The smell of fresh baked whole-wheat oatmeal bread wafts through the house. My wife has enticed us to the kitchen again. She’s amazing. So is her baking. My tastebuds long for the sensation created by a thin pat of butter melting into the golden brown crevices of one hot slice. Ummm.
I’ve watched her mix ingredients and knead bread dough hundreds of times. I’m always intrigued by the way it rises…and how she punches it down…and then it rises again. Amazingly, depending on the recipe, usually 2 teaspoons or less of yeast cause this phenomenon in the entire loaf.
When the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:9 “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” he used a common baking illustration to make a potent point. Paul was concerned about the false teaching of some Judaizers whose small portion of legalism, mixed with the Gospel, was corrupting the Galatian church. A similar problem is infecting the church today. Corrupt teaching like replacement theology (supersessionism), “social gospel,” “expressive individualism” (the gospel of self-fulfillment), and “health and wealth prosperity gospel” are just a few trends leaving scars on many church bodies. While each of these movements needs a treatise of its own, let’s simply examine the leaven matter a bit more closely and gain some principles to guide and guard us.
1. Notice the amount – “a little.” A tiny bit affects the larger portion. A seed produces a tree. A tree populates a forest. A spark can destroy the forest. James says that the tongue is a little member that can kindle a great fire. (Jms. 3:5) Did you ever notice how a drop of ink can cloud a gallon of water? So just a bit of false teaching can taint the truth and cause havoc among those who are undiscerning.
2. Notice the agent – “leaven.” 19th century Commentator R. Winterbotham describes leaven this way. “Leaven…is simply so much dough in a state of fermentation. When the last “lump” had been leavened, and was ready for baking, a portion was set aside to act as leaven for the next “lump.” Whether yeast, baking soda or baking powder, these little ingredients have the potential to grow out of control. In almost secret subtlety, leaven corrupts the uninfected parts quickly. No wonder leaven is often seen in the N.T. as a type of evil. (Matt. 16:12; Matt. 13:33; 1 Cor. 5:6)
3. Notice the activity – “leaveneth.” Once activated by warm water, this little active agent, leaven, spreads throughout the whole loaf, feeding on the simple sugars and giving off carbon dioxide. This is what makes the bread rise. Quoting Winterbotham again, “…the process of fermentation is one of the most curious, and (until lately) most obscure among the commoner operations of nature. It is now known to be due to the rapid—often inconceivably rapid—development of vegetable (fungoid) growth, which has the power of disengaging a quantity of free acid, and of changing the chemical character of the substance on which it acts. …Fermentation may, indeed, be conveyed by one substance into another, as in the common case of dough “raised” by means of yeast. But the ordinary and typical method is that of leaven, which is itself fermented dough, introduced into the midst of other unfermented dough. The invariable consequence is, that the fermented portion has the power of superinducing its own chemical condition upon the mass with which it is placed in contact: being itself in a state of violent chemical change, it has the power of setting on the same change all around it; nor will this action cease until that of which it is a part has entirely succumbed to its influence. But this change is, in its entirety, a change for the worst: it may, indeed, be checked (as in bread by baking, in wine by adding spirit, or by other means); but unless stopped at an early stage it is hurtful; and when it cannot be checked, as in decaying substances and in fatal diseases, it is simply destructive.”
4. Notice the aggregate – “the whole lump.” Every part of the mass is affected and infected. Nothing is left undefiled. Unless vigilant, man can become the passive lump through which the active leaven (evil) spreads. Further, like 1 Corinthians 15:33, Ecclesiastes 9:18 says “One sinner destroyeth much good.” Be very cautious, especially in our “politically correct” society. The subtle influences of this constant bombardment can weaken your resolve and render you ineffective or spoiled. No one ever expects this takeover. Nevertheless, like the proverbial frog in the frying pan, it happens so imperceptibly, that before you know it, you have been completely overcome. So guard your music, language, friendships, leisure and spiritual input. As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
I read a story of a group of people who were walking in Sudbrook Park when a brilliant man by the name of Dr. Ellis, drew everyone’s attention to a large sycamore tree decayed to the core. “That fine tree,” said he, “was killed by a single worm. Two years previously, the tree was as healthy as any in the park, when a woodworm, about three inches long, was observed to be forcing its way under the bark of the trunk. It then caught the eye of a naturalist who was staying there and he remarked, “Let that worm alone, and it will kill the tree.” This seemed very improbable; but it was agreed that the black-headed worm should not be disturbed. After a time it was discovered that the worm had tunnelled its way a considerable distance under the bark. The leaves, next summer, dropped off very early; and, in the succeeding year, it was a dead, rotten thing, and the hole made by the worm might be seen in the heart of the once noble trunk.” “Ah,” said one who was present, “let us learn a lesson from that single tree. How many who once [seemed to be promising] in the world and the Church have been ruined by a single sin!” (Biblical Illustrator)
So don’t let a little sin, a little false teaching or a little compromise ruin your big dreams. Next time you reach for a slice of bread, a yeast roll or a doughnut, stop to consider how one little item, one iniquity or one individual can hinder your usefulness for Christ. Beware of the effect of the leaven and allow the heat of God’s Word and Spirit to put a halt to it immediately. Why not follow the advice of Proverbs 28:13? “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Then enjoy your sandwich!
Here’s a link to a great flatbread recipe.