Parables of Purification

[Original .docx version available here.]

orange-light-burstpicture source: scienceblogs.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus shares some parables with a big crowd. He tries to educate them on the subject of the kingdom of God. I believe that the point He is trying to bring across is that unless one leaves behind his sinful, selfish life in its entirety and changes his main purpose in life, he cannot be reconciled to Him and take part in God’s kingdom.

The well-known parable of the sower is recorded in Matthew 13:3-9. Its explanation can be found in verses 19 to 23.

The parable of the sower:

“And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

Its explanation:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:19-23).

  • Matthew 13:4, 19 – the seed by the way side – Either one does or one does not consider Jesus’s parable by intellectually looking into what has been said and afterwards perceiving / understanding the meaning behind and importance of those words [1]. The meaning behind hearing this “word of the kingdom” is hearing Christ’s call to change one’s main purpose; to give up one’s selfish life to a life characterized by selflessness [2]. If you do not, then the devil robs the seed, meaning that he will try to make you forget or suppress in the mind, the words that have been spoken (verse 19). The hearer is encouraged to immediately go look into the truth-matter for himself, so that he does not become a “forgetful hearer” (James 1:25), as the devil robs the truth.
  • Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21 – the seed upon stony places – This is an example of someone who hastily accepts the words of Jesus, but he does so without really pondering the matter. Such a one has not “counted the cost” (Luke 14:28-30). His heart is only devoted to a certain extent but when it becomes difficult, his selfishness shows up and he becomes immediately offended, leaving his shallow commitment to Christ behind. He thus shows that his main purpose in life is still to please himself.
  • Matthew 13:7, 22 – the seed among thorns – This talks about someone who is still concerned with his own pleasure as his ultimate pursuit in life, hence not changing his main purpose but persistently running the same course, while completely ignoring the message that has been spoken. This is what it means to be actively chocking the words that have been spoken. (Read also James 4:4.)
  • Matthew 13:8, 23 – the seed received into the good ground – The good ground represents a sincere heart that is hungry for the truth. [3] After one has intellectually looked into what has been said and afterwards perceives / understands the meaning behind and importance of those words, he receives them and does what they say, changing his foundation (his main purpose in life) from sand (self) to the Rock (Christ) [Compare Matthew 13:8, 23 to Matthew 7:24-27 or Luke 6:47-49. The previous verses of that chapter in Matthew or Luke, are examples of the same truth.]. In this way, he moves on from being a mere hearer of the word to a doer of the word who does the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21-24a, Luke 6:46, James 1:25).

In verse 12 Jesus makes a statement which could be called a parable:

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:12).

  • Whoever has opened himself up to receiving the truth of Jesus’s message, and has only perceived yet a little of its truth, will receive abundantly more over time. But the one who is not willing to open himself up to Jesus’s message, from him, the devil will take away the words which he has heard.

Jesus brings the same point across in verses 13 to 17. He contrasts those people who have closed their ears, eyes and hearts (verses 13-15) to those who choose to open their ears, eyes and hearts to the truth (verse 16).

The parable of the tares among the wheat can be found in verses 24 to 30. Its explanation can be found in verses 37 to 43.

The parable of the tares among the wheat:

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).

Its explanation:

“He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:37-43).

