can allow pride to be the catalyst for the leaven of hypocrisy to be established so that before we know it, it’s a part of the furniture, and we don’t see it.
- Lucifer’s heart was lifted up within him. Pride drove him to do what he did. He lied. When you think about angels who came in and out before the throne of God for eons, Lucifer was able to deceive them, to the point that a third followed him. He lied to the angels to influence them.
- He led a violent attack on God’s throne and, in that sense, sought to shed innocent blood. He’s devised wicked plans to undermine the plan of God ever since. That’s why he was in the Garden of Eden. That’s why he came to try to tempt Christ. Lucifer, or Satan as he became, was always was quick to do evil.
Hypocrisy always begins with pride. We may preach the standard of Christ and the law of God, but if we’re not careful we may not be actually living it. We think we’re sincere and genuine, but we’re deceived, and this is so insidious and subtle. That’s why pride is so dangerous - we get to the point where we just don’t see it in ourselves and the leaven becomes a part of the furniture.
Let’s go to Ephesians 4:30-31:
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
That Holy Spirit, that guarantee of salvation granted to us, by God himself, seals us. God is faithful. He will redeem us into his family at Christ’s return, if we don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.
The way that we can grieve the Holy Spirit is explained in verse 31:
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
This is just leaven by another name, and by extension it’s hypocrisy to have these attitudes because it’s contrary to the mind of Christ. It has to be cast out.
In the words of Exodus 12 & 13 it’s not to be a part of our diet. Could we be in any way defending the cardboard box, justifying why it is still there? Justifying bitterness.... “You don’t know what they did to me.”
I’ve been better as a result of things that have happened to me. I could give you names, places and sometimes dates. But the very fact I remember it is a problem, because the only reason I do is because of the bitterness that developed.
What about you? Do you remember dates, places, and names, exactly what was said? What about evil speaking and malice? It’s leaven. Are we still trying to justify why we have a cardboard box in the corner of our house that shouldn’t be there?
1 Peter 2:18-19 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.
Two weeks ago we looked at that word “commendable” in the New King James. The Greek word translated commendable there is translated at least 122 times in the New Testament as ‘grace’.
If we suffer wrongfully it’s an act of grace similar to, but by no means of the same enormity as, the act of grace Jesus Christ performed for us.
“If because of conscience towards God” means because of mindfulness towards God. It’s because of our awareness of the enormity God’s love for us -- that He sent His son to die for our sins -- that we are willing to follow His example.
1 Peter 2:20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
We struggle with that. Even when we are caught doing something we shouldn’t be doing we still try to justify ourselves as to why it’s okay.
This is the standard of Jesus Christ:
1 Peter 2:21-24 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.
Which one of us can say that?
23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously, 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.
The sins of bitterness, resentment, anger, loud quarrelling -- whatever we have committed -- Christ bore the penalty for those sins in His body, on the tree. Then we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.
Do we understand this mindset? This is the standard. There’s no way you or I can justify that cardboard box before God or Christ. It’s leaven that has to be put out.
The Days of Unleavened Bread should remind us every year how important it is to deleaven our lives. For to this we were called. That was the covenant agreement we made with God through and by Jesus Christ at our baptism.
Let’s go to Matthew 5:3-10 Here is the antidote, if I can use that term, to Proverbs 16 and it always begin with humility.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called the sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These attitudes are the antidote to hypocrisy and self-deception. It always begins with humility; someone with a broken and contrite spirit before God. There’s only one place we get that, and that’s the core conviction of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We need to understand His mind and that He willingly did this for us.
Therefore, the place to start is where the tax collector was. You and I are all tax collectors before God. There’s not one of us here today who’s any different than anybody else. This is a level playing field. Not one of us has a right to stand up and say “I am better than so and so”. The tax collector wasn’t concerned about the Pharisee, or what the Pharisee said, because he knew the Pharisee wasn’t the standard.
I want you to imagine eternity. Start by going backwards from here.
- Think about the time of Christ and what it was like for Christ on earth – what He experienced and the culture of the day.
- Now go back further to the time of Israel coming out of Egypt - the incredible miracles and the power of God being revealed.
