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Tolerance: The Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)

The problem of evil challenges the Christian faith. When the innocent suffer, the good die young, and the evil prosper, it is hard to come up with satisfactory explanations. Perhaps the best and only answer is to echo the sentiments of the farmer in verse 28: "An enemy did this."

Evil in the world is a given, an inescapable reality. No one knows precisely how or why the devil came to have this power to do evil. No one knows how long his evil doing will continue. How to react to pervasive evil poses a dilemma for Christians. Should we be fatalistic about it and accept it submissively or should we fight against it with all our powers, even if, admittedly, we don't have any earthly chance of winning? How do you deal with the effects of enemy activities?

One simple approach to combating evil is refusing to add to it. Some people who proclaim Christ are ready to kill doctors who perform abortions; others engage in civil war against other believers in Christ (Orthodox Serbs against Catholic Croats, Protestant Irish against Catholic Irish); still others bitterly fight and quarrel within the confines of their own Christian fellowship. Whether the enemy is without or within, some feel the misguided obligation to pull and burn weeds. Unfortunately, history has always shown that "a crime in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion."

Jesus did not believe that one bad apple would spoil the whole barrel. He believed not in the power of rotten apples to corrupt, but in the power of God to preserve. Therefore, he takes a curiously relaxed position about the presence of evil in the world. He implies in this parable that we should tolerate evil men until God in his own good time decides to punish them in his own just way.

To tolerate evil is not to condone it. It is merely to recognize that more harm can be done to Christian character by trying to fight fire with fire or evil with evil than by patiently allowing God to repay (Romans 12:17-19). As T. R. Glover once wrote, "The Christians of the second century out-lived, out-thought, and out-died the pagan." It is entirely possible that out-living our enemies is more important to God than out-fighting them.

Both in the world and in the church, good and bad are mingled. The weeds in this parable, an annual known to scientists as darnel or lolium temulentum, resemble the wheat so closely that only when the two come into ear can they be distinguished. The owner of the field commands that the weeds be left to grow because their roots have intertwined with those of the true wheat. They cannot be forcibly separated before the harvest of the grain.

Tolerance means a peaceful coexistence that neither approves of evil nor denies the ability to distinguish good from evil. Rather, peaceful coexistence testifies to faith in and dependence upon the power of God. Christians must not "play God" by attempting to punish others. They must remain faithful and trust in God to right all wrongs, as indeed he will at the Day of Doom (1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).

What place is there then for Christian activism? Christians always enjoy the freedom to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). We may freely give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless. We may comfort and care for the sick (Matthew 25:34-40). Christians can educate the ignorant and counsel the distressed. Within our local church family we may rebuke with humility and exhort with gentleness (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2). Without violence or harm to anyone, we can speak the truth we believe and yet be tolerant and gracious in spirit.


1.Do you agree that Jesus believed in non-violence and non-retaliation? How does his teaching in Matthew 5:38-48 relate to this parable? What about the famous exception of his cleansing the temple (John 2:13-16; Matthew 21:12-13)? Does that action effectively negate his teaching about non-violence?

2.Jonathan Swift once wrote, "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." From your personal experience, do you know of any examples that would support or contradict this observation?

3.Jesus begins this parable by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field." Does the field represent the kingdom of heaven, the world, or something else? On what do you base your judgment?

4.André Suarès has said, "There are no heresies in a dead religion." How can Christians escape the danger that tolerance may lead to indifference or neglect?

5.Christian tolerance implies a respect for the right of others to accept responsibility for their convictions and actions. Do you agree that people have a right to be wrong? To what extent can Christians fellowship those believers who, whether for lack of knowledge, spiritual maturity, or good judgment, believe or practice what is wrong?

6.Which forms of Christian political activism are legitimate and which are not? Should Christians separate themselves from politics or fight for justice through the political process? Can you justify your answer from the New Testament?


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 13, 2007 10:33 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Accountablilty: The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

The next post in this blog is Humility: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).

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