  • Matthew 13:24, 37-38a – the sower – Jesus Christ, who preaches the Gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15). He, “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), tries to persuade all men; He sows good seed. Read [3]; there is no malice in His message. He does not “wink unto us secretly”, as the Manicheans claimed [4], neither does He have a false ineffectual call, as the Calvinists claim [5]. – the good seed – The followers of Jesus Christ, sent out by Jesus to preach the same good news. They are called good seed, because they have chosen to repent and become morally upright. They have received Jesus Christ and hence they have been born of God (John 1:12-13, read also John 8:42). Therefore they have become honest messengers without deceit, preaching a message which is a pure light without deceit (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). By preaching the Gospel, these disciples (the good seed) also make disciples (good seed brings forth more good seed).  –  the field –  The field is the world. Just like the good seed is thrown into the field, so all of Christ’s messengers are send into this world (Mark 16:15-18).
  • 24-25, 38b – the tares – Those who, in their stubbornness, chose not to consider Jesus’s message. As they have not changed their primary allegiance from self to Christ, they are still the children of the devil, fulfilling their own selfish desires (John 8:43). Those followers of satan are willfully blinded by their master because they stubbornly persevere in their unbelief (2 Corinthians 3:14-17; 4:4).
  • 25, 39a – the enemy – The devil. Notice that the devil actively blinds his children (2 Corinthians 4:4). In this parable he comes when men sleep (that is: presumably during the night). This is a picture: the devil acts in darkness, when men are unaware; he tries to strike in a crafty way.
  • 26 – Jesus said: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16a). Sometimes it takes a while before it can be known whether a man is good or whether a man is evil. A good example of this is that only after Abraham is tested, the Angel of the Lord exclaims: “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12b). The test was set up by God so that He could learn what the true character of Abraham was; whether his primary allegiance was to God or to himself. God is patient before He judges, as He optimistically wants people to turn from their wicked ways and live. “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). God even promises to the wicked: “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21). but His judgment will inevitably come on unrepentant sinners (2 Peter 3:9).
  • 27 – the servants of the householder – In this parable, God’s angels ask whether God is responsible for the great deception that has overtaken this world. They ask Him whether His message was altogether good (as being genuine, without deceit). They ask whether God destines some men to become morally upright and some to be wicked by nature [6]. They ask how it is possible, if God’s message is entirely good, that there are wicked people in this world. They basically ask the common philosophical question of the problem of evil [which I try to solve in this article].
  • 28 – Jesus replies that He is not responsible for the wicked becoming wicked. It is the devil who is responsible for the world’s wickedness. Man should stop blaming God for all the evil in this world. Christians should stop making ludicrous claims, such as: “The devil is only God’s puppet, fulfilling His purposes” [7]. The fact of the matter is that the devil does not act in accordance to the will of God and Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on this earth, as His kingdom comes (Matthew 6:10). This means that God is not always “in control”, as in the sense of micromanaging every single act that happens on this earth. May Christians keep His Name holy (Matthew 6:9), as, in reality, the seraphim sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3), not questioning God’s moral character. In the parable, they consequently ask: “Master, then should we do something about the problem? Shall we remove the wicked from among the good?”
  • 29 – The angels are ordered to wait until Jesus choses to bring judgment on humanity. This text might imply that if the wicked are taken away before judgment day, it might have disastrous consequences on some of the upright.
  • 30, 39b-42 – God, in His providence, has chosen that first the righteous need to receive a mark (Revelation 7:3). The wicked will also have received a mark (Revelation 13:16). Consequently they will be separated on judgment day, by the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of His angels (Matthew 25:31-33).
  • Conclusion – Either you are a tare or you are a good seed. Either you are wicked or you are good. Either you are of the devil or you are of God. Either you ignore Jesus’ message or you consider it and consequently act on it. Either you are still living for self or you have shifted your primary allegiance and main purpose to living for God.

Other, shorter parables, expounding on the same, desired form of purification (that is: changing the main purpose in life), can also be found in the same chapter:

The parable of the mustard seed:

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32).

  • The grain of mustard seed represents Jesus’s message. The field represents a man’s heart. A man must, willingly and with genuine faith, take whatever He already heard of Jesus’s message to heart. Then that message will grow inside of him and he will perceive that Jesus has become the greatest, most valuable Possession of his soul.

The parable of the leaven:

“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33).

  • This parable has the same meaning: the leaven represents Jesus’s message; the Gospel of the kingdom. The three measures of meal represents the woman’s heart. Once a person has opened his heart to Jesus’s message, Jesus will soon possess his whole life. Such a person can say with confidence that Jesus is the Author of and will be the Finisher of his faith (Hebrews 12:2) and that the Holy Spirit who began a good work in him, will finish it (Philippians 1:6).

The parable of the hidden treasure:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44).

  • The man who has understood the value of the treasure, sells everything to be able to possess that treasure. Likewise, the man who has pondered upon the words of Jesus Christ, who is our most valuable Treasure, and, after searching [8], has understood their importance, counts all things to be only dung in comparison to Christ, to win Christ (read Philippians 3:7-8). In other words: he gives up his sinful, selfish life and changes his main purpose in life, to be able to gain Christ and become part of His kingdom.

The next parable is very similar:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46).

  • Of course, judging from its similarity, this parable tries to bring across the same point. It suffices to say that the reader should notice that Jesus uses the exact same Greek word “εὑρίσκω”, as he did in the previous parable. (As stated before, read footnote [8] for more information on this word.)

Jesus shares yet another parable with His listeners:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away” (Matthew 13:47-48).

