Leaven, as defined by Dictionary.com is a substance that causes fermentation or expansion of dough or batter. Modern-day examples will include yeast and baking powder. But besides being able to change the shape or size of dough, there is one other crucial idiosyncrasy of leaven – you only need a little to do very much. You can see where this is going…lets dive in!
The book of 1 Corinthians 5 warns about the keeping of bad company. Here we see Paul instructing the people of the church in Corinth to put away from their midst the fornicators, adulterers, extortionists and idolaters. He warns of the negative influence they can have on everyone else by using the popular saying “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. But in Galatians 5:9, we see this actually start to take effect albeit this time amongst a different set of people – the church of Galatia. As you read through the entire book of Galatians, the pages are heavily scented with the raw indignation of Apostle Paul as he expresses his anger, frustration and concern over the gradual introduction of practices he had laboured to abolish. He received word that some of the Christians there had begun doing things according to the law, abandoning the faith which was taught them and therefore despising the redeeming power of Christ. Again the phrase by which this article is titled is used to imply that the false doctrines are of a foreign nature and have now spread to involve even those that were of the knowledge of the truth.
I cannot but include one more occasion where this saying is used by a very key character in the Bible – Jesus. Master Jesus sure had His fair share of harassment delivered by the oddly ever-present Pharisees and Sadducees. After feeding the multitude, in Matthew 16 the besetting bunch once again approached him with another one of their contentious questions. Sensing the wickedness of their heart, Jesus solemnly turns to his disciples and warns “take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” This is explained in verse 6 as referring to the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus specifically uses the metaphor of leaven to imply that even a tiny amount allowed can have extensive consequence.
So what is the point? The point is these bible verses overtly describe the pervasive and contagious nature of corruption, lies and deceitful practises. It does not take a lot of bad eggs, a little accommodative shifting here and there before the whole lot is influenced. Notice that none of these references are about the people outside the church. They are all been spoken to God’s own people. God Himself is aware of the dangers of letting a little bit of “world” into the church, of permitting a little bit heresy here and there…the truth is these things given a little bit of room can soon grow to fill the entire space! Hence, a zero-tolerance policy is necessary.
Finally, I’d like to say a thing or two about emotions as I believe the popular proverb can also be applied in that area as well. Bringing our minds back to Ephesians 4:26, we are told be angry but do not sin, and also to not let the sun go down on our anger. The next verse then says “neither give place to the devil”. It can be inferred from these that firstly, anger is not always sin; indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ was at times angry – on one occasion with the buyers and sellers at the temple and on another when he was asked an annoying question by…you guessed it, the Pharisees! The second thing of note here is this verse comes with a caveat of some sort – it warns that though anger is not necessarily sinful, you should not let it stay for long. The third point made in verse 27 then suggests that tarrying in anger creates room for the devil to step into the situation. In other words, what may have started out as sin-free anger can evolve into something more sinister. When anger is allowed to dwell within you, it can soon turn into bitterness, unforgiveness and strife – none of which you can justify and behold you find yourself living in sin. The same can also be said of pride. Pride hardly starts out as just plain pride, particularly in the godly. Often a little self-commendation, just a little bit of glorification within oneself can evolve into full-blown pride. So beware, be vigilant, even concerning your own emotions because truly, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump!”