The Experience of the Wheat and Tares
According to the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24–30, the sower (Christ) sowed wheat (regenerated believers) into his field (the church). While his servants (those responsible for the church) slept, an enemy (Satan) came and sowed tares (unbelievers) into the same field. When this was discovered, the servants asked if they should go into the field to gather up the tares. The sower replied, “No, for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them” (v. 29).
Telling Wheat from Tares
We may think we can tell the wheat from the tares, the believers from the unbelievers, but in this parable, the Lord says it is not so easy. We may very well uproot a good deal of wheat thinking that it is tares and thus cause the field great harm and give loss to the sower. If we try to serve the Lord in this manner, we are in danger of doing great damage.
Actual wheat and actual tares are very different plants even if they do look alike. Wheat never becomes tares and tares never become wheat. That is why many think the spiritual application should be just as black and white. In practice, however, we never know when an unbeliever may repent and become a believer. In fact, we all started out as tares. Then we heard the gospel and became wheat. How terrible it would have been if someone had uprooted us before we could believe! In the parable, the sower said,
“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
Not until the end of this age when the Lord comes to claim His harvest will the gospel have completed its work. Only then can the wheat be sorted from the tares.
Another problem is that many true believers think and act just like their unbelieving neighbors. Many Christians discover to their disappointment that they are not fully mature and transformed on the day of their new birth. Like the apostle Paul, they cry:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
– Romans 7:18–19
We are all plagued with personal sins and problems, some of which we will not realize until the Lord comes to shine on us. John writes:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
– 1 John 1:8
In other words, although we are no longer tares, we are all a little tare-like. Some believers might even be mistaken as unbelievers. Yet John says that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven and cleansed (v.9). This is unlikely to happen if we are prematurely uprooted. While there are times that it is necessary to remove unrepentant believers from the church life (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1–5), it should always be with the hope that they would eventually repent and be received back with love (2 Cor. 2:6–8). By the Lord’s grace, the most tare-like believer can be restored as wheat.
The Church Life Playground
Because Christians can be tare-like, the church life may not live up to our expectations. We think everything should be marvelous, but what the church life should be and what it is does not necessarily match. It is like a school in which every student should be the top, but in fact some are poor. They do not know their goal in life and so are not motivated to study. Many Christians are just like this. They are in the church life but do not know Christ as their goal. As a result they just play with the church life. They use it to be with their friends and to enjoy a certain culture, but have no desire for spiritual things. To them, the church life is simply a playground for their entertainment.
The Christian church is the biggest playground in the world. It is bigger than any sports arena, the movies, or even the stock market. How many millions of people play with Christianity and do whatever they think is best, but have no concern for the Lord’s interest? In this matter, Christians are terrible.
Even worse, the leaders set the pattern for playing with the church. It seems they have no conscience. They don’t care for what the Lord cares for. They only care about their position and making decisions. As the leaders go, so go the members. As a result, the church life where they are becomes like a field of tares.
Someone once said that church leaders should only remain where they are for at most three years. At that point they will have done everything they can do and should move on so that new leaders can begin to exercise. Of course there is no example in the Bible of this, so it can never become a rule. But without such a rule, church leaders make their church their retirement home. They will sit where they are for forty years and tell people that without them that church wouldn’t even exist. They forget that the church was started by the Lord and that the saints belong to Him. This behavior is truly tare-like.
Some leaders may have reasons they cannot move, but they can travel. In this way they can help new places, be enlarged, and make room for new leadership. Everyone learns and everyone grows. Church leaders may be faithful, but how long can they be faithful if they don’t enlarge themselves, don’t pursue Christ, and don’t go out to labor on people? Without this, the leading ones become tares. Within them the life element of the wheat is replaced with the tare of seniority.
How many hours every week do church leaders go out to preach the gospel, visit saints from house to house, or pray desperately for other’s needs? Without laboring on people like this, they are like those in the parable that slept, and it is almost inevitable that they and the church they serve become tare-like. Brothers, I implore you, do not just go to the meetings and think your job is done! Go out to spread the life element to both sinners and saints. Be real wheat!
