Monday, October 27, 2014

The Greatest Counterfeiter of Them All

I hand a twenty dollar bill to the cashier and watch as she pulls out what appears to be a yellow highlighter.  Although this has happened to me dozens of times, my chest always tightens a bit; I unconsciously hold my breath those few seconds until, satisfied, she opens the register and tucks my twenty into its appointed slot. 

What color the bill would turn if it were counterfeit, I don't know, but I don't really want to find out. Words like "virtually undetectable" aren't exactly reassuring, nor is the Secret Service's comment earlier this year that "authorities reported that 6.5 counterfeit banknotes are passed as real currency out of every 1 million banknotes in U.S. circulation."

It's those 6.5 I'm concerned about and the damage they could do to my life.  

In Scripture, God speaks of counterfeit Christianity, of wicked men growing up right alongside righteous men, virtually undetectable. 

Isaiah says, "Thus says the LORD, 'As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, 'Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,' so I will act on behalf of My servants in order not to destroy all of them" (Is. 65:8).

Here, God compares the children of Israel to a cluster of grapes, using this analogy to explain why He allows wicked men to continue living alongside the righteous. Just as you can't pluck a bad grape out of the center of a cluster without the possibility of dislodging other good grapes, the Lord says the same is true when it comes to judging His people.  To destroy the bad grape would be to destroy the good grapes in the process.

This should sound very familiar to Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares when He said, "'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also....The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn''”(Matt. 13:24-30).

The bad grapes growing in the same cluster as the good, the tares growing amongst the wheat--I've heard this latter passage so often taught as a warning for the church to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing coming through our front doors and sitting next to us each week on the pew. It's a deceptively simple parable concerning authentic and inauthentic Christianity.

And yet, the passage in Isaiah makes me reconsider God's purpose in allowing the bad to grow up with the good. 

For starters, in both Isaiah and Matthew, there is a sense of certainty of this happening, not an "if" mentality.  In fact, since Matthew refers to the greatest counterfeiter of all sowing the tares while men slept--and since only God needs no sleep--I would assume this is Christ's way of saying "Hey, this is going to happen.  Just expect Satan to plant counterfeit Christians amongst you. You can't be on guard out 24 hours a day."  Likewise, since God needs no sleep, He is quite aware of Satan's actions--it doesn't surprise Him.

I believe this part.  I've experienced the tares among the wheat inside the church.  And perhaps that is what makes me pause, because I know the consequences of tares in the wheat field...of counterfeit Christians in the church.  My heart bears the scars.

Allowing the bad grapes to remain in the same cluster with the good grapes can sometimes spoil the grapes near them.  Likewise, allowing the tares to remain in the same soil as the wheat can sap away vital nutrients in the soil and suck up much needed water that will negatively affect the wheat's growth. 

In my feeble estimation, it just sounds like a bad idea...until I read the second half of the verse in Isaiah and the second half of the parable in Matthew--to destroy the bad, one may destroy the good in the process.  

And so, God waits for the day of judgment.

That is God's purpose--to grow a harvest. Our God has a "whatever it takes" mentality when it comes to maturing His wheat for the day of harvest. He is patient as He waits to see how each stalk will turn out. He sends trials in the life of the true wheat, purifying them for the day of judgment.

We Christians have a tendency to put ourselves in the place of God, believing we can be the Holy Spirit for other Christians, that what we think, God must think, and surely, we are able to discern who is truly Godly and who is not.  We also have a tendency to be less than patient with new Christians, expecting them to be light years ahead in their walk with the Lord when we only stuck a bottle in their mouths yesterday.  If nothing else, this should easily prove to us that we are not God, and in our human mindset, we can do more harm than good if we set about to root out the tares in the church.  

We cannot tell 100% of the time the tares from the wheat until they bear fruit.  Without God's perfect accuracy, that means we can't run around like the boy who cried wolf screaming "Tare! Tare!" In doing so, we might misidentify a wheat as a tare, cutting off what may have only needed to be brought under a Godly mentor for instruction.   How damaging would that be to the kingdom?

In the end, we must remember: the Father allows the tares to grow up right beside the wheat; this tells me that there is a purpose in His plan.   

Yes, we must be ever-watchful and discerning, rooting out blatant evil in our midst and protecting the church from false teachings & doctrine, as Paul admonishes us to do.  Still, we can't treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with immediate suspicion when their walk with Christ doesn't look exactly like ours.

Part of living out loud for Jesus means putting our hearts out there.  Just expect it--you will be hurt.  I will be hurt.  In those times, though, we must stop and remember God's greater purpose in it all--a great harvest of souls.

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