Matthew 13:24-28a, 26-39 (NIV) Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“’An enemy did this,’ he replied…”
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.”
Jesus’ next parable switches focus from how the hearts of people respond to the good news of the kingdom to God’s kingdom itself. Even though it is tempting to equate the kingdom of God with the church (lower case c), Jesus uses this parable to illustrate why there is a difference.
The kingdom of God is composed of all of those around the world who have trusted in Jesus for salvation, and who therefore live in a restored relationship with God. They obey God’s commands, and do His will on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). They are the New Jerusalem, the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.
The church, on the other hand, is composed of many who belong to the kingdom of God. But by its very nature it also attracts many who are there for other reasons, just like the crowds that followed Jesus. Some are legitimately seekers who have not yet received salvation, but they are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and will ultimately be filled. Others are there for the fellowship and for the feeling of belonging that is naturally present in congregations that are focused on God. They have potential to become part of the kingdom, but are not on the path yet, because they don’t yet have a real sense of their need for salvation and reconciliation. That awareness is masked in their hearts by their need for family and fellowship.
But there are also those who are drawn to the church, but who are focused on themselves and their own agendas. The focus of some of these is to make a name for themselves, and to attract a following in order to build themselves up. Some others aim to remake the church into what they believe it should be to suit their own ideas. Still others come in to cause strive and divisions. These are weeds, planted among the wheat of the kingdom by the enemy.
The problem with these weeds is that, at least in the early stages, they look so much like the wheat that it is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to tell the difference. And those who do notice the differences, being kingdom members who legitimately love others as themselves, tend to grant them a lot of grace, and to cast them in the most positive light possible.
These people have always been part of the church, and have frequently caused problems for the people of the kingdom. Jesus called them false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), people who look like a fellow sheep on the outside, but who had damaging intentions on the inside. Paul called them savage wolves (Acts 20:29-31) who would rise from among the church’s own members to distort the truth and to draw away disciples after them.
Even though these people are present in most, if not all, congregations, both Jesus and Paul recommended a cautious approach with regard to dealing with them. Jesus recommended that the people of the kingdom watch the fruit of people’s lives before following them. And Paul simply recommended that the people of the kingdom in Ephesus be on their guard so that they would not be led astray by them. Even though it is tempting to just try to get rid of those that one suspects of being weeds, there are dangers in trying to do so that Jesus Himself cautions against in this parable.
Father, I can honestly say that I have run into several people in my years in the church that seem to fit the description of weeds. But I can also say that some of them ultimately turned out to be true members of the kingdom when all was said and done. So I understand very well the reason for Your urging caution and restraint in dealing with them. Lord, we are Your people, and obviously want the best for everyone in Your churches. Help us to use Your ways in dealing with everyone, even with those who strike us as being weeds. Amen.