LCN Article
Deleavening the Corners of Our Minds

March / April 2012

John H. Ogwyn (1949-2005)

In the days when our two sons were young, my wife and I found that preparing for the Days of Unleavened Bread was often quite an adventure. My wife would find bits of leavening in places you would not normally expect. There were remains of cookies in the bottom of the boys’ toy box, and even the occasional petrified remnant of a peanut butter sandwich under a bottom shelf in a corner of their closet.

Most of us who have reared children in the Church have our own unusual de-leavening tales to tell. As the Days of Unleavened Bread approach, general house cleaning is on our priority list. We clean our homes and, in the process, search into various corners and cubbyholes looking for bits and pieces of leavening. Scripture enjoins us that for seven days no leavening is to be found in our dwellings (Exodus 12:19).cookie with a bite taken out

Leavening—an agent, such as yeast or baking soda, which causes bread to rise—is used in the Bible to symbolize sin during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Paul made this analogy plain in 1 Corinthians 5:8 when he compared leaven to malice and wickedness. He emphasized to the Corinthian Christians that just as they were unleavened in their homes, so were they to be unleavened in their lives. He went on to exhort them to keep the Feast, not only physically, but also spiritually.

As the spring festivals approach, God’s people give a lot of thought to the subject of sin. We focus on the Passover and how Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins. We prepare for the Days of Unleavened Bread in which we picture putting out sin and replacing it with righteousness. At this time of year, it is especially appropriate that we stop to meditate on the question of sin and where it is hidden in our lives.

We all know what sin is, right? After all, 1 John 3:4 makes plain that sin is the transgression of God’s law. While this is the most simple and succinct definition of sin found in the Bible, there is much more to be said on the subject. Just as we examine the hidden corners in our homes to find leavening, so we must examine the hidden corners of our lives to find sin that is still lurking. There is a lot more to the matter of sin than a mere superficial glance may reveal. Let us look more closely at what the Bible reveals about sin.

Sins of Indifference

One of the best-known stories in the Bible is that of the Good Samaritan. The account is given in Luke 10. A lawyer was attempting to trip Christ up by asking certain questions.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he queried. “Well, you’re a lawyer,” Christ responded, “what does the Torah say?”

The lawyer replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The verse in Deuteronomy instructs us that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul while the verse quoted from Leviticus exhorts us to love our neighbor as ourself.

After the lawyer quoted the verses, Christ responded in the affirmative and told him that if he truly did that, he would live. That was not the end of the exchange, however. The lawyer, we are told, wanted to justify himself. In other words, he had no desire to make real changes in his life; he simply wanted an excuse to remain the way that he was. “And just who is my neighbor?” he then inquired of Jesus.

Christ proceeded to tell him a story about a man who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was robbed, beaten, and left for dead by the roadside. Three different travellers happened by. The first was a priest, the second was a Levite, and the third a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite looked but declined to become involved. The Samaritan, moved with compassion, stopped and rendered aid. “Who was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten and robbed?” Jesus demanded of the lawyer. The obvious answer, which the lawyer was forced to admit, was that the Samaritan who stopped and helped was the only one who showed himself a neighbor. Christ then told the lawyer to go and do likewise.

What was the sin of the priest and the Levite? Neither of them participated in the beating or the robbery. They did not harm the injured man. Yet clearly, according to Jesus Christ, their actions had not met the requirements of a holy, righteous God. Simply put, the priest and the Levite were guilty of the sin of indifference. They did not care!

In another well-known account, this one found in Matthew 25, Christ foretold His future coming in power and glory, the time when He will begin the process of judging the nations. This time of judgment will last throughout the Millennium and the White Throne Judgment. Christ likened His role to that of a shepherd dividing the sheep from the goats.

In this account, Christ placed the righteous on His right hand and invited them to enter into life. He told them that this was because when He was hungry they had fed Him, when He was thirsty they had given Him something to drink, and when He had been sick and in prison they had visited Him. He then turned to those on His left hand and told them to go into the Lake of Fire because they had not fed Him when He had been hungry nor had given Him a drink when He had been thirsty, neither had they visited Him. Both groups had a common response to Christ’s statements. “When did we respond to you that way?” they asked. “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me,” Christ replied.

