Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Do you know what “cheat” is? My grandfather told me about it. He homesteaded in northeastern North Dakota early in this century. Wheat was an important crop. “Cheat,” also known as “darnel” (and “tares” in the parable) was a troublesome weed which grew in the wheat fields.
The young plants are hard to distinguish from the wheat. This “look-alike” factor makes it difficult to remove the weeds before the harvest when the seed heads make the difference more apparent. With earlier attempts at removal, mistakes would be made and wheat ripped up with, and instead of, the weeds.
Even today control is difficult because of the close relationship between the wheat and the weed. Herbicides which would kill the weed must be very selective or they will harm the wheat as well.
Of course, there were no herbicides in Jesus’ time. So, the solution given in the parable was to wait until the harvest. Then the weeds could be detected and removed without damage to the wheat.
While Jesus was speaking about plants in the parable, He really had people in mind. As He explained, He is the sower. The world is the field. The good seed are people in whom God’s Word has accomplished its purpose of bringing them to faith in Jesus.
The enemy is the devil. The weeds are the people whom the devil has led to resist the Word and to remain in unbelief. The harvest is Judgment Day when the difference between the believers and unbelievers will be clearly evident. Then the unbelievers will be removed for eternal damnation.
It is the handling of the “tares” with which the parable is chiefly concerned. The kingdom of heaven is found throughout the world wherever the Word is taught. In its earthly state, the kingdom of heaven includes all those who are associated with the visible church. Among them are hypocrites, people who wish to be known as Christians but who possess no faith in Jesus.
There has been the temptation since the beginning of the Christian era to purge the church of tares. But only God can read hearts and determine the presence or absence of faith. Imagine the spiritual wreckage that would result from zealous people trying to identify and eject people from the church for lack of faith. That is why Jesus tells us that He does not want anyone to attempt to remove the hypocrites. He will send His holy angels to do that on the Last Day.
Does this rule out church discipline and excommunication? No. There is a clear difference. Church discipline is the loving effort to lead known sinners to repent of their sins. Excommunication is the last step in seeking to help an impenitent sinner. It is the apostle Paul writing under inspiration who urged: “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).
Hypocrites we cannot help. We are unable to recognize them. We leave them to the Lord’s judgment. Sinners we can identify. Toward them we are to direct our loving efforts to lead them to repentance and eternal life.
May we always make that distinction. And may we never forget what a blessing it is to be wheat plants in the Lord’s field. Thank God that the Holy Spirit has made us such by sowing the gospel in our hearts so that we trust in the Savior for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
— Pastor Keith Olmanson