5 And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? 9 “Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? 10 “Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? 11 “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Many times throughout the New Testament we encounter warnings against false teachers. Jesus mentioned it in the Sermon on the Mount and here again He is warning His followers to beware of false teaching. He likened it this time to leaven. Leaven makes bread rise and was used by Jesus to teach that it only takes a little bit to work its way in to the whole loaf. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:
7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
Paul points out using this same analogy that the Galatians were doing well but someone among them began teaching false doctrine and has now persuaded them to be disobedient to God. It doesn’t take someone preaching for years to start convincing the congregation of false truths. But how do we know if we are being taught wrongly? Look at how Luke 12 records this teaching of Jesus:
1 Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, ” Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
False teachers don’t practice what they preach. But what if we have already fallen into the trap of misguidance by a false teacher or preacher? 1 Corinthians 5 tells us:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
We see here that the Corinthians thought they were doing well as a church until Paul exhorts them and tells them they must clean out the malice and wickedness that has been coursing through the veins of the church and celebrate their relationship with God in sincerity and truth. It is ironic that in our passage from Matthew, the disciples doubting the power of God in their lives (the conversation about physical bread) is a result of them believing the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees! They were still attached to the false teachers of the day and therefore could not open their spiritual eyes. They literally just fed multitudes of people with just a little food by the power of God and now they are wondering how they are going to eat! Can you see how easily false doctrine gets interwoven into the fabric of who we are and how it deceives us so easily? This is why the New Testament teachers taught so earnestly about being careful not to be deceived by false teachings. In 2 Peter 2 we find a great exhortation to the church about false teachers and prophets:
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Peter goes on for the rest of the chapter explaining not only how false teachers face a hefty judgment, but also that God can redeem and restore us from false teachings we have come to believe. We must be willing to change our understanding, however. It is difficult to admit we have been fooled and even more so that our core beliefs are wrong. Just as when the great Pharisee Saul was on the Damascus road and Jesus confronted him, we must be willing to accept God’s correction when He provides it for us. Saul thought that everything he was doing honored God until Jesus confronted him and told him otherwise. He had the choice to keep doing what he was doing or change his ways and follow Jesus’ ways. He followed Christ. We must be willing to do the same. We must constantly beware of false teachings and steer clear from them so we do not take the path of making similar mistakes.