Beware of False Teaching

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Reading the Word

Matthew 16:5–12 (ESV)

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? 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 teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Parallel Texts: Mark 8:14-21

Understanding and Applying the Word

After the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign and he refused, Jesus and the disciples departed by boat (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13). When the boat landed, the disciples realized that they had forgotten to bring bread to eat. Jesus, knowing the disciples were worried about bread, used it as an opportunity to teach. He warned them about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Leaven is yeast, which is a key ingredient in bread. It causes bread to rise and is often used as a symbol for evil in the Bible. The disciples did not understand Jesus’ lesson at first, but were stuck on literal yeast and bread. Jesus had to tell them that he was not talking about actual bread, but speaking figuratively (verse 11). The disciples then realized Jesus was speaking about the things that the Pharisees and Sadducees taught. Like yeast, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees had permeated all of Jewish society and had led many people astray. Jesus warned his followers not to be taken in by such teaching.

As we reflect on Jesus’ words, we must realize that false teaching is dangerous. It can lead people away from the true gospel. When someone teaches something contrary to the central doctrines of the Christian faith it is a serious matter and should be addressed rather than ignored. Far too often, undiscerning Christians fall prey to teachers who twist Scripture and sprinkle just enough truth into their teachings to sound believable. This is why it is so important to learn doctrine and theology and why belonging to a church that is committed to the teaching and preaching of Scripture is vital to a healthy Christian life. If you hear something that sounds wrong, look into it and be sure to attend a good church.

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Mustard Seeds and Leaven

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Reading the Word

Matthew 13:31–33 (ESV)

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Parallel Text: Mark 4:30-32

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus tells a parable using an illustration of a mustard seed to teach about the kingdom of heaven. In this parable, Jesus describes the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds.” Some critics like to point out that the mustard seed is not truly the smallest seed. There are smaller ones. This critique misses the point. Jesus was not making a scientific statement. He was making a statement that was familiar to his hearers. The mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds they were familiar with and used regularly. The mustard seed was popular in proverbial sayings to designate the smallest of things. His audience understood what he was saying.

The kingdom of heaven begins as a tiny and seemingly insignificant thing, but grows into a large plant. Jesus uses the term “tree” to emphasize its large size, especially in comparison to other herb plants in a garden. It would dwarf them!

Jesus also taught that the kingdom is like leaven. It does not take long before the leaven is worked throughout an entire lump of dough and the whole thing is affected. In the same way, the kingdom spreads and impacts all places and things.

As Jesus’ followers, we need to hear these words. We need to be reminded that the kingdom grows through what may seem small and insignificant. It happens through our small churches, our faithful sharing of the gospel with our neighbors and friends, and through the ordinary things we do each day. These things may seem meager and mostly meaningless, but in the end a kingdom is growing that includes people from every nation, tribe, and tongue to the glory of God. Praise God for his kingdom!

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