“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
Here Jesus is talking about a familiar subject to His audience. In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. After finding out that his field had been sabotaged the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares would be separated and burned, while the wheat would be gathered and saved in the barn.
His disciples could not understand the meaning of the parable so they asked Jesus and He explained it to them: “He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.” (Matthew 13:37-40)
The similarity in appearance between these two plants is so great that in some regions, the tares or darnel is referred to as “false wheat”. It is a grass, related to rye, bearing seeds that yield a narcotic poison.
The high value and health properties of wheat are opposite to the harmful properties of darnel, yet in Christ’s parable the owner of the field allows both to grow together. One reason is because wheat and darnel are exact in their appearances during growth. Both plants are lush green and can be distinguished only when they mature and produce fruit.
Wheat berries are large and golden, while darnel berries are small and gray. Thus, if the farmer attempted to uproot the tares before maturity, he would do damage to the wheat.
Spiritual wheat and tares grow the same way within God’s church, identical in appearance, and to attempt to uproot the tares would result in uprooting some of the wheat as well. Just as the qualitative difference between the mature fruit of wheat and darnel is different, only by the fruit can the true believer be known (Matthew 7:15-20). Even after maturity, only God, and no one else, will have the tares removed and will destroy them in the furnace (Matthew 13:30).
Christ’s parable contains at least two warnings that are important to how we deal with possible tares within God’s church. First, we need to be aware that tares are false ‘christians’. And secondly they are a reality. Counterfeit believers do exist and are at work within God’s church; Christ Himself says so. The fact that they are present requires that we be on our guard, clinging to the truth of God’s Word not to be deceived.
In addition to counterfeit ‘believers’, tares in many cases are also false ministers and false church leaders, teaching counterfeit doctrines of demons. Tares in the church spread destructive attitudes and ideas that can influence true weak believers toward negativity, suspicion, cynicism, sarcasm, and doubt. Christ warns us of such deception in Matthew 24:24, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Christ’s parable warns us not only to take great care to avoid the false instruction and attitudes of the tares, but also to be mindful about how we treat young, immature “wheat” that we may mistake for tares. We must be slow to judge, remembering that church members are at different stages of their walk with Christ. Though they may be pure in heart, even the wheat may not always act properly. Similarly, some of the cited ‘ believers ‘ can act correctly, may seem always to be doing the right things, but their hearts remain unconverted and corrupt, but God knows who belongs to Him and who does not (2 Timothy 2:19), and He allows both to grow together.
Besides providing the instruction in His parable, Jesus Christ provides the perfect example of how to treat and interact with a tare. He had to deal with a tare close to Him throughout His ministry. John writes, “Jesus answered, ‘did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.” (John 6:70-71)
How Christ dealt with Judas sets the example for how we ought to deal with recognized tares; we must pray that they will see the light and have a change of heart. Jesus knew Judas; He knew his character and heart. Yet, Judas was given duties just as they were given to the other disciples. Judas appeared to be as religious as the other eleven, but Judas was only like them in appearance, not in character.
Jesus never revealed to the other disciples that Judas was a tare. Even in John 6:70-71, specifically identifying who He meant to expose; Christ only mentions the presence of a tare, forcing the disciples to look inward and evaluate their own hearts. It is clear the disciples were unaware of Judas’ corrupt character even after spending more than three years with him. At the final Passover, the disciples had no idea who would betray the Master. Each of them began to say to Christ, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). If He had revealed Judas’ nature to them, or had the disciples been wise enough to guess, they would have had no need to ask this question.
Instead of singling out Judas and treating Him poorly, Jesus showed love and kindness to him, His own disciple who would betray Him. Christ showed His enemy courtesy, respect, and humility, and even in a position of servitude, washed Judas’ feet. He never revealed the tare among them, but instead allowed Judas to expose his own character through his final actions.
Even though we must try every spirit and expose false teachers (1 John 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15), God, in His infinitely greater wisdom than our own, will be the One to separate the wheat from the tares; because only the Reaper can do the reaping – Revelation 14:14-19.
As wheat, our responsibility is to grow in scriptural knowledge, kindness, patience, and godly love, producing healthy and good fruit. We are to share His Word and His love, which requires an attitude of meek, humble, and godly service. Most importantly, we have the responsibility to grow into the perfect image of our Savior, Jesus Christ, remembering to pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)