Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 13:28b-29 (Holman) “So, do you want us to go and gather them up?”
the slaves asked him. “No,” he said, “You might also
uproot the wheat with them.”
If dealing with unbelievers, be gracious. Many in my beloved denomination have been on a thirty-year temper tantrum, mad at lost people for acting like lost people. We need to pontificate less, and care more. Don’t be quick to uproot.
Also be mild-mannered if dealing with outward sinners in our midst. Give them every benefit of the doubt. Approach these situations with deepest humility.
We need to be harsh on sin in us, but gentle with others. We often can’t infallibly distinguish wheat from weeds. None of us can see another’s whole life, or walk a mile in their shoes. At best, we truly know very little about each other.
Wheat grows in a predicament, imperfect people in an imperfect world with other imperfect people. Shall we uproot all evil? No, other options are better.
One, don’t be surprised when wheat and weeds grow side by side. It’s true in us, our families, our churches. God lets this happen for good reasons. Evil’s presence lets the wheat do constant self-examination, test themselves, see what they’re made of. At the same time, good’s presence lets weeds see another option.
Two, never inflict punishment over spiritual issues. Force and violence, on behalf of God, are never okay. We learned this to our shame during the Crusades.
The Church rightfully has no executive power. We are not granted the prerogative to persecute. Forgetting this in the past has often uprooted true wheat.
Three, coercion is reserved only for government, which has the God-given right and duty to enact capital punishment and just wars. “Government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (Romans 13:4). We know this verse refers to capital punishment because Rome used the sword to behead criminals. This verse is also used to warrant “just wars” waged as an extension of capital punishment.
This hits a sensitive nerve in Christianity. Pacifism, which says “just” and “war” can never go together legitimately, has long run deep in some of our groups.
Augustine was the first to try to expound “just war” theory for Christians. He knew war was not ideal, but deeming it inevitable, felt it needed to be hedged around. His theory has had profound effect on Western understanding of war.
A war, to be “just,” must meet certain criteria. Just cause: for instance, self-defense, protecting others from aggression, recapturing stolen goods, or punishing people who have done grievous wrong. Right intent: beware ulterior motives, such as material gain or annexing property. Comparative justice: rights and wrongs will probably be on both sides; the injustice suffered by one must hugely outweigh that suffered by the other. Legitimate authority: only duly constituted public authorities may wage war, and only after their citizens and the enemy have been notified; terrorism is disallowed. Probability of success: war must not be waged in a futile cause; life is too precious to waste. Last resort: war may be waged only after all peaceful, viable alternatives are seriously tried and exhausted.
Matt. 13:30 (Holman) “Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest
time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in
bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.”
Don’t worry. Evil will not flourish forever. One day the Lord will separate the weeds from the wheat. The powers of evil do all they can to undermine God’s Kingdom, but they will be dealt with in the end. They will fail and be exposed.
We are tempted to eradicate sin by eradicating sinners, but only God has the right to judge. Not knowing all we need to know, we see only a part and cannot judge accurately. Ultimate judgment must wait till the end, when God will do it.
Paul wrote, “Don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
This having been said, we are forced to consider another truth that may seem to contradict this one. This same Paul, who spoke of a future judgment only God could enact, occasionally had to exclude a flagrant offender from the church.
No punitive action is ever permitted to believers, but we do have to exercise church discipline in extreme cases. Church members have to put distance between themselves and people who claim to be believers, yet are obviously, openly, in sin.
About 90 years ago, my great great grandmother was called to appear before a church business meeting for nonattendance at church. She came to the meeting and evidently exploded with rage, for the church minutes say the church voted to excommunicate her for contempt of the church. About that time my ancestors moved from Tennessee to Arkansas (maybe running from the long arm of the law).
Church discipline is a difficult Bible issue to confront in our era. Sin is let loose in our land, and much of it is landing in our pews. How do we deal with it?
We must always remember, the purpose of church discipline is not primarily to embarrass or punish, but to warn a person they are committing deeds which may prove they have never been saved, they may be lost. Church discipline seeks to reclaim people, to save them from the destruction of their own ways.
Final, ultimate, punitive judgment must await the end. Only at the finale can the wheat be separated for certain from weeds. What looks good today may prove to be bad; what seems bad now may turn out to be good. What we think is wheat may prove to be weeds; what we deem weeds may prove to be wheat.
In Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” at the end, Sydney Carton, who did not live a stellar life, lets himself be executed in order to let the woman he loves have the man she loves. On the way to the scaffold, he comforted a young lady about to face the sword. His final thoughts were, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Samson’s life was a disaster, but at the end he did a wonderful thing. “The dead he killed at his death were more than those he had killed in his life” (Judges 16:30b). It was enough to land his name in the Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:32).
Christian leaders who spend years looking like wheat may fall near the finish line, end up looking like a weed, and wreak more havoc in one deed than they did good in their whole lives beforehand. A gross sinner may through most of life be a weed, but finally repent, and end up giving God great glory as wheat.
Judgment has to be based on a person’s whole life, on what their character proves to be when fully developed over a lifetime. No single act or time period is enough. The whole has to be taken into account, and only God can see the whole.