The idea that the follower of Christ cannot know the heart/ motives of others comes from two primary places. One is the correct observation that we as humans are not omniscient, and the second comes from the incorrect interpretation and application of the Parable of the Weeds.
We already responded to the first reason in the previous post by noting that just because we don’t know all things does not mean we don’t know some things. It is not an issue of omniscience. The issue is whether or not the Scriptures say that we can know other people’s motives/ heart – whether or not this is something we have access to.
Many followers of Jesus believe that we do NOT have access to the knowledge of other people’s motives and heart. Matthew 13:24-30 is a huge piece of evidence for this belief. It reads:
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Even though some may consider this to be a slam dunk prohibition against “judging others,” there are things to address in this text.
There are a number of ways to approach this passage. First off, we could begin by pointing out the verses that directly follow this passage. Verses 34-35 say that Jesus is speaking in parables – and that these parables are ‘hidden things.’ So we could argue that a flat-plain-literal interpretation of the text which prohibits us from judging others, is actually contrary to how Matthew 13 wants us to interpret the text. This approach says that Matthew 13 itself urges us to NOT take this parable literally – it wants us to look for ‘deeper meaning’ – to go beyond the obvious meaning and look for something ‘hidden.’
We could take this approach, and while there may be a little truth to it, I think that there is a better way to approach this passage. The best way to approach this passage is to recognize the canonical context, and its immediate context.
The canonical context recognizes that other passages of Scripture explicitly say that we ARE allowed to judge others (John 7:24, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3), and the immediate context takes into account the entire book of Matthew. The immediate context recognizes that the author elsewhere states that knowledge of human hearts is essentially possible by examining their “fruit” and their words, for out the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:33-35). A good person brings forth good things, and an evil person brings forth evil things – pretty simple – the fruit matches the tree.
Furthermore, it recognizes Matthew’s keen interest in the topic of what we may call ‘false conversion.’ The seemingly most godly people of the day (the Pharisees) are in fact ungodly ‘hypocrites.’ We also learn from the Gospel of Matthew that one of Jesus’ own disciples (Judas) was a “traitor” (Matthew 26:48). This is a huge concern for the author of Matthew. He is convinced that many are on the road to judgement (Matthew 7:13-14) even though they think that they are on the road to life (Matthew 7:21-23). The Parable of the Weeds is simply Matthew 7 in different dress. There are ‘tares’ in the midst of the wheat (Matt 12:24-30). And once we recognize that the Gospel of Matthew is acutely aware of the overwhelming presence of false converts and ‘tares’ in the crop, we can see that Parable of the Weeds is NOT seeking to hinder the true Christian from uprooting the weeds.
The parable is meant to hinder the Judases and the Pharisees of this world from judging others. Matthew 13 recognizes that the weeds have ALREADY infiltrated the crop. It recognizes that the parable itself will be misused by the tares who hear or read it. It is not as if the Parable will only be read by true Christians (the wheat). The tares will hear this parable as well (as they have!). [I think of a guy at my church right now who exhibits no genuine love for God, yet goes around trying to see who in the congregation is saved or not]
These hypocrites have planks in their eyes, yet they are trying to remove the speck from others eyes (Matthew 7:5)! Can you imagine Judas going around and judging others – how utterly absurd that would be. Who is Judas(!) to judge others? But it is likely that this precise situation gave rise to the Parable of the Weeds. The Gospels give us a situation where the disciples of Jesus were arguing amongst themselves about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Luke 22, Mark 10, Matthew 18). We can assume that the Parable of the Weeds arose from a situation similar to this – a situation where Judas is judging others.
We can picture Judas saying, “Thank God I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and tax collectors. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12). I have prophesied in the name of the Lord, I have cast out demons in His name, and I have even done miracles in the name of the Lord (Matthew 7:22).” But Jesus knows Judas’ heart, and commands him to stop judging others (Matthew 7:1). Judas may look like a good disciple of Jesus and may look righteous from the outside (prophecy + miracles), but he is fact spiritually dead inside and void of anything good (Matthew 23:27-27). He may travel with Jesus over land and sea to make a convert, but he makes that person twice the son of hell he is (Matthew 23:15). Who is he to judge anybody?!!!
Judas is the epitome of a tare in the crop. He may have put on an acceptable appearance to some, but he did not fool the truly righteous. He was an evil person, that brought forth evil things. His life of perversion was consummated in his betrayal of the very God he claimed to worship.
In conclusion, the command to ‘leave the tares alone’ is a command to the tares themselves already present in the crop who seek to take the spec out of others eyes although they have a plank in their own. The command is not applicable to those who have already removed the plank from their eyes and now have the ability to see clearly – to those who have the ability to remove the tares without uprooting the wheat also. They are above reproach.
Judging is inseparable from the Christian life. 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 tells us that we will judge the world! We will even judge the angels! John 7:24 teaches us that there is such a thing as righteous judgement – which means that there is also un-righteous judgement as well. This is what the Parable of the Weeds is condemning. The Judases of this world are not permitted to go into the crop to pull up the weeds – for they themselves are the weeds!! With the giant plank in their eyes, they will not be able to discern the weeds from the wheat!! But for those who have taken the plank from their own eyes and are in Christ, they are command to go into the crop and remove the weeds…to judge the world. May we do so in the power and love of God.
Daily Scripture Verses: “First take the plank out of your own eyes, and then you will see clearly to remove the spec from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).
“Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2)?”