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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The Fruit of Repentance

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Reading the Word

Matthew 3:7–10 (ESV)

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Parallel Text: Luke 3:7-9

Understanding and Applying the Word

John the Baptist’s ministry was focused on calling people to repentance. When the Pharisees and Sudducees show up, he has harsh words for them. He calls them a “brood of vipers.” And warns them to bear fruit consistent with repentance. The Pharisees and Sudducees prided themselves in their ability to keep the Mosaic Law and follow religious rules. For this reason, they would have felt little need to repent. In their minds, they had done nothing wrong! They also would have thought, “We are biological descendants of Abraham. We are fine with God!” However, John warns them that being the physical descendants of Abraham will not be enough.

John’s warning to these two groups to bear fruit in keeping with repentance tells us that God is looking for more than external religious activity. He is looking for sincerity of heart. True repentance may be symbolized through baptism, but it is only real if there is a heart change. And when there is a heart change, it is reflected in how we live.

The gospel calls us to repent and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. When we do that we are saved. Have you done that? Does your life reflect it? If not, take the time right now to repent and call on the Lord. He is faithful and gracious to all who will turn to him.

**Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. Please subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospel accounts in 2019.