In more than 40 years of ministry, it has been my experience that most of the time a believer’s greatest persecution comes from others who identify themselves as believers.
Why is that?
Remember that even the most faithful can be used by Satan if they are not careful. When Jesus was telling His disciples that He must suffer many things, Peter protested and denied that would happen. Jesus said to him: “Get Behind Me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:21–24). Jesus knew that Peter wasn’t Satan, but He made it clear that Peter was being influenced by Satan.
In addition to misguided believers, some people are Satan’s outright pawns who are determined to cause chaos and turmoil in the believer’s life. Jesus refers to them as tares.
An investigation of Scripture reveals that sometimes aggressive, attacking people are actually not believers—even though they say they are—but in reality, are agents of Satan who have a goal of robbing you of your joy and sidetracking you in your calling.
You must be aware of this biblically evidenced truth and equipped to respond appropriately. Remember, Ephesians 6:12 states that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but….against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So beware!
Let’s investigate the Word of God relative to this subject and study some of the over-abundant New Testament (NT) passages that speak about tares—and serve to instruct the believer how to astutely identify his enemies.
Read on, my beloved friends.
Numerous NT passages identify “christians” (lower case intentional) in the church—even in leadership positions—as someone other than who they profess to be. Coming to an objective realization of this, and an understanding of how to properly respond to them is a mark of spiritual maturity. Jude 1:12 calls these folks (relative to their presence in the church) hidden reefs in your love feasts. This is a good sound-bite picture of what I am referring to: Do you wonder why, as a believer, your knees get skinned-up when you swim through the seas of life with certain “christian” people? This study will provide you with insights and added discernment as to why that is the case and, in fact, will always be. You can learn to eliminate much resultant pain via the application of what follows in this Bible study.
II. THE INEVITABILITY OF TARES
Every believer needs to sober to the prevalence of false believers amongst the truly redeemed of God. In Jesus’ Parable of the Tares as recorded only in the Gospel of Matthew (13:24–30; ref. Luke 3:17), the Savior teaches the multitudes that there will be tares sown in with the wheat, a tactic of the enemy containing largely indivisible consequences until the Day of Judgment (13:26–30).
“But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ 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.’’’
Since Jesus states in this passage that He has no intention of rooting out false believers from genuine ones, an appropriate subtitle to this Bible study could be: “How to Cohabitate with Tares.” This is an important observation, a sobering, stand-alone takeaway in and of itself from this parable.
A tare (zizanion) was a darnel weed prevalent in the Palestine biome. It resembles wheat and is largely indistinguishable from wheat until it matures and bears fruit. Opposite the taste of wheat, in the end it is choking, bitter and inedible. Jesus’ use of the word and the picture it brought to mind in an agrarian-based culture provided a powerful metaphor—as it does today!
Here to follow is a survey of nine NT passages and respective indicators that lend huge insights into this subject: a theology, so to speak, on tares.
In that tares are disguised in the beginning (such as were Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5), as they mature they begin to overtake the valuable plants that surround them; that is to say this:
They blossom from being incognito into false leaders, such as was the case with Diotrephes in 3 John, and the false apostles mentioned in Revelations 2. Even though what follows is presented in parallel order to the NT books, I expect you to take notice of these aforementioned levels of tare maturation in each of the nine points and nine passages that follow. What should result from this study is not only an awareness and intellectual understanding of this phenomena, but a heartfelt conviction about this ploy of the Devil and how one should deal with the inevitability of tares (cf. Matthew 7:15).
III. THE INDICATORS OF TARES A. THEY ARE DISOBEDIENT
“‘So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Many struggle to comprehend what Jesus is teaching in this passage, but when indexed through the lens of tares, the passage becomes easy to understand. The overarching true test of genuine belief in the Lordship of Christ is unveiled by Jesus Himself in this profoundly insightful passage: Indicative of true belief is not what someone says; rather, it is the fruit of their actions. He who does the will of My Father is Jesus’ litmus test of true belief—talk is cheap and can be misleading.
Coach Wooden used to instruct his players to concentrate on their opponent’s numbers—not their head—a player’s head often goes in a different direction than his body.
Notice in Matthew 7, Jesus contrasts one who does God’s will with someone who does not—yet names His name regardless. Lawlessness (anomia) means “without law.” The presence of lawless behavior (someone who takes license with scriptural precepts and obedience to them) is therefore evidence of the existence of a false “believer,” a possible tare. Likened to good basketball players, tares in the church know how to fake it.
