The Yeast of the Pharisees
What would you think of a friend who invited you to dinner and then put absolutely nothing on the table? Suppose you were to sit down to gleaming silverware, the best china, a lace tablecloth and candles, but no food? On top of that, what if your host even toasted you with an empty glass, then picked up his knife and fork and began digging in on a bare plate, clearly inviting you to do the same? What would you do? Would you go along with this preposterous ruse, smacking your lips and complimenting your friend on his marvelous culinary skills? On the other hand, would you be angry with him for trying to make a fool of you, and would you tell him so in no uncertain terms?
Well, Job is angry with Eliphaz for having pretended to feed him, when in fact he has deprived him of solid spiritual food. No doubt, Job would feel the same way today if he were to visit many contemporary churches. The altar is set with linen, candles are lit, guests assemble, and there is even a plate passed around—but where is the food? There is an after-dinner speaker but no dinner. As Milton has said, “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” At least, whatever passes for dinner is about as tasty (as Job puts it) as a bowl of egg whites. The meaning of the Hebrew is obscure, and so we don’t know exactly what food it is that Job says, “makes me ill.” Nevertheless, we can easily fill in this blank ourselves the next time we are subjected to a nauseatingly bland sermon.
Job’s metaphor may remind us of one of Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
After two chapters of Eliphaz’s double-talk, there may still be some question in our minds as to what exactly he has said. But however kind and wise Eliphaz’s tone of voice may have been, Job has picked up on the real message: all his problems are his own fault and he had better clean up his act. It’s the polite imputation of guilt in this counsel that repulses Job. He knows that wherever religion is founded on and motivated by guilt, the result can only be evil. Evil spirits are drawn by guilt like moths to a light bulb
Granted, guilt has it proper work to do, and many believers do not pay nearly enough attention to the call to live clean and godly lives. However, many others, erring on the opposite extreme, are virtuous to a fault. As one author has written, “they are punctilious about peccadilloes.” By being overly scrupulous about selected issues of piety and morality, they unwittingly turn the gospel and its glorious freedom into just one more religion, just one more system of humanly-powered spiritual principles, with guilt at the core. It’s not hard to spot such guilt-ridden faith, because it is full of anxiety, full of nagging worries about “finding God’s will,” “loving one’s neighbor,” grieving the Spirit,” or “taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.” This faith is endlessly and neurotically preoccupied with its own performance, with its own power and holiness or lack thereof. It always has an eye on the heavenly box office, the celestial ratings, earning Christian “Brownie points.” A bad rating will cause it not to love more, but to try harder; not to fix its eyes on Jesus and his work in their life, but rather to examine itself more feverishly. Worst of all, such hypersensitive egocentricity always spills over into an authoritative, judgmental attitude toward others. I have been there, done that, have the tee shirt to prove it, so I know whereof I speak . . . I am guilty of the same guilt-ridden, heavily-burdened life of “faith,” and I am here to tell you there is a better way to live—living free in through the Spirit of Christ!
What I am talking about is the hypocrisy that Jesus called the “yeast of the Pharisees.” Whether He found it in the Jews who were plotting to kill Him, or in His own disciples, it is something he always angrily exposed and denounced. Paul also used the yeast metaphor when warning the Galatians to resist the powerful legalists in their midst, for “that kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’” (Galatians 5:8-9). The real root of religious hypocrisy is unresolved guilt, and this is the active agent in all legalism.
There is so much about morality and good living in the New Testament it can be difficult to see this is not really the point of Christianity (at least, it is neither the starting point nor the focal point). It can also be more difficult for a Christian who starts well, to detect in himself the gradual, poisonous growth of the yeast of the Pharisee.
If you are interested, you can download the whole study of Job.
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