Wheat and Tares

wheatAfter the parable of the different soils, Jesus continues taking the ideas of the Kingdom of God and comparing it to something organic.

In this story, a man sowed seed in his field, and during the night, an “enemy” sowed tares among the wheat. Both grow up together, and when a servant asked what to do, the sower said that they should let the wheat and the tares grow up together, since pulling up the tares would damage the wheat, as well. At the harvest, they will separate the wheat and the tares, gathering both and burning the tares.

A few verses later, the disciples ask what this parable means. They were particularly confused by this one. So Jesus explains in Matt 13, 36-43. The sower, again, is Jesus, and the good seed are sons of the Kingdom of God (disciples). The field is the world. The tares are sons of the “wicked one,” and the devil sowed them in the world. Both are gathered and judged at the end of the age, where the righteous will shine forth and the wicked will burn in punishment.

Simple, right? A couple thoughts:

First, here the seeds are people, not the message. The man who owns the field, Jesus, sows people of the Kingdom and those people are righteous, and the implication is that they act righteously. The devil sows his own seed – people who act wickedly and are destined for destruction.

Here we see a Kingdom principle of source and destination. The end is seen in the source. If a person’s source is in the Kingdom, then the organic, natural result is shining forth in the Father’s Kingdom. If a person’s source is in the devil, then they will do works of the devil. As Jesus says elsewhere, “You are of your father the devil, because you do what he does.” This is why we must be “born again” so we can see and enter the Kingdom and come from a different source.

Second, devil works at night, under cover of darkness. We may not see him working, but we can notice his handiwork after the fact. This is important. It will look different from the righteousness of the Kingdom, even though it may be within the same “field,” the world.

And it surprises us. How did this happen? It takes supernatural revelation from the Master to tell us the enemy is at work. The devil does not want to be seen. As Kaiser Soze says, “The greatest lie the devil ever told was that he doesn’t exist.”

Third, the Lord will sift it. He may give us revelation about who is a wheat and tare (and this is for evangelical purposes, to love and not to condemn), but our comfort and peace should be that the King of all will separate and reward or condemn accordingly. That is not our job. We love and encourage and spread life and let God do the job of condemnation.

As an aside, that does not mean that we do not “judge” according to fruit and the Spirit, as to who is following Christ or not. The Bible is clear about this. But we cannot condemn before the time. The story is not over. He is Lord of the harvest.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 5 – The Purpose of Life

fruitLast, but not certainly not least, we have the seed that lands on good soil.

One reminder as we begin – the seed never changes. Whether the seed, the Gospel Message of the Kingdom, brings life is determined by the response and environment of the soil. While we should endeavor to declare the true Gospel, let us not change or adjust the Gospel just because it isn’t bearing the fruit we think it should. There are other participants in this process.

The fourth type of soil is simply called “good soil.” What makes it good soil? First, it is soft enough for the seed to take root. Second, it is deep enough that the roots can dig deep and provide a good foundation. And third, it is free of weeds and thorns that will choke out the plant once it begins. Lastly, the plant is able to produce fruit.

What does this mean for us? A person who is “good soil” is one where the life begun by the seed produces fruit. Every other one ends in death. Every one. Life, then, defined by the parable – and the scripture bears this out – is one where fruit is produced.

In other words, the plant alone isn’t the point or the goal; the fruit is. Jesus spoke of this. Paul spoke of this. It is a consistent spiritual concept. Without the fruit, the plant is no good. Not at all. It might as well be dead and thrown into the fire.

What do we mean by fruit? That is a long answer, but in general, fruit contains within it a seed for reproduction. Fruit is sweet and satisfying and contains nutrients, but at its core, fruit contains a seed that makes a plant like itself. The fruit we’re talking about contains within it the seed of the Message of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It multiplies itself. We could talk about the fruit of the Spirit (the character the indwelling Spirit produces) and disciples making disciples.

Today’s Christian teaching might suggest this is “maturity,” but biblically speaking, this is NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE. This is the only Christian life that matters. There is no other kind.

So what kind of person (soil environment) brings the Gospel of the Kingdom to its natural and intended end (producing other disciples of the Kingdom)? Looking at the parable, easy to see. The person must possess a soft, humble, willing heart to receive the Kingdom; one must allow the truth of the Kingdom to dig deep within the heart, a holistic faith that transforms the whole life; and the person must keep from being distracted by wealth and the cares of this life, the things of the world. The person must seek the Kingdom alone.

Again, this is not a “mature” Christian. This is a BASIC Christian. This is what Christ came, taught, died, and rose again to preach and produce.

