Jesus’ parables of the Weeds, Mustard Seed, and Leaven in Matthew 13.24-43 bring us to a final thought about Christians and the Church. As Christians, we must be on guard against Satan’s tactics. We are warned not only against his infusion of his own people into the Christian community but also against the visible Church’s bureaucratic growth (which confuses money, size, and structure with spiritual fruit) and against the infusion of evil into the lives even of believing people (which confuses a loving and forgiving spirit with treason to Christ’s cause). In other words, we are to beware of the Church becoming secular, that is, of becoming like the world around it.
The secular Church is a Church that is conformed to the world, as much of the contemporary Church is. It is characterized by the world’s wisdom, the world’s theology, the world’s agenda, and the world’s methods. When the evangelical Church becomes worldly, it may still be trying to do God’s work, but it will be trying to do it in the world’s way. It looks to the media and money rather than to God and His power to advance the Gospel.
What has impacted me dramatically in recent years is the discovery that what I use to hear said about the liberal churches at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s now needs to be said about evangelicals too. Approximately thirty years ago, Martin Marty, a shrewd observer of the American Church scene, said in an interview that in his judgment by the end of the century evangelicals would be “the most worldly people in America.” He was on target when he said that, except that he was probably a bit too sanguine, since many evangelicals were functioning in a secular way long before the year 2000.
How has that happened? Like the liberals before us, evangelicals use the Bible’s words but give them new meaning, pouring bad secular content into spiritual terminology. Sin becomes dysfunctional behavior. Salvation becomes self-esteem or wholeness. Jesus becomes more of an example for right living than a Savior from sin. Again, people are told how to have happy marriages and raise nice children but not how to get right with an offended God. As far as a worldly agenda is concerned – forget world hunger, racism, or environmentalism – what we seem to want most in life is to be left in peace with sufficient prosperity to enjoy our well-deserved leisure. Far be it from us to preach a Gospel that would expose people’s sins, make them uncomfortable, and drive them to the Savior.
When you put these contemporary evangelical characteristics together, it is difficult to escape the feeling that Jesus’ parable of the yeast has been fulfilled in us, and all too visibly.
However, the Bible is God’s Word – all of it. For “All scripture is breathed out by God…” (II Ti.3.16). It is inspired, without error, authoritative, relevant and sufficient. What does it mean to “think biblically?” Is there more than one correct interpretation of Scripture? To think biblically is to “think God’s thoughts after God.” The correct interpretation always belongs to the author; therefore, we must say that there is indeed one correct interpretation of the Bible, God’s. Come to the Bible with a sense of expectation – you may discover that it is the very Word of God to give us hope.
What can we do if we find that we have been permeated by the “yeast” of Satan’s strategies? Under normal circumstances, yeast that has begun to work cannot be eradicated. That is why it is such a good picture of the evil that will be in the Church and world until the return of Jesus Christ. But although in baking we would never be able to rid dough of yeast; in the spiritual realm we can have important successes – at least where we ourselves (and perhaps our immediate families and Churches) are concerned. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you are already unleavened. For Christ our sacrifice has been sacrificed.” (I Co.5.7). And in Galatians, where He has been talking about the yeast of legalism, He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Ga.5.1 & 9).
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field. [Jesus] answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear’” (Matthew 13.36-43).
Satan is active. The yeast of the Pharisees does work. But “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God will purify His people. He will bring His Church to complete maturity and holiness in time. Jesus does not leave these important points out of His teaching, which is why, in the next parables, we are going to see the divinely imparted character of those who seize the kingdom and work with God to achieve that kingdom’s victory.