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The Leaven of the Pharisees - back to index
Chapter 2 - When “leaven" (hypocrisy) is not
intentional, it is self-deceptive.
Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. - Luke 12:1b
Jesus gave his disciples this warning in the context of being enticed by the Pharisees to say something by which they could accuse him. The word “hypocrisy” was used at the time to refer to stage actors who would present a performance that was by definition other than who they actually were.
Today we mostly use the word “hypocrite” to refer to someone like an actor who presents an image inconsistent with reality. Often we think of a scoundrel or manipulator trying to gain some advantage through misrepresentation. With this emphasis on intentionality, it is easy to overlook the more common and damaging aspect of hypocrisy that of self-deception. Like an actor that “gets lost in his part”, a Christian can come to a point where what he does, thinks, and says is different than reality. He can sound very sincere because he believes it himself.
In the warning Jesus gives the disciples he uses the word “leaven”. The slow, pervasive, and inflating aspect of yeast (leaven) would indicate the Jesus was warning less about intentional hypocrisy than about how one can be brought to this state unawares.
We have an example of one way this can overtake a Christian with the example of Peter and Barnabas.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? - Galatians 2:11-14
Here we have a record of being “carried away” with dissimulation (hupokrisis - elsewhere translated hypocrisy). Here the motive is fear and the sort of “herd mentality” common with peer pressure.
There was an episode of the Twilight Zone where a man found a mirror that had been painted over. When he scraped off some of the paint, he discovered that it was a portal to another world. After scraping off all the paint, he went through only to learn that he could not find his way back. Truth is a little like that. When we deviate, even slightly, we begin to lose our ability to find our way back. Hypocrisy (intentional or otherwise) is a disconnection from truth. It can have lasting consequences.
If we can see from the example of Peter and Barnabas what a slight drop in vigilance can allow, how much more should we seek to recognize when this happens to us.
In the example of Peter and Barnabas we have them on the path of truth and serving Jesus who is truth. Their acquiescence to the preferences of the visitors (the Jews of the circumcision) might have seemed to them only a courteous accommodation. They may have even felt that they might be able to “win over” these people through their accommodation. They probably correctly anticipated that if they failed to provide such accommodation, the visitors would “pitch a fit”. It is understandable that they would want to avoid such a confrontation seeking “peaceableness” instead.
This is what makes the “leaven” of hypocrisy so tricky. It can start so small that we never notice its encroaching growth. We can even consider what we are doing as righteous or godly.
If we examine Peter and Barnabas we might be able to determine at what point they started to diverge from truth. It seems they thought they had to act a certain way to achieve a certain result.
Embedded in this are several elements
1. Shift from trust in God to trust in self.
2. Implying that simple faith in Jesus is insufficient.
3. Imputing to those of the circumcision an authority not deserved.
4. Subverting their previous testimony to the gentiles.
It is often when we start to think that we need to control or direct things, even with good intentions, that we step into the flesh and risk disconnecting ourselves from God. When we see things in terms of what we can or should do, slowly we begin to see ourselves as the one who decides what is right. Jesus is a better example of how to avoid the elevation of self that can arise.
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. - John 5:19
Often the path to play-acting hypocrisy begins with consideration of the appearance of things. We find that we modify what we do and say (even what we believe) to achieve a particular effect only to find that we have become diverted from truth.
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