I learned the art of weed discrimination at an early age. Pulling weeds was my main livelihood as a boy, at fifty cents an hour.
A weed is a plant that grows where it’s not wanted. Usually, it grows rapidly and reproduced with ease. My parents wanted crabgrass and dandelions out of the lawn so they were weeds. Thistles, pennywort, pigweed, pokeweed, ragweed, hemlock, stinkweed and tumbleweed also had to go. I lived in weed heaven, so I always had a job.
A Perplexing Parable:
Jesus told a parable about weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). Actually, it was about the kingdom of heaven and the weeds were not so heavenly. A farmer planted good seeds and went to bed. At night, a nefarious enemy spoiled his field. When the wheat broke ground, so did the weeds. The servants were confused. They knew only about the good seeds and asked, “Where then did the weeds come from?”
How? Why? These are questions even non-farmers ask about unexpected or undeserved consequences in life. It’s just not fair.
“An enemy did this,” replied the owner. Perhaps it was a competitor or some unruly kids. Either way, the culprits were long gone and the servants would have to deal with it. They asked, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No.” The owner was unwilling to risk rooting up wheat in the process of digging out weeds. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” he ordered. Only then would the wheat and weeds be separated. Meanwhile, they would have to live with the weeds.
Purity and Unity in Conflict:
A Christian is not just anyone who wears the label. Fewer people will enter the kingdom of heaven than those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” (Matthew 7:21). Must we put up with the fakes? Must we tolerate unwanted people and unfair circumstances in the kingdom? Should we excuse the spiritual blindness, doctrinal apathy or ethical laziness we see around us for the sake of unity? Do the banners of Christian unity or doctrinal purity entitle believers to rid the field of the hypocrites, free-loaders and other spiritual riff-raff? How can there be real Christian unity when wheat must abide with weeds?
Purity is important to God. There is a time and place for spiritual discipline in God’s church. Paul predicted that savage wolves (Acts 20:29), often in sheep’s clothing, would be found among believers. There are biblical terms for dealing with such painful problems and pretenses this side of the harvest.
However, church discipline is tender territory–off limits to Lone Ranger Christians who think they know best. Weeds often look like wheat and if I qualify as wheat, then I know wheat can sometimes look like weeds. It is dangerous to judge by appearances under the presumed banners of either purity or unity. We must work in God’s fields until harvest, even if weeds benefit from our toil and we have to suffer from their prickly personalities. Division in God’s kingdom rises when the wheat think they shouldn’t have to put up with weeds, especially at church. Sorry, but we do. Prior to the final harvest of history, God’s kingdom will be a mixed bag. Can we live with this?
Maybe our definition of unity is too utopian. Perhaps our personal picture of purity is too perfect (or my alliteration is too tacky). There will always be a creative tension between purity and unity. Still, I have a creative question that may cut through some fog: Does God want us back at the base inspecting each other endlessly to weed out the weak, or does He want us marching through the fields planting seeds? I think real Christian unity will grow as more weed-pullers become seed-planters.
The Holy Spirit may right now be transforming some pesky weeds at your church into wheat. He may even want to use you in the process.