Sometimes people draw a meaning from this Holy Gospel that is incorrect. The incorrect meaning goes something like this: Because the man in the parable says that we are to leave the weeds alone, therefore we should not practice church discipline. In other words, if someone is living in open, unrepentant sin, we should just let them be. This view rejects the Church’s practice of warning sinners and then removing them from the congregation if they do not repent.
This seem to make sense. We like to be loving, not judgmental. It feels nicer if we do not reject someone who is stuck in a sin. That might hurt their feelings. Christ, it is said, would never hurt people’s feelings.
The problem is, the so-called “judgmental, unloving” practice of warning sinners comes from Christ. He says in Matthew eighteen, verse fourteen, “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Everybody agrees with Christ up to this point. But how do we avoid having them perish? Is it by just leaving them alone? No, because Christ goes on to say in the next verse, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” So Christ is saying that it is not by leaving someone alone that you keep them from perishing, but by showing them their fault.
But they might have their feelings hurt! Yes, and it is better for people to have their feelings hurt and repent than to go on sinning to destruction.
Other Scriptures say similar things. For example, Titus three says, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”
So definitely Christ is not teaching us that we should ignore it when a person lives in willful sin. We should also not “just let them be” if they believe things against the Lutheran teaching, which is the doctrine of Scripture. We should be patient with such people and not rush to judgment. But to “just let them be” is not an option, not if we care about people and their eternal destiny.
So this parable of Christ of the wheat and the tares cannot be about ignoring sin. What, then, is it about?
Christ is teaching us that we should not be offended when we see that there are hypocrites among true Christians. Although the pure Gospel is preached, it does not win over everybody. Some resist and disbelieve, or believe for a time and fall away. We also see churches that claim the name Christian, yet teach some things that go against the pure Gospel.
All this is the work of the evil one, satan. He sows his own seed among the good seed of the Gospel in the world. Even though the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus has gone into the world, the devil is still making a harvest of unbelievers all around us.
Some of those unbelievers masquerade as believers. Like tares, they appear to be wheat for a time. The translation, “weeds” in our ESV is an unfortunate choice, because most weeds do not look anything like wheat. But the tares Christ was talking about look like wheat right up until they produce the grain, and then it is useless grain. In the same way, unbelievers may look like Christians for the longest time, until finally something reveals it to us.
Some people will be offended by all this. Some will see hypocrites in the church acting badly, and they will never come back to church again. Some will see friends leave the church, and they will choose to trust their friends instead of remaining faithful to the church. Some will look around at all the denominations that teach contradictory doctrines, and they will think that surely so much disagreement could not exist if these were really Christians.
In a way, this is correct. There should not be so much discord and disunity among Christians. This disunity is caused by the devil sowing false doctrine in the minds of men. Every false teaching creates an impediment to the Gospel, and anything that gets in the way of the Gospel is a danger to souls. That is what the devil wants. There is nothing he likes better than to sow his tares among true Christians.
This happens throughout the world, for the field is the world, not only the Church. Yet as we Christians are still in the world, it happens among us also. Even among those who hear the pure Gospel with no falsehood mixed in, there will still be tares among the wheat.
Do not be offended. Do not let the divisions and hypocrites in the Church drive you away from the pure Gospel. That is what the devil wants.
On earth, the Church can never be completely without corruption among its members. In fact, if things appear very peaceful and united, that is not a good sign. It would indicate that something has gone wrong. The true Church is constantly targeted by satan, and cannot go long without heresies and divisions attacking her. If the Church is still contending for the truth, then there will be troubles. Brief respites of peace will be soon disturbed by impurity and trouble. Get used to it, and do not be surprised. At the very least, do not let it drive you away from this Gospel.
In some times and instances, the Church has tried to overpower and destroy all divisions and heresies. This is how we get inquisitions. We are not supposed to threaten violence to force people into the Church, nor use other threats to scare people into the kingdom. We preach the powerful Gospel, and if they will not listen, we let them go their way. The sweet Gospel is the only persuasion we have. We should not try to use force to exterminate or drive out of our communities those who believe differently.
In the same way, Christ does not strike dead those who are secretly hypocrites. He does not send His angels on a holy crusade to purify the earth of all unrighteousness and false teaching. Nor does He strike down unbelievers right and left to cleanse the earth. No, He lets them be, and so should we. The final weeding out waits for Judgment Day.
Meanwhile, we preach the Gospel and pray that men repent. We hold out grace and forgiveness to any who will grab hold with faith. But we also remember that even our best efforts will not win over everyone. The tares will be around until the very end.
As Paul said, “There must also be heresies among you.” The apostles experienced this. For example, at Corinth, Paul sowed excellent seed, yet false prophets came and sowed their seed among the wheat. If even the apostles of our Lord Jesus had to suffer through divisions, certainly we are no better than they.
The greatest pain comes to us when those whom we thought were faithful brothers betray us. They put up every appearance of being true to the Word of God. Yet in the end, they turn against us. Although this is excruciating, we must not let their unfaithfulness turn us away from the Gospel, too.
For Christ will never be unfaithful to us. He will never pull up the rug from under our feet. He is most sincere in His grace that He freely bestows. After all, did He suffer the most excruciating agony of all on the Cross as a joke? No, it was the most serious and wonderful sacrifice of all. In fact, He was so serious about His task that He paid for all sins, even those of the tares who would betray Him. He died for Judas and all Judases. Even foreseeing their unfaithfulness, He could not be unfaithful.
How much more then can we trust that His Blood was shed for us? Our trespasses are not greater than His sacrifice. Although we have all betrayed Him in different ways, He will not betray us. His offer of eternal life always stands, for us and for all. No matter how much you might have been a weed in the past, He shed His Blood for you.
May God give us His grace and Spirit, so that we may be genuine wheat and at all times do God’s will. Amen.
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