Jesus explains this parable in the following two verses:

“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49-50)

  • Jesus’s severe warning is too straightforward to be misunderstood. He states, in a univocal manner, that those who choose to remain wicked; those who choose to remain selfish and do not amend their ways, reforming their main purpose from selfishness to the purest form of benevolence [2], will be excluded from inheriting this earth. Just as the bad fish will be cast away, so shall the wicked be “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). They “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, NIV), when the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:4).

Jesus concludes his message by calling again for the same radical transformation; a radical doing away with the former sinful/selfish lifestyle:

“Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52b).

  • Every scribe – this also seems applicable to any other person who hears or reads Jesus’s words – who has been taught these things and who has thought these things through and eventually chooses to become a disciple of Jesus [9], chooses to fully devote his life to Jesus. He chooses to purify himself from all sin and selfishness because he, through true faith, has put his hope in Christ alone (Romans 8:24, Galatians 5:5, 1 John 3:3).

In these parables of Matthew 13, as in other passages, Jesus asks that we shift from living primarily for ourselves, to living primarily and fully for Him. Again, this is Christ’s request for a full shift from our primary allegiance to self to a primary allegiance to Him; of living for self to living for God primarily and hence also living for others, as a shift is made from selfishness to true benevolence [2]. As Jesus is recorded to have said in a different sermon:

“If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—or even life—more than me, he cannot be my follower” (Luke 14:26, NCV).

“In the same way, none of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything.” (Luke 14:33, GW).

Paul also understood this concept when he wrote:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”(Philippians 3:7-8).

To the Christians in Corinth he wrote that there are certain false Christians, calling themselves brothers… but instead of living for true benevolence [2], they were still living for their own pleasures:

“Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. (…) Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (…) But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:6b-7a, 8, 11).

He wrote some more information, so that the true saints could understand this concept:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Also the Christians in Rome understood this:

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (…)Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:11-12, 16-22).

Also Peter wrote to the genuine early Christians:

“For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:3-4).

John told us how one can recognize a true Christian from a false believer:

“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

I think the previous non-exhaustive list suffices to show the necessity of a radical transformation from selfishness to complete benevolence [2], in order to be reconciled to Jesus Christ and to take part in His kingdom. Do you still need purification in some areas? If you do not leave behind your old life, characterized by sin and selfishness, changing your main purpose in life, you cannot receive this new life. Through prayer, you should “examine yourself, whether you are in the faith; prove your own self” (2 Corinthians 13:5a*). It might be necessary for you to “Cleanse your hands, you sinner; and purify your heart, you double minded” (James 4:8b*). “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

In Christ,
Tom Torbeyns

[This sermon might also be useful for the sake of your soul.]

[Original .docx version available here.]

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Footnotes:

[1] Part of the explanation given by the BibleWorks version 10 edition of Strong’s Concordance for the Greek word “συνίημι” is: “to put (as it were) the perception with the thing perceived 2a) to set or join together in the mind”. Just like in this verse, this word is most often translated as “understandeth” in the King James Version but I believe this translation does injustice to what the Greek term tries to bring across and is liable to misunderstanding on the modern reader’s side.

[2] Charles Finney put it thusly: “The very idea of disinterested benevolence, and there is no other true benevolence, implies the abandonment of the spirit of self-seeking, or of selfishness. It is impossible to become benevolent, without ceasing to be selfish.” – Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, Lecture 22: Attributes of Love. [Source available here.]

[3] The BibleWorks version 10 edition of Strong’s Concordance gives the following explanation for the Greek word “καλός”, which suffices to bring our point across: “1) beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable 1a) beautiful to look at, shapely, magnificent 1b) good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends 1b1) genuine, approved 1b2) precious 1b3) joined to names of men designated by their office, competent, able, such as one ought to be 1b4) praiseworthy, noble 1c) beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy 1c1) morally good, noble 1d) honourable, conferring honour 1e) affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming. The Authorized King James Version uses this Greek word in the following ways: good (83 times), better (7 times), honest (5 times), meet 2, goodly 2, misc.”

[4] Manichaean Bema Psalm 239. [Source available here.]

[5] A good example of this concept is found in the following quote by John Calvin: “Though our heavenly Father inviteth all men unto the faith by the external voice of man, yet doth he not call effectually by his Spirit any save those whom he hath determined to save.” – John Calvin, Commentary on Acts – Volume 1, p. 427. [Source available here.]

[6] In line with Jesus’s answer, early church father Irenaeus (a second century disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, who was a disciple of Jesus) wrote the following title against the gnostic heretics, who believed that some men are by nature good and others are by nature bad: “Men are possessed of free will, and endowed with the faculty of making a choice. It is not true, therefore, that some are by nature good