As does the parable of the Good Samaritan, this account illustrates the seriousness of the sin of indifference. It is not enough for us merely to refrain from robbing or killing our neighbor; we must actively show love and kindness to others. The spirit of God’s law requires far more than merely the avoidance of actively harming someone else.

As we examine the closet corners of our lives, we must examine for sins of indifference. They violate, in principle, all of the commands that hang on the simple statement that we are to love our neighbor as ourself.

Sins of Pride

King Uzziah of Judah came to the throne when he was only 16 years old. He went on to become one of the most outwardly successful rulers of the southern kingdom.

From early in his reign, he pursued an aggressive policy that secured his own borders and brought traditional enemies to bay. He put together a sizeable, well-equipped army. He fortified Jerusalem, placed fortified garrison cities among the Philistines, and forced the Ammonites to pay annual tribute.

He expanded the economic prosperity of the nation by digging a series of wells that opened new opportunities of cattle-raising and agriculture. The entire nation had peace at home and respect abroad.

In 2 Chronicles 26 we find the story of King Uzziah. We read: “So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong” (v. 15). Setting the stage for this prosperity and success was the fact that, from the beginning of his kingship, Uzziah had sought to serve the God of Israel.

That does not represent the end of the story, however. In 2 Chronicles 26:16, we read of the turning point in Uzziah’s life. “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” One of the greatest dangers of success is pride.

At the pinnacle of blessings and success we are all quite vulnerable to this insidious destroyer, pride. Pride is what turned Lucifer into Satan. It has spiritually destroyed many who seemed on the road to great success.

In Uzziah’s case, he took to himself the prerogatives of the priests. Israel’s priesthood consisted only of those men who were direct descendants of Aaron. The priests were the only ones permitted by God to enter the Holy Place of the Temple and to perform the rituals outlined in the Law. One of those rituals consisted of burning incense on the altar that stood in front of the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.

As one of Judah’s most successful kings, Uzziah became focused on his greatness. He lost sight of the fact that he was subject to God’s law just like everyone else. No one is so important as to be above the law!

The High Priest Azariah and 80 other faithful priests confronted the king in the temple. “You must leave immediately,” the high priest demanded. “You’re not a priest and it is not lawful for you to be here!” The king’s response was to become enraged at the priest for addressing him that way. When his anger flared at the correction he had received, a remarkable thing suddenly happened. As the priests watched in horror, Uzziah’s face became leprous. As the now-frightened king recognized what was occurring, he quickly withdrew from the temple. For the remainder of his life he was a leper and had to live apart from others. His son Jotham became regent in his stead. Uzziah’s life ended in loneliness and obscurity because this great conquering king was himself conquered by pride.

Pride leads to presumptuous sins. It also serves as a roadblock to accepting correction. When any of us presume to set ourselves in a position that God has not chosen to give us, we are on very dangerous ground. We must all search the drawers and closet corners of our lives for hidden pride that could be the key to our undoing.

Compromise and Faithlessness

When fear rather than faith rules our life, it leads us to compromise with what we know is right. “For whatsoever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Perhaps one of the most vivid illustrations of faithlessness and compromise is the account of Jeroboam, the first king of the House of Israel. From 1 Kings 11 we learn that Solomon displeased God in his later years. As a result, God allowed adversaries to rise up and trouble him.

In this context we are introduced to Jeroboam, a very industrious young Ephraimite who was the son of a widow. Solomon became so impressed with Jeroboam’s ability that he made him governor of the tribe of Ephraim. One day, on his way out of Jerusalem, one of God’s prophets accosted him. Ahijah the prophet came up to Jeroboam, asked to see his new coat and then proceeded to rip it into twelve pieces! “Take ten of these,” he told the astounded Jeroboam. The prophet went on to explain that God was going to make Jeroboam king over ten of the tribes of Israel after Solomon’s death. Because of His previous promise of an everlasting dynasty to King David, God was going to preserve Solomon’s dynasty over Judah. However, Jeroboam was told that if he would be faithful and obedient to God, God would also establish his dynasty forever.

Evidently Solomon must have heard about some of this, for he became suspicious of Jeroboam. As a result, Jeroboam had to flee to Egypt to preserve his life. Only after Solomon’s death was he free to return to Israel.

Upon King Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam succeeded to the throne. A delegation from all of the tribes came to him and demanded a reduction in the high taxes that Solomon had levied. Rehoboam, ignoring the counsel of the older, wiser men, refused to heed the people’s request and decided to show that he was “in charge.” The result was that the ten northern tribes refused to acknowledge him as king and chose the newly returned Jeroboam as their king. This event produced a split between Israel and Judah that has endured to this day.

