Then Jesus said to them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.…
In their short journeyings among the villages, and when they went east of the lake for the sake of retirement, the disciples were accustomed to carry in their little baskets sufficient food for a day or two. By some mischance the food had been forgotten on this occasion. Their minds were full of this lack of bread; and so they thought their Master's mind must be full of the same thing. He was quite unconcerned about bodily food, and meditating on the mischievous influence, upon themselves and upon others, of the characteristic spirit and disposition of the Pharisees, of which so striking an illustration had just been given. It was an evil force, an active force, and a dangerous force.
I. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN EVIL FORCE. It was the notion that a good creed will excuse an evil life; that a man may do evil that good may come; that religion is formality; that subtlety is more important than sincerity; that blind prejudice can make honest judgments. The "leaven" will go into the term "hypocrisy," or "religious insincerity;" "the unreality of a life respectable, rigid, outwardly religions, even earnest in its zeal, and yet wanting in the humility and love which are the essence of true holiness." Such hypocrisy and insincerity is a ruinous influence in character. A man cannot be noble who allows any shams. Religion a mere garb is worthless to man and dishonouring to God. Nothing roused our Lord's indignation like the leaven of insincerity.
II. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN ACTIVE FORCE. Here we find the reason for calling it leaven, which is a thing which will not keep quiet, and remain where it is and as it is. Leaven will act; it will grow; it will push through; it will pervade. Leaven consists of plant cells, which multiply with extraordinary rapidity under favourable circumstances. A doctrine which allows licence to man's evil passions, and hides it under a show of superior piety, is a doctrine that readily finds a sphere in man's corrupt nature, and there it acts vigorously. A little of such leaven leaveneth the whole lump. We need to see clearly that all error is active; but all error that tends to give moral licence is, for fallen man, especially active. You can never hope to keep such error still.
III. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS A DANGEROUS FORCE. Therefore our Lord warned his disciples against letting the Pharisaic spirit get into them unawares. It works such havoc in character. Any evil is possible to a man who once permits himself to excuse insincerity. Piety is nourished upon absolute truth and righteousness. Guile, formality, and outward show never can support it. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.