- When we go even further back we come to the time of Noah when the thoughts and intents of man’s heart were only evil continually and God destroyed all of humanity except for Noah and his family.
- Then think about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. What was it like before Satan entered? What was it like to walk with God in the Garden of Eden?
- Now let’s go back to John 1:1. Can you imagine what it was like when there was only God, the Father, and the Word, before there was a creation, before anything? We can’t really wrap our minds around the concept of eternity, because we just don’t understand it. It doesn’t matter how far we go back in time, there is God. He’s always there.
Now I want you to cast your mind forward.
- Let’s contemplate the return of Jesus Christ. We have all sorts of understandings, at least in general terms, of what has to happen before Jesus Christ returns. Imagine Him returning in great power and glory to establish His kingdom and authority on this earth.
- Then think about the Millennium and the prophecies and the insights we have as to what it will be like. An incredible change will take place on this earth. God’s law will come from Jerusalem and there will be a healing of the nations.
- Go further forward and we come to the Great White Throne Judgment. Think about billions of people being resurrected, standing before Christ and being offered the life-giving waters of His Holy Spirit to open their minds. They will receive the precious gift of salvation.
- New Jerusalem will then descend to earth and God, the Father, will dwell with men.
We know there’s even a glorious future beyond that and there’s always God.
Now think about your life. You have a definite beginning and, unless Christ returns soon, you’ll have a definite end of your physical life. Threescore and ten is the biblical time-frame given for our lives. Compared to eternity, it’s so insignificant. Compared to God’s glory, to His majesty and power it’s nothing. Our life is not even a blimp on the radar of eternity.
Compared to Jesus Christ and Him crucified we’re nothing. Is that how we see ourselves?
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
I have been crucified with Christ - the old man has been put to death.
Paul says in Colossians 3:3: For you died: The old man is dead.
You and I have been crucified with Christ.
So therefore it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me:
This is the fulfilment of the Wave Sheaf Offering. It symbolises the resurrected Christ ascending to Heaven during the days of Unleavened Bread and presenting Himself as a perfect sacrifice before the Father on our behalf, so that we might have reconciliation and the remission of sins.
That resurrected Christ, the true Bread from Heaven of John 6, now lives His life in us. But I’m still a human being. l have limitations. I may not be characterised by hypocrisy. I hope I’m not, but I still live in the flesh subject to various lusts, attitudes and mindsets that don’t belong.
I’m living now “by the faith of the Son of God”, as that verse could more correctly be rendered. It’s not our faith in God, it’s the faithfulness of Christ living in us. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour should convict us to our core of who we all are. We’re all tax collectors.
Not only is it by Jesus that our sins are forgiven, but it’s only by Jesus Christ living in us that the leaven can be recognised and sin put out. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour convicts us that He’s the standard. But if the box remains, then our pride will deceive us into thinking that we’ve attained that standard already.
It’s time to acknowledge the box in the corner. And that requires humility. Humility is only genuine, sincere, and authentic when we contrast ourselves with God. Who we are in comparison to others is irrelevant. And yet we still compare ourselves among ourselves, making ourselves feel better about who we are: Because I didn’t do what that person did, I am not as bad as that person. Yes, we’re very quick to acknowledge our own sinfulness, but I am not as bad as so-and-so, who did thus and such to me. I never did that.
So we continue to slander, to ridicule, put down, demean, be filled with bitterness and anger; and we get more and more comfortable with the piece of furniture that’s wholly incompatible with the rest of the decor. It’s time to acknowledge the box in the corner. What is it we’ve let sit there year after year, after year? We’re so used to it being there we’re not even aware of its presence, and yet it imposes itself on us. It’s so much a part of us that we don’t recognise it any more.
It’s time to lift the cloth off and take a very close look at it, because somewhere, you will find hypocrisy. It might manifest itself as bitterness, resentment, gossip, ridicule, loud quarrelling, hatred, dissentions, false doctrine, man-made traditions, or whatever. There are many ways of spelling hypocrisy. However yours or mine is spelt, it is time to toss the box out.