The Danger of the Tare Life
Almost all major interpreters of the Bible have a similar explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares, that there are true believers (wheat) and false believers (tares) in every local church. The true believers have the Lord, enjoy Him, bear His testimony, express the divine life, and live a life of loving one another. I agree with this as a matter of truth, but I am not quite sure any believer can be that good all the time.
Truth and Experience
By the end of the first century, in John’s time, it is clear that some unbelievers were mixed with the saints in the church. The church life was attractive and open to everyone, so those who promoted philosophies contrary to the faith also came in. When John stopped them from promoting their teaching, they left. He says that their spirit was anti-Christ, writing,
Even now many antichrists have appeared….They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
– 1 John 2:18–19
They were tares in the wheat field. The same can happen in the church today. This is absolutely according to the truth of the parable in Matthew 13.
According to truth, before we were saved, we were all unbelieving tares, but we became wheat when we believed into the Lord and He sowed His life into us. However, according to experience, we may be surprised to find we are still very tare-like. We daily manifest some element of our former tare life. On the one hand, each of us has the divine life inside, which is the wheat life. On the other hand, our fallen adamic life is still too alive, which is the tare life. Though we are wheat in truth, our sin nature prevents us from always living out the divine life. We often unconsciously live in our flesh, in our fallen self, in what is not of Christ. We are all sinners being saved daily by His life.
Satan is continuously sowing in the church life. Not only does he sow unbelieving tares into the church as he did in John’s time, but he tries his best to bring out the old tare life in those who have become wheat. After a church meeting, we may feel so filled with the Lord, so pure, and so cleansed. We are in the Lord’s presence and know His precious operation within us. Then, as we go home, Satan comes to sow some tare element into us. Suddenly we are not able to love the Lord as before. We no longer allow the divine life to work in us and even begin to commit sins.
Have you ever see one wheat believer with no tare element? I have never seen such a thing. There is something short in even the most spiritual person. That includes me. At the very least I can be accused of joking too much. Actually I am much worse than that.
Those who drive me places know my tare-like qualities. They drive slowly, thinking they have to be careful for the sake of my age. Everyone drives me so slowly, exactly according to the speed limit, and sometimes I just can’t take it! I have too much to do, I can’t waste my life in that car! Eventually, when I’m out of my patience. I say, “Brother, speed up! Speed up more!” Then they drive 80 miles per hour! I feel much better. Then the Lord comes to judge, asking if I am wheat or a tare, and reminding me how much I need His life.
“Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
– Matthew 13:30
As believers we are wheat, not tares, so our fate can never be the burning spoken of here. This burning is the unquenchable fire of eternal perdition and is reserved only for true tares, those who never believed, and the devil who sowed them into the field in the first place.
But we should not think that our tare-like behavior will escape untouched. In 1 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul indicates that there is not only the fire of eternal judgment, but also the fire of dispensational judgment (vv. 11–15).
Every Christian is building something and each one should be careful to use the right building materials. When we build using the divine life within us, the wheat, we are building with gold, silver and precious stone. When we use our fallen life, the tares, we are building with wood, hay, and straw. Paul says that one day a dispensational fire will come to test what each of us has built. We will be saved ourselves because we are wheat, but our work may be burnt and we will suffer loss.
The Manifestation of the Tares
All who believe in the Lord begin the same way: we are born again. As we grow, we have different manifestations. Because we believed into the Lord, we are wheat. However, if we do not love the Lord, our time will be used in the same way as the tares around us. Two people may get saved at the same time, but three years later one has some spiritual stature while the other is not even as good as the day he was regenerated. At that time he had the joy of being born again and baptized, but now there’s not an inch of growth, and all the joy has left. When we first believed into the Lord we became wheat. However, if we do not love the Lord, over time we will grow to be just like tares.
I know someone who liked to gamble playing mahjong. One day the others he was playing with began to say bad things about Jesus and Christians. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he said, “Be quiet! I’m a Christian!” They were shocked! They had been playing mahjong together for years and he had never given them a hint that he was a Christian. Even now his testimony had to be forced out. If no one around us knows that we are Christians, then the wheat life within us must be quite weak. In contrast, if we tell our friends, neighbors, and co-workers that we are Christians, we will be protected from many unnecessary things.
If there’s a movie I really like, I may begin to tell others about it, and even encourage others to see it. How easily my tare-like enjoyment of movies begins to affect the church. At first it may be just the movie I like that we talk about, but that leads to other movies, our favorite actors, the award ceremonies, and even movie watching parties. Christ is no longer in our fellowship. The tare-like movie substance has become our living.
The Characteristic of the Tare
We become tare-like by first enjoying the substance of the tare—I watch movies. From this we grow the characteristic of the tare—l love movies. There may be nothing wrong with watching movies, but when watching movies becomes our life, we are caught.
