The wheat and the weeds – this talk is written below but also can be heard here:
I thought this morning I would give the pulpit for a few minutes to the words of a senior devil written to a junior devil from the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis.
In this extract the senior devil Screwtape is advising the junior devil Wormwood how to tempt his patient into turning away from Christianity
NB you have to get your mind round the opposite way of speaking: this is written from the Devil’s perspective
‘My dear wormwood…I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian…but there is no need to despair hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us…
‘One of our great allies at present is the church itself…when your patient goes inside he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither one of them understands ….when he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided.
You may want to lean heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew…
Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak or double chins or odd clothes the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous….’
All very amusing – please do read the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis if you have not already: a great Summer read.
It’s not new to find other Christians with whom we worship rather a…..challenge…
All sorts of people get drawn to the church, locally not so much, but nationally certainly, a range perhaps from people who are quite like us to those who are really not very like us – from those who agree with us on most things to those have views, with which we totally disagree; from those who behave quite like us to those whose behaviour we cannot tolerate; and indeed some whom we might speculate might actually have been put there by the devil himself!
The urge just to drive out people whose character, views or behaviour are not like us or with whom we disagree or which conflict in our view with the gospel, has been a constant struggle in the 2000 years that the church has existed. It seems hard wired into our nature…
But Jesus has something to say, in the parable that we have just read, about this ‘fellow worshipper repulsion’. Jesus tells the following story: A landowner sows good seed in the ground; he sows wheat but an enemy sows weeds in amongst it.
Jesus then explains that the landowner is Jesus himself. The field is the world; Jesus is sowing the seed of the gospel; those who will grow into Jesus’ image; the wheat are those who are subjects of the kingdom of God: sons and daughters of God.
The enemy, the devil, comes and sows his own seed – plants which will grow into his image are his sons and daughters.
The devil sows the weeds in amongst God’s people.
It’s thought that the word used in greek for ‘weeds’ refers to the weed darnell. Darnell is virtually indistinguishable from wheat in the early stages of growth: until the ears form, until it generates its fruit; but when it does darnell’s fruit is black, not yellow like wheat, darnell’s fruit damages flour if it gets caught up in it.
In the parable, the Lord’s servants are keen to pull the weeds up, to get rid of what the servants speculate that the devil has sown and which is spoiling the crop. But the Lord tells them not to do so, as to do so might harm the young wheat and possibly result in some of the wheat being pulled up by mistake.
Jesus says the Lord is going to deal with the weeds in due course – so in the extreme case, even if the devil has actually planted them there himself, if they are the ‘devil’s spawn’ so to speak, at the final harvest Jesus is going to sort them out, when he returns to put all right: the weeds will be gathered up and burned, while the wheat is safely stored in the barn.
Final judgment is God’s task NOT ours and to seek to exercise this task of separation; getting rid of those who don’t suit us: those with poor voices or squeaky boots or, more seriously, who have ideas with which we profoundly disagree or act in a way which we think is disgraceful… getting rid of them is actually classic idolatry. Its us acting as if we are God and supplanting him: we just don’t have the perception and wisdom to see if any particular individual should or should not be excluded now or will or not be excluded at the end of time: therefore we must not exclude them, we have to put up with them; and in Matthew 25:31-46 – the sheep and the goats we find that we will all actually be surprised by who is saved and who is not…
So if we are not allowed to exclude those that even the devil has sown – the devils spawn- so much more must we put up with those with oily faces and squeaky boots and out of tune voices!
Jesus makes it clear that we are to live and worship side by side with those whom we may think should be condemned because pulling them up would damage the precious young plants of the kingdom, other Christians who may be at an early stage in the journey, and we cannot tell of others at an early stage whether they are wheat or weeds.
And indeed those who look like weeds now…may turn out to be precious wheat because in the kingdom no-one, however awful they look now, is actually beyond redemption. Its only when the plants produce fruit that we can tell whether they are wheat or weed: is the fruit yellow as it should be – wheat or is the fruit black – as it should not be – darnel.
But there is a problem: How can we live with them? How can we share a church with them? What if they are in leadership in our church? What if their problem is not just squeaky boots or an out of tune voice but rather what if we believe that the things they say and do are in actual opposition to a greater or lesser degree to what we believe is the gospel?
We know Jesus would say “love your neighbour as yourself and Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies”, but what does this mean in practice? If we are not to be influenced or led by them? If we are to avoid the wheat being corrupted by the weed?
Jesus seems to contemplate, in this passage, the possibility that true disciples might be tempted to be led astray by the weeds – in verse 41 – those who are destroyed at the end of time are not only those who are evildoers (which is what we would expect) but then also up for destruction are: ‘all causes of sin’ those who cause others to sin – a reference to leadership perhaps.
How do we know whether a fellow church goer is one or the other? Which is wholesome wheat, whom we should emulate And which is a weed, which could be a cause of sin? How do we know who to follow?
And very importantly how do we know if we are the wheat or the weed ourselves? How do we know who we should allow to influence us or lead us?
Three points to make all beginning with F:
Firstly, Focus on God. We need to focus on God, really getting to know him through Jesus – by reading the Bible – particularly the New Testament; we need to be really familiar with the Bible if we are to fight off the corrosive influence of the weeds amongst us.
The ONLY way that we can know the true character of God is by being familiar with the Bible and understanding God’s character as we see it in Jesus Christ and using this as a litmus test of the influences and leadership which affect us. We need to take personal responsibility for this: this is not just a matter for our leaders to discern; we individually have a kingdom calling on our lives; we are here for a purpose set by God. We must not allow ourselves to be led up the garden path by others who have a different agenda; particularly those who don’t have the oily face or squeaking boots but those we find attractive; people we want to please, however impressive we may think they are. And however much we may actually like them
We must be rigorous comparing what they are saying and what they are doing to the model Jesus sets in Scripture and the character of God revealed in the Bible.
Secondly we need to be fair what they are actually saying?Because it may not be the same thing that you have heard that they are saying or was told to you at a dinner party or a gossip mentioned on a dog walk.
We need to be fair, not just repeat or even think things that are not true about others, however much we may dislike them.
Thirdly, look at their fruit. Are they showing the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5: love joy peace forbearance kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control? How are they spending their money and their time? What are their priorities? Are these consistent with what we know of Jesus? What we know of God, from studying the Bible are they trying to follow Jesus’ priorities for their lives?
So when working out if we should allow someone to influence us we should:
Focus on God
and look at the Fruit
Once we have triangulated ourselves with these tests; once we have worked out which way is up; which seems to be weed now and which is wheat by these mental exercises….then we must stick to our guns on what we learn about God through Jesus from the Bible, regardless of a lack of popularity, regardless of being rejected by those we want to follow.
And it won’t be for ever that we find it difficult to distinguish between those inspired by the enemy – the weed and the seed of God – the wheat. As Matthew writes in verse 43 and Jesus says ‘at the end of the age’ when Jesus returns ‘then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ and all causes of sin and all evil doers will be thrown into the furnace of fire….
And the righteous will find themselves like Wormwood’s patient, as Screwtape continues: ‘Then he saw Him. This animal this thing begotten in a bed could look on Him. What is blinding suffocating fire to you Wormwood is now cool light to him, is clarity itself and wears the form of a man….’
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!