One False Thing

“You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Galatians 5:7-9

Irwin Shaw gave an interview to the Paris Review in 1953 for their Art of Fiction series. During the discussion, Shaw commented on a character, a German sergeant, in his post World War II novel The Young Lions:

“Diestl, himself, I wanted to use as a symbol and an explanation, as well as an individual human being. I wanted to show how a man can start out decent, intelligent, well meaning, as so many people in Germany must have been, even in the greatest days of Nazism—and wind up bestialized, almost bereft of humanity, almost dead to the instincts of survival even, as the Germans finally were, by believing in one false thing, which spreads and spreads and finally corrupts them entirely. The false thing I had Diestl believing in was the conviction that at that one time and in that one place (Austria) the end justified the means. The belief, in the course of the book, corrupts him to a point of fanaticism at which no horror any longer has the power to move or disgust him.”

When I read the interview I immediately thought, Is Shaw right? Is that how it is? Can one false belief skew an entire life? My next thought was of the saying, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. If you’d asked me at that moment who originated the saying, I would’ve answered Jesus, but that’s not correct. Jesus warned to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, and of Herod (Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1), which is hypocrisy.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, said a little leaven leavens the whole lump. He wrote it to the Galatians and to the Corinthians. Interestingly and pertinently, at the time he wrote to the Galatians, Paul was embroiled in a conflict with certain Jews, fellow Christians, who held to the belief the Gentile converts needed to follow the Mosaic Law. Circumcision, that symbol of the old covenant, naturally was at the center of the debate.

The impassioned arguments Paul sets forth in Galatians really take on a different tone when you set them in context, much the same way To Kill A Mockingbird is a different story in the context of the emerging civil rights movement in 1961. Moreover, you and I might be experiencing a different Christianity altogether had Paul not taken a stand right then, right there. He alone seemed to recognize the importance of challenging doctrine that required a Christian to continue in the Law. No one else was making much fuss about the error until Paul forced it to a head. Then, after much discussion, the brothers at Jerusalem landed on the right side of the issue (Acts 15:22-29). Thank God.

So, yes, Shaw was spot on. One false thing can corrupt everything.

We are sometimes defined, to greater or lesser degrees, by moments in our lives and the assumptions we form in their wake. The tricky thing about assumptions is they hide beneath the surface of our consciousness, their very nature a defense: we don’t think to question assumptions. They invisibly permeate our beliefs and values. Day upon day, act upon act, one false thing, one assumption formed in the wake of a moment, is worked through our lives like leaven through bread. Everyone knows a small, seemingly innocuous lie often takes a lot more lies to cover it and keep it covered. Give that self-deception a little time and it can misshape a life.

I believe the Holy Spirit goes to great effort to expose our assumptions so we can examine them and evaluate whether or not they are true. We call it conviction and it looks like this: He reveals our assumption in light of Truth, usually found in the Scripture and confirmed through our brothers and sisters (Matthew 18:16, 1 Corinthians 13:1). The Lord has a beautifully elegant system, resistant to error. No one corners the market on interpreting the Scripture (2 Peter 1:20). We need one another’s point of view, and we are safe in numbers (Proverbs 15:22). Just like sheep.

Once the Lord has exposed the error of our ways, He provides us an opportunity to change, which we call repentance. Conviction and repentance: the cycle of discipleship that is conducted frequently. It’s not difficult. In fact, one must steel oneself to avoid changing one’s mind in the face of conviction. It’s not easy. It takes a stiff neck.

We owe it to ourselves and to one another to be honest, and just as important, to be trustworthy enough to provide a safe place to work the conviction-repentance cycle. We owe it to ourselves and to one another to speak the truth in love so that we may grow together (Ephesians 4:13-16).

Much of my FAA career I spent traveling to towers and approach controls, flight service stations and centers to evaluate the air traffic services they provided. I was unflinchingly honest in exposing noncompliance and hazardous practices that were known to increase risk for those who take to the skies. I did my job, and because I did it with diplomacy I enjoyed a good reputation, but far more importantly I left the National Airspace System better than I found it. Many of us did. Here’s the thing though: we didn’t get to go around exposing everything, everywhere, but only in the places where we were sent for that purpose.

Similarly, we don’t get to go around exposing every fault in every Christian, even though we see believers doing that very thing. Nevertheless, there are brothers and sisters within the realms of our lives to whom we have an obligation for frank dialogue, just as I had to the civil servants in those air traffic facilities. With these people, our people, we ought to be trustworthy and loving, yet unflinchingly honest. For many, if not most of us, speaking the truth is very hard; it’s so much easier to just brush it off and trust the Lord will deal with the person. Yet our candor with one another is one of the main ways the Lord said He would deal with us. It’s also a very hard thing to receive correction and not be offended – we lack proficiency with that exercise, a fact that often silences us.

Maybe these are a few of the reasons we aren’t yet that bride without blemish.

© Melissa Kay Simonds

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