I like Montreal bagels, but when I cannot start my day without a Montreal bagel, that is getting serious. When I don’t have one, I begin to blame others for not doing enough to find Montreal bagels for me. “Now I cannot have my breakfast. They are ruining my breakfast, my day, my week, and my life! I need my bagels!” It’s just a piece of bread, yet it has become a characteristic of my life, my addiction. Montreal bagels have now replaced Christ as my life.
Be careful. The first cigarette stinks. The second cigarette is tolerable. The third cigarette hooks us. We cannot get out of it anymore. It has become our characteristic. We will even smell of cigarettes. If we cannot find the brand we like, we feel we will die. This is true of much more than cigarettes. It is true of movies, of Montreal bagels, and of just about everything else the world has to offer. We start with the substance. Once it hooks us, it becomes our characteristic.
We may think, “So what if I am weak, make a mistake, or fail. It’s just a small thing.” But we should not look down on our weakness. Every time weakness comes, there is a substance ready to trap us, and if we can’t handle it properly, that substance will become our living. That living will become our characteristic. We will be defined by that tare-like thing instead of Christ. It will occupy our heart instead of Christ. People will know us by that characteristic instead of Christ.
We must run away from the things that tempt our weaknesses. We should actively avoid any addictions. Paul wrote,
Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
– 2 Tim. 2:22
Run to the church life, to those whose characteristic is to love and call on the Lord. Run to be with the wheat.
It is so easy for something other than Christ to become our characteristic. Our characteristic is what others know us by. If politics is our characteristic, we will constantly talk about it, and others will know. It is fine to know what is going on in the world, but as Christians we should not let politics become our life. If lying is our characteristic, others will not trust what we say. Lying is a trap that we should totally avoid. If self-appreciation is our characteristic, others will know it even before we do. If anger is our characteristic, we will be mad at everyone. It is hard for an angry person to preach the gospel. Paul says to flee these things! He warns us to make loving Jesus our characteristic, then everyone around us will be blessed.
In the church life, there is only one person—Christ! There is only one life—Christ as our life! There is only one manifestation—Christ magnified in us! There is only one testimony—Christ Himself! If we display any characteristic other than Christ, we damage the Lord’s testimony.
Can a true believer be tare-like? Consider the case of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9–24). He was genuinely saved through the preaching of Philip (v. 13). Once a tare, he now believed and was baptized and thus became wheat. Before believing, he made his living by amazing people with magic. Now he saw how the apostles were able to give people the Holy Spirit by laying hands on them, and he was amazed. This was even better than magic! He wanted to trade in his old magic for this new ability, and so offered to buy it from the apostles for money. He tried to bribe the apostles! How tare-like! Peter sternly answered,
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”
– Acts 8:20
Was Simon wheat or tare? He was wheat with a strong tare-like characteristic.
Later, the apostle Paul gathered the elders of the church in Ephesus together for some sober fellowship, knowing that he would never see them again. These were the ones raised up by Paul and charged to care for all the believers in the church. They must have been mature wheat. Yet Paul told them,
“From among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
– Acts 20:30
Such tare-like things would come from the elders! Some among them would draw the saints in their care away to make them their disciples so they could have their own little kingdom. How terrible! This may seem impossible, but Paul predicted it, and eventually it came true. He later told Timothy, “All who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). This would even have included those in Ephesus.
The Ephesian believers not only turned away from Paul outwardly; they also turned away from the Lord inwardly. The Lord Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus through the apostle John, saying,
“I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
– Revelation 2:4
To leave Paul was an outward action. To leave their first love towards the Lord was their inward condition. By leaving the apostle, their inward condition turned unhealthy. I have also seen unhealthy inward conditions lead to abandoning the apostles. The matter of wheat and tares is not that simple.
Such tare-like behavior still happens today. How easy it is for talented speakers to draw people into following them even while they talk about the Bible. I have seen it happen many times, and it is always accompanied by a poor inward condition. Yet we were never called to follow any man. The apostle Paul rejected the group in Corinth who claimed “I am of Paul!” (1 Cor. 1:12). He told them,
Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.
– 1 Corinthians 1:13–15
Let me say something positive about my coworkers and those who are close to me. No one among them even has a thought of rebellion. We are not an institution, so there is nothing to rebel against. If I were a king and the churches were my kingdom, they could possibly become rebellious. But I don’t dominate anything and they are so pure. No one wants a kingdom, and so the churches with us all peacefully belong to Christ.
The true negative effect of Christians who manifest the fruit of their tare life is not to them personally, but in their influence on the many brothers and sisters around them and eventually on the whole church life. Usually this does not come by their teaching, but simply by who they are and how they live. Those who are pure wheat, who always live in the presence of God with a pure heart, must be careful, or they will be affected by the tare element in those around them.
How we need God’s mercy, that we would live out the reality of the wheat life all our life. Amen.