"A LITTLE LEAVEN
THE WHOLE LUMP"
THERE ARE statements found
in 1 Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9 that are identical. "A little leaven
leaventh the whole lump." Evidently this was a familiar proverb in circulation
in the first century, and Paul makes good use of the saying in each of
the situations where he applies it. The Lord, likewise, had used this mode
of speech in warning his disciples about false teachers. Let us notice
their applications and find lessons for us today.
Sin in the Church
The church at Corinth was a Gentile church beset by sin. It seems
they had been converted from raw heathenism, and it was easy for them to
fall back into their old unrestrained way of living. The epistle of 1 Corinthians
highlights many of their sins. Sexual immorality stands out among these
sins, and one case in particular startled the apostle Paulóand especially
how the church was reacting to it (or rather, not reacting). Read the 5th
chapter. It seems that a man was living incestuously with his stepmother.
Not only were they in such an unthinkable relationship, in church circles
they were unabashedly appearing together. No one was calling their hand,
as the church was too preoccupied with other fleshly matters ("puffed up").
It was in such a context that the apostle Paul asked the prodding question,
"Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" Actually this
was only one of the more obnoxious cases among many (1 Corinthians 5:1;
2 Corinthians 12:21). Obviously the church was taking a very tolerant view
toward all of this. It was not being dealt with. And furthermore, like
the writer James said, "For where envying and strife is [like at Corinth],
there is confusion and every evil work" (James 3:16).
in the Church
The other reference having to do with the proverbial statement involved
the churches in Galatia. These churches likewise were Gentile churches.
Their situation was a little different from the Corinthians. They were
beset by Judaizers, teachers who were trying to take them back under the
Law of Moses. We find the Galatians looking to the law for justification,
circumcision being introduced and Jewish days being observed. Read this
epistle. Unwisely, these erroneous teachers had been given an audience
to vent their erroneous views. By going back under the Law for justification,
and not looking to Christ, they were putting themselves back under condemnation
(for no one could ever be saved by law, Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:10; Romans
8:1). Consequently, Paul said, "Christ is become of no effect unto you,
whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians
5:4). He probingly continues with a question and a statement, "Ye did run
well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?ÖA little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump" (5:7,9).
In leaven we get the picture of something small, like yeast or such
an agent in dough, gradually, but surely, spreading and, undetected or
unobstructed, with time permeating the whole. This is how the apostle Paul
looked upon the sin problem in the church at Corinth and the false teaching
in the churches of Galatia. Even small irregularities, unchecked, in time
will manifest themselves in full-blown apostasy. If we tolerate wrong,
and learn to live with compromise, the next step is to accept it. With
the floodgates open, the tidal waves canít help but come in. Once the devil
gets into a church it is hard to get him out.
The Leaven of the
Sadducees and Herodians
Jesus made use of this figure of leaven in warning his disciples
about the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. He urged them to "beware
of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6). At
another place he added the Herodians to this list of those to be careful
about (Mark 8:15; 3:6; 12:13). In Matthew 16:12, when his disciples pondered
what Jesus meant by leaven, he told them that he was talking about "the
doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." At another time Jesus
said, "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke
12:1). A personís doctrine, or belief, is manifest in the way that he lives.
The 23rd chapter of Matthew tells us about the hypocritical "righteousness"
of the scribes and Pharisees. And its leavening impact could be seen in
their converts. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" said
Jesus, "For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he
is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" (23:15).
Unbelief and the worldly political slant in a religious context characterized
the leaven of the Sadducees and Herodians. Such subtle outworking of ill
is manifest in religious circles and at every turn in society (whether
in ancient times or today).
Instructions to Purge
The apostle Paul, having asked the prodding question, "Know ye not
that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" with thoughts of the unleavened
bread of the Passover in mind, gives instructions to the Corinthians about
dealing with the sin problem in the church. "Purge out therefore the old
leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ
our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not
with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but
with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Initially this involved repentance and them getting back on track with
Christ (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). In purging out glaring cases of old leaven,
disfellowship was to be practiced (Read 1 Corinthians chapter 5 and 2 Corinthians
2:6-9). And Paul gives expanded thought in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that is
applicable to the situation at hand, "Be not deceived: evil communications
[companionships] corrupt good manners [morals]" (Read the context). Of
the false teachers among the Galatian churches, Paul said, "I would they
were even cut off which trouble you" (Galatians 5:12).
As we pointed out, the Lord Jesus had warned His disciples to "beware
of the leaven of the Pharisees." In Matthew 15:14, He further had said,
"Let them alone; they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead
the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matthew 15:14). Although Jesus
reached out to and ate with regular sinners, he had little patience with
apostates guised as religious leaders. He had some especially strong things
to say to them and about them. And others should always remember, "A little
leaven leaveneth the whole lump."