Spiritually, wheat can become tares, and tares can become wheat. This is because, as believers, we have two natures—the divine nature and the fallen nature. When we live by our fallen nature, we are very tare-like. When we live according to the Lord, we are very wheat-like. Outwardly we may be wheat-like, but inwardly we may be tare-like. In the meetings we may be pure wheat, but at home, not so much. Even if our tare-like nature only comes out when we are alone, it robs us of our desire to serve those around us, and the church suffers.
I once knew a brother who really loved the Lord and the church. All the saints loved him. He was in the hall one day and really lost his temper, nearly hitting an older brother. This genuine wheat plant suddenly became tare-like before all the saints. Because his offense was public, I told him that he should repent publicly, but instead he stopped attending the meetings. Over a year later he started to come back through fellowship, but he had already lost a golden opportunity to learn a great lesson. He should have stood up in the meeting right after his offense, confessed his shortcoming, and asked for forgiveness. There would have been no shame because everyone has shortcomings of one kind or another, and everyone loved him. The wheat life in the saints would surely have covered the tare life he exhibited that day.
Caring for the Wheat
A pure church life is composed of good soil (the parable of the sower) growing healthy wheat (the parable of the wheat and tares). The saints planted in good soil who bear healthy fruit are the reality of the church. We who are saved are not tares any longer. However, when the church prospers, Satan will sow elements of the tares among the wheat. When both grow together, the tares will occupy the water, nutrition, and care that ought to be for the wheat. As a result, the wheat does not grow properly.
Every local church has young believers, wheat plants sown by the Lord, who deserve a chance to grow and develop. While the leading ones are mature wheat plants, their tare-like nature has also had time to develop. If they stay at home and never see the saints outside the meetings, their spirituality is a joke, and they are only playing with their saints. The young ones desire to grow and develop. No leading one has the right to damage them in this way.
I once saw a three year old child ask his mother and father to hold him. They were possibly just too tired, so they refused. The little boy was crying and looked so sad. I wanted to tell the parents, “Do you know that in fifteen years, even if you want to hold him, he won’t let you do it? Once he is a teenager he will be gone. You had better take the opportunity now.” I would say the same thing to the leading ones in the churches today. Care for your young ones while you can.
The Produce of the Wheat Life
The wheat life will produce many divine things in us such as love for the Lord, hope for His return, and faith unto the saints. Loving the Lord is not so much of a lesson. Once we know Him we cannot help but to love Him. The Lord’s return is something we automatically hope and wait for. But faith unto the saints can be one of the hardest lessons to learn.
The tare life frustrates these things. It damages our love for the Lord, makes it hard to trust the Lord’s salvation in ourselves or in anyone else, and substitutes our hope for the Lord’s return with a hope for our personal future. We no longer live as though the Lord is coming back tomorrow. Instead we spend a good deal of time and energy planning out a good life for ourselves financially and socially. We plan our education for the sake of our career, our career for the sake of our retirement, and our retirement for the sake of our coffin. What if the Lord returns and interrupts our plans? Where will He find us? Planning can be wise, but when it is done with no thought for the Lord and His possible soon return, it becomes very tare-like. It drugs us and those around us, distracting everyone from Christ.
Faith unto the saints is hard because we know each other too well after the flesh and not enough according to the spirit. We see each other with our problems and limitations, and we know that none of us is trustworthy. We all fail the Lord repeatedly, yet we can have faith that the Lord will eventually gain each one of us. Our faith is unto the saints because we know the Lord will save us in spite of our tare-like tendencies.
Faith unto the saints produces many virtues including mutual support, mutual love, mutual endurance, mutual blessing, mutual supply, and mutual receiving. It will also produce many beautiful and wonderful practices such as frequent assembling together in our homes, joyful meetings, receiving the saints, giving hospitality, and speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. All this will be brought forth by the wheat life in us.