Are we participants in Kingdom discipleship? Or spiritual formation, or whatever you want to call it. There are a myriad and manifold number of ways to participate, but if the blessing of the Kingdom ends with us, if it doesn’t go out and bless others, then it is for nothing, in God’s eyes. We use our talents and gifts and opportunities to participate, each in our own way, but participate, love, bless we must if we are to be alive at all.

Such is the Kingdom.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 4 – The American Dream Will Kill You

american dreamThe American dream is not God’s best for you. The Kingdom of God is.

Next, the seed falls in soil that has thorns. As the plant takes root and grows, those thorns rise up and choke out the life of the plant, killing it.

What do the thorns represent? Often, when we think of the kinds of things that kill someone’s faith, we think of decadent sins. Perhaps it is because of our Puritanical roots in America, but we think of sexual sin or drug abuse or some sort of sin that is overt and easily seen. But Jesus gives us a danger that is more insidious and more difficult to see.

The cares of this life.

Wait, shouldn’t we care for the things of this life? Shouldn’t we care about our jobs, our families, our responsibilities?

As people of integrity and disciples of Christ, we are to model the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God in each of these situations, but they are not an end in and of themselves. And they cannot supplant the priority of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, all of the different aspects of our life ONLY have true significance under the authority of the Kingdom of God. “Seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Some things? No, all things. Anything in your life you could possibly worry about must be redefined within the authority of the rule and reign of Christ.

When the cares of this life take priority over seeking the Kingdom first, then they become idols. Your marriage, your family, your job, your education, etc., all are good things in life but must be submitted to the authority of Christ. When they are not, then we seek more from those “good” things than they were meant to provide,  just as an idol has no ability to satisfy anything.

Only God satisfies. Only Christ brings life.

Do not take this as an excuse to have a bad marriage or do poorly at your job or beat your kids. Nor should we neglect the cares of this life. If we have been born again from above, from Heaven, then all we do carries eternal significance, and only the guidance and authority of God can help us achieve that. We can love and fulfill the responsibilities of the cares of this life in peace and patience, in security and hope, when the priority is the Kingdom of God. Without the singular and universal focus of the Kingdom, then it might be “good,” but it is not the best – not of heaven, not of eternal significance.

The “good” is the enemy of the “best.”

That’s why the cares of this life can be such an “evil” thing. They look good. Noble. If you give them priority, then your focus seems “good.” You’re not in a gutter with a prostitute smoking crack. “Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or run around with women who do.” You’re not doing that.

But the “cares of this life” can distract you from the singular focus of the Kingdom. Easily.

I saw a great sermon one time where the pastor went through how he lost more of his congregation to their front yards than to “sin.” He explained that it would invariably go like this: guy buys a new house that is more than he can afford, has to work more hours to afford it, and then the “only time” he has to work in his yard is on Sundays. Just can’t be a part of the fellowship anymore, Pastor.

Now, I’m not saying going to church every week on Sunday is equal to having a singular focus on the Kingdom – there are plenty that attend buildings we call churches every week that have no such focus – but I still thought it incredibly insightful.

CS Lewis, in his classic Screwtape Letters, also had a great insight related to this. The book, if you’re not familiar, is a series of letters of advice from a senior demon to a junior one. The junior demon is in charge of this young Christian man, to try and tempt and destroy this young man. Screwtape’s advice at one point is to say (my summary), “Don’t try to tempt the young man with loose women or decadent living. The Christian man can see this temptation from a mile away. Even if he succumbs to it, he will know its misery and come back stronger than before.

“In order to tempt this young man,” Screwtape continues, “use his lust to get him to marry a lukewarm Christian woman, a woman who is not really committed to Christ but is minimally religious. Then she will draw him away from God for the rest of his life.”

You were not born again to achieve the American Dream. The American Dream is not innately evil, but it can easily supplant the Kingdom Reality. You were born again, from heaven, to participate in the eternal reality of the Kingdom. It is difficult; it is an adventure; it is painful; it gives unparalleled joy; it costs everything and profits you even more. Oftentimes, most of the time, it can look very different than the American Dream.

The American Dream is born of this world. Good, noble things, most of it. But it is of this world. The Kingdom of God is of another world entirely. The things of this world will all fail. They will all be shaken. The Kingdom of God will not. Not ever. Not for eternity.

If you go to a church or listen to teaching that equates following God with achieving the American Dream – run away. Thousands may listen to the teachings, but if the focus isn’t the radical, and costly, discipleship of the Kingdom, the Word of God is being sown among thorns. Thorns take time to accomplish it, but they will rise up and choke out the life of a disciple.

The American Dream will kill you.

The Kingdom Reality will give you eternal life.

Peace.