So far, half of what God had promised Jeroboam through the prophet had come to pass. Now he was king over the ten tribes. However, as he thought of the people travelling to Jerusalem year after year to attend God’s festivals, he was troubled. “In time, they’ll become nostalgic for ‘the good old days,’” he mused. “They’ll think back longingly to the time when everyone was together as one nation. Some day they will simply get rid of me so that they can reunite with Judah.” The more he thought about this possible scenario, the more persuaded of it he was—and the more he worried.

After talking it over with his advisors, Jeroboam came up with a plan to prevent this from happening. We read in 1 Kings 12 that he called the people together and proposed some changes. “It’s too hard for you folks to have to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship God,” he told the Israelites. Jeroboam then told them that there would now be two centers of worship for the ten tribes. One would be in the northern part of his kingdom at Dan and the other in the southern part at Bethel. Additionally, he told them, there would be a golden calf set up at each location. He appointed new priests who were not from the sons of Aaron, but included every class of people (v. 31). They were men willing to preach whatever Jeroboam paid them to preach. In addition, he changed the date of the Feast of Tabernacles from the seventh month to the eighth month, undoubtedly under the guise of offering greater convenience.

Jeroboam’s compromises with the truth of God were motivated by fear. They were self-protective strategies based upon his apprehension about what the future might hold. While his concerns were certainly understandable from a human standpoint, they left God entirely out of the picture. The same God who had made him king could certainly have preserved his dynasty.

When we follow our fears and try to protect ourselves rather than rely upon God, we inevitably embark upon the path of compromise. The truth is that we cannot protect and preserve ourselves, but God is faithful and His promises stand sure! Jeroboam thought that his actions would enable his dynasty to hang onto power. In reality they were its death knell! His dynasty proved to be extremely short-lived, only surviving his death by a mere two years (1 Kings 15:25–29). He had left God out of the picture and had acted from fear rather than from faith.

When we search the hidden crevices of the inner man for the crumbs of leavening, we must be on the lookout for our human fears and the compromises they produce. “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

Sins of Unforgiveness

Ahithophel was one of King David’s very closest friends. Most commentaries agree that David’s Psalm 55:13 reference to the man he called “my comrade, my own dear friend” (NEB) was a reference to Ahithophel. David further describes this friendship: “We were together in sweet fellowship, and went to God’s house with the festal throng” (Psalm 55:14). Yet, both Psalm 55:13–15 and Psalm 41:9 tell of David’s betrayal by this man whom he trusted. As the Jerusalem Bible renders Psalm 41:9, “Even my closest and most trusted friend, who shared my table, rebels against me.” Jesus Christ at His final Passover quoted this verse as applying to the actions of Judas Iscariot (John 13:18).

Ahithophel, David’s friend and most trusted advisor, joined with Absalom in his revolt. He was part of the conspiracy to overthrow David as king (2 Samuel 15:12, 31). Why, after years of trusted friendship, would he do such a thing?

The answer is found in a careful comparison of two verses. In 2 Samuel 11:3 we read that Bathsheba, the woman with whom David committed adultery, was the daughter of Eliam. From 2 Samuel 23:34 we learn that Eliam was one of David’s “mighty men” and that he was the son of Ahithophel. In other words, Bathsheba was the granddaughter of David’s closest advisor, Ahithophel!

Simply put, Ahithophel never forgave David for what he had done to his granddaughter and her husband, Uriah. He must have felt deeply hurt by David’s actions. That hurt, however, turned to bitter resentment and festered on the inside for years. He could never seem to turn it loose!

It is easy to understand the depth of Ahithophel’s hurt, but what did his lack of forgiveness do for him? It fed a resentment that turned him into a traitor to God’s anointed king! He died as a hopeless suicide (2 Samuel 17:23).

How many unforgiven hurts do we have lurking deep within us? If we do not rid ourselves of them, they will destroy us!

This year, let us make sure that we do more than deleaven the corners of our closets. Most importantly, let us search out and remove the crumbs of leavening in the corners of our hearts and minds.

We cannot do this spiritual deleavening on our own strength. But, then, we do not need to! God’s power is available to us, if we will reach out to Him and truly seek His help.