Further, since the Greek verb anomia is in a present participle form (indicating a continuous action) Jesus is stating that disobedient-to-Scripture behavior is a continuous, regular action of people who talk like believers but don’t act like believers. Lastly, lawlessness depicts unrighteous actions in both an Old Testament (OT) law and civil law sense.
Illustrative of tares is disrespect for the law of the land and the laws of God.
Summarily, one will know tares not by what they say or profess, but by their fruits;1 and one of those a continuing spirit of disobedience to outside authority. What follows are eight more passages revealing additional signposts:
B. THEY ARE PRETENDERS
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?’”
The context from Acts 4:32 further evidences that Ananias and Sapphira were members of the church of Jerusalem, but even though members, not believers, rather pretenders. In order to fake their spirituality in front of the true believers they acted in concert with them, in this case wanting to appear generous, but they were hypocrites intent on impressing others through deception. Tares are often camouflaged pretenders, who lie and cover-up in order to outwardly come across as spiritual. Make special note of this: tares are characterized by pretending. Again, you will know them by their fruits.
C. THEY ARE ARROGANT
2 CORINTHIANS 11:14–15
“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds”
Adding more light to the previous point regarding pretending, Satan disguises (metaschematizo) “to change in fashion or appearance” his servants in a cloak so as to appear righteous (dikaiosune) “just.” But keep in mind, those who portray themselves as a servant of righteousness will appear as clumsy to true believers: such a demeanor stemming from an unbelieving heart lends itself to a legalistic kind of righteousness—an air of superiority often lacking in graciousness towards others.
The principle of this Pauline passage is a near twin to Jesus’ Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13, but added to that here in our 2 Corinthians passage is this evidence of a self-righteous, arrogant “holier than thou” spirit. Remember tares exist alongside; they are masqueraders—but protruding out from underneath that mask, if you look carefully and long enough, is a stinking air of superiority.
D. THEY FALSIFY SALVATION
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
Whereas the former passages describe somewhat incognito tares, Galatians is descriptive of fully flowered tares. The big problem of the church at Galatia when Paul wrote the Galatian epistle was that false teachers had recently engulfed it. More specifically, the now-in-bloom false teaching was about salvation: The now-in-charge tares pridefully taught that salvation was not achieved by faith in Christ alone, but, in part, by keeping the OT law (cf. Acts 15:1–9)! It may be that the tares had cloaked themselves for years, making little to do about their doctrinal differences until the time was just right. Tares do not believe that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone; deep-down they believe in their self-pride that one can save himself via his self-righteous acts. But here’s the problem: when one’s salvation is not based in grace, one’s treatment of others will not be based in grace. Grace is a foreign concept. It follows that tares, therefore, tend to possess a stunted or non-existent vocabulary and demeanor regarding God’s grace and mercy and personally lack humble praise in adulation of the Savior, who, to them, He is not (cf.1 Timothy 1:3–11) because they believe their salvation is based on personal performance versus His sacrifice. They arrogantly judge others accordingly.
E. THEY BATTLE INCORRECTLY
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Tares desire believers to be consumed by fights other than spiritual ones. In the above passage, the apostle Paul dials in as to what is the ultimate battle in this world: It is a spiritual battle first and foremost.
The discerning Christian public servant realizes his or her need to become spiritually mature so as to be a player in the outcome of a spiritual battle.
If the ultimate battle is a spiritual one, then one who is not spiritually mature or spiritually armed cannot effectively fight in it (cf. Ephesians 6:13–20). It is one thing to know political issues, to be able to persuade, speak, and build personal relationships, and to fight for correct policy. But such things are not the ultimate battle in this life. Spiritual maturity is the transcendent quality necessary for spiritual battle in the ultimate sense of the fight—a fight that welterweights, babes in Christ, cannot effectively participate in (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1–2). Keep in mind, the spiritual battle is where both the eternal destiny for souls and the cultural wars of today are ultimately won or lost.
Spiritual maturity and a biblical understanding inform the believer that there is satanic lying, deception, disguise, and false moral superiority that are forever in constant play in the nation’s capital and in the public servant’s state and home community. To think otherwise is to say that the profound and insightful truths revealed in Ephesians 6:12 do not exist in the Bible. What is it that you believe in this regard?
