In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that His true followers are the ones bringing forth much fruit for the kingdom. His next parable also has an agricultural theme.
In this parable, a man wants to grow wheat in his field. So, he plants good seeds in his field that will eventually bring forth fruit in the form of wheat. However, the man has an enemy who wants to sabotage this plan. So, the enemy sneaks in at night and plants his own seeds in the same field — these seeds will grow into tares (weeds). The tricky thing about these tares is that they look a lot like wheat as they are growing. So, it doesn’t become apparent that there are two different things growing until some bring forth fruit and others do not.
When the man’s servants see what is happening, they want to remove the tares immediately. But the man tells them not to do this because some of the good wheat will be uprooted also. He assures them that everything will be sorted out at harvest time — the wheat and tares will be separated at that time and the wheat will be saved while the tares will be burned. See Matthew 13:24-30.
So, that’s the parable. But what does it mean? Well, the first step in interpreting a parable is determining what each element of the parable represents. In this particular parable (as He did with the parable of the sower), Jesus helps us out (in Matthew 13:36-43) by defining each element of the parable for us:
- The field is the world
- The man is Christ and the good seeds are His true followers
- The enemy is the devil and the tares are his followers
- Harvest time is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels
Using the above definitions, we see that the parable is describing the population of the world as consisting of followers of Christ (planted by the Lord) and everybody else (planted by the enemy). On the outside, everyone looks basically the same — you can’t tell who is a follower of Christ based solely on physical appearance.
However, there are ways to identify followers of Christ. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Jesus said on another occasion (referring to one such fruit), “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
So, just as with the wheat, the followers of Christ can be recognized by the fruit that they bring forth (and that’s also how others can recognize us). (For further discussion of the type of fruit that we should be bringing forth, see an earlier blog article entitled “Show Me the Fruit!”).
And, just as with the tares, those who are not true followers of Christ can be recognized by the lack of fruit that they bring forth. Some are hostile enemies of Christianity; some are people who just live for themselves; and some (the most like the tares) are people who profess to know the Lord but their words and actions are not consistent with His teachings.
This brings us to the question asked by the servants in the parable — How should we treat the people who are represented by the tares, the ones who are currently in the enemy camp? Do we condemn them to hell? Do we hate them? Do we shun them?
Clearly, the above actions are not likely to convert someone to a relationship with Christ. And, people who are family members or friends (even if they are church members) are likely to be offended if we treat their loved one in such an unloving way. We could even lose people from the church as a result of such an approach.
The correct approach, as always, is to treat everyone with the love of Christ. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with what they are doing. It doesn’t mean we don’t show them that there is a better way. That’s the real love of Christ — loving someone enough to try to get them out of the enemy camp and bring them into the family of God.
You see, the one difference between this parable and real life is that in the parable, wheat is wheat and tares are tares — one cannot change into the other. But in real life, people who are currently tares can be converted into wheat. So, rather than being consumed with how to get rid of the tares, let’s instead do our best to convert some tares into wheat.
And if the tare people are unwilling to change? It’s still not our job to condemn them — the Lord will take care of separating the wheat from the tares on judgment day.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.