Struggle (pale) means “hand-to-hand combat.” It is only the spiritually-discerning who can see through all the fallaciousness of the physical world, deal with it effectively, and not be deceived or sidetracked by the Devil. Again, tares would have believers be improperly focused and consumed by fights other than the ultimate one—the battle for the souls of men, where the victory is ultimately won or lost. This is a very cunning tactic of Satan: to distract you from what is most important! You must keep in mind and be obedient to this great and informative passage: our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
F. THEY ARE SENSUAL
2 PETER 2:1–2
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.”
The sixth characteristic of tares is revealed in this Petrine passage. Aptly here, Peter uses the synonyms of false prophets and false teachers to illustrate tares.
In this particular passage, Peter underscores many of the truths previously identified in this outline by Bible authors Jesus, Luke, and Paul relative to ascertaining the existence and characteristics of tares. But here he adds another indication: they follow their sensuality (aselgeia). These are those, he says, who are among you (indicating once again that tares will be a part of your everyday life). This may be a legislator on the floor who claims to be a “Christian”—but yet is known for his or her sexual license. Beware! Scripture is helping you to see people for who they really are! Don’t be fooled! Not everyone who names the name of Christ is the real deal, my friend.
Further, Peter says in this passage, these are those who malign the truth. Think of this in terms of subcommittee hearings where a “clergyman” or a fellow “christian” colleague testifies to some bill and rips Scripture from context in order to “prove” their point, therein maligning the way of truth.
There are tares among you in your home church, and there are tares among you in your committee rooms!
Tares are Satan’s tools to lead you astray and to lead our nation into the pit of Hell. Fake clergymen who speak in opposition to clear biblical precepts may deceive your colleagues, but will they deceive you? As a true believer, do you have the spiritual maturity to not only identify, but admonish them? Can you, like Jesus, see through their various forms of deception—one glaring evidence herein being their sensuality—and say, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Can you bring light to darkness? Can you arrest a Scripture twister and set the record straight? Herein are indications of your own spiritual maturity—or lack thereof.
G. THEY ARE NEVER WRONG
1 JOHN 1:8
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
In addition to point number 3 (Tares Are Arrogant), is a similar but heightened form of hubris that is evidencing of false believers: They’re never wrong! The heresy being addressed in 1 John by the apostle John was Gnosticism: That was a first-century belief wherein its purveyors believed they had a higher knowledge than Christians. Characteristic of these types of weeds in the church was a condescending superiority of sinless self-righteousness. Cloaked in Christian garb, some tares are so arrogant they don’t think they’re ever wrong! John provides us with that discerning insight from this nifty passage. If you know someone who names the name of Christ, but is never wrong, be warned, watch out, they’re probably not the real deal! Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, true believers are always characterized by humility and are willing to be corrected. They’ll ask you your opinion and actually listen.
H. THEY ARE CHURCH LEADERS
3 JOHN 9–11
“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”
This is a very powerful passage. It represents the crux reason this brief letter called 3 John is included by the Holy Spirit in the canon of Scripture (all else in this short epistle is redundant to other NT teachings, except for this powerful insight). Diotrephes (v. 9) was the head of this church (umm, not Christ!). It is apparent that he unilaterally ran the show. Even though he was the church leader, John labels him as evil, someone who has not seen God. In other words, Diotrephes was a tare in full bloom—not a believer. Evidently, he had sneakily worked his way into the leadership of the ministry! Watch out for controlling legislators, pastors, or board members of Christian organizations who are accusatory and always have to be right, never wrong (per 1 John 1:8); a trademark of tares is that they will attempt to put them (you) out! Watch out! John wants you to know they’re disingenuous, not saved, even though they pretend to be and are in charge of everything “spiritual!” Again, per the introduction, do not be surprised by all this—false Christian leaders are normative in the Church Age! Many churches—even denominations—are led by tares! Be spiritually smart and mature and always on guard!
I. THEY TITLE THEMSELVES
“‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.’”
Note that the tares at the church at Ephesus (to whom this passage is addressed) had given themselves the title of apostles. But Jesus (here quoted above in and from the book of Revelation) sets the record straight: “and they are not.” The apostle John recording herein what Jesus said to him through an angel (cf. Revelation 1:1) is commending the Ephesian church for having had the spiritual discernment and courage to deal with tares (cf. 1 Timothy 1:20) who, among the other things we’ve learned about them, give themselves fancy titles (and I might add, oftentimes, fancy garb and robes!). This is a good concluding passage to suggest that every mature believer have the training, spiritual discernment, and courage to do likewise: “You call yourself an apostle? You are not!”
IV. THE INSIGHTS TO INTERNALIZE REGARDING TARES
Parallel to the previous passages, what follows are the respective biblical gauges that in summary fashion unveil the presence of the believer’s enemy.
A. THEY BREAK LAWS
The takeaway principle of Matthew 7 is this: “You will know them by their fruits.”
One only needs to taste the flavor of a tare to realize it is not wheat.
If someone professes to be a believer and yet habitually takes license with man’s and God’s laws and is unremorseful and impenitent, every biblical reason exists to doubt the genuineness of their profession of faith. Such actions are not commensurate with the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of a true believer.
B. THEY PRETEND
The takeaway principle of Acts 5 is this: Tares will mimic the wheat as closely as possible before blooming, in order to outwardly appear similar and gain a following. Check their story; do your own research if you have doubts. Is there a pattern of lying?
C. THEY POSSESS AN AIR OF MORAL SUPERIORITY
The takeaway principle of 2 Corinthians 11 is this: In their attempts to come alongside and be disguised, they have no understanding of the concept of grace. Since they cannot imitate this quality, develop a keen discernment for the absence of self-deprecation. Tares often project moral superiority and lack basic kindness.
D. THEY ARE LEGALISTS
The takeaway point of Galatians 1 is this: Akin to “3” above, tares have a legalistic (versus grace) paradigm of how one goes to heaven. When quizzed, they are found relying on self-effort, their own good works. They not only possess an aberrant orthopraxy (licentiousness) but an aberrant orthodoxy (legalism).
E. THEY POSSESS AN IMPROPER EMPHASIS
The takeaway principle of Ephesians 6 is this: Tares fight the wrong battles and possess no real interest in changing the hearts of people through the love of Christ. Theirs is a fascination with outward change with no real (God only can give this) understanding of the concept of or need for inward change. They do not understand the Gospel! Nor are they interested in evangelism and discipleship, rather power.
F. THEY ARE SENSUAL
The takeaway point of 2 Peter 1 is this: Know from this passage and the authority of God’s Word that tares are sexually out of control in their private if not public life. This always comes out with time, if not already.
G. THEY CLAIM TO BE SINLESS
The takeaway point of 1 John is this: tares are not humble about their personal sin; they deny it. They are never wrong. The heretical Gnostics described in 1 John possessed a holier-than-thou attitude; accordingly, latent sinlessness acts are an identifying moniker of a tare. Are they ever humble in their demeanor? Do they ever admit they make mistakes?
H. THEY ARE CONTROLLING AND ACCUSATORY
The takeaway point of 3 John is this: tares tend to seek control and are unrelenting in their false accusations of true believers. In their slander they bring about divisiveness. Stay away from power-hungry, overly-controlling people, especially if they name the name of Christ; such qualities are not becoming of true godliness. Tares will bite and injure those naïve to their ways and means, as they seek and maintain power.
I. THEY WEAR SELF-IMPOSED LABELS
The takeaway from Revelation 2:2 is this: Have the courage to call out fake spiritual leaders. Don’t be impressed nor intimidated by their self-titling or fancy garb: in your mind, it should only serve to indicate their pride and sense of self-importance. In reality they are nothing but tares!
Any of the above by themselves are not necessarily indicative of the presence of a tare (every believer struggles with sin to some degree and from time to time), but when they’re all continually present, beware! As a believer, I pray that you can now better ascertain who the tares are that Satan has put in the path of your life. Will the tares be successful in their demonic mission of discouraging and derailing you? Can you now better discern their presence and purpose? It follows that you must identify their existence and purpose in order to keep your distance. Again, the believer’s battle is a spiritual one—and he needs to see things from the perspective of Ephesians 6:12 (as quoted in and throughout this Bible study). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”
In Revelation 2:2, the apostle John records the fact that the Ephesian church identified and put such persons (Hymenaeus and Alexander) out of their midst (1 Timothy 1:20); they were those who called themselves “apostles” but were not! While you and I might not have the luxury of doing something as formal as calling someone out for their pretense, we can be wise by identifying and keeping distance.
Lastly, are you a tare? Are these previous, descriptive characteristics indicative of you? Second Corinthians 13:5 states, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” Talk to me about this; God is forgiving and it is not too late to come to Him! One can be transformed from a weed into wheat by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit!
1. Galatians 5:19 lists characteristics that are in opposition to the fruits of the Spirit. Accordingly, familiarity too with this passage greatly aids one in discerning the existence of tares, i.e., “enmities, strife, jealousy, disputes, dissensions, factions, and envying.” Tares manifest these things and others while at the same time verbally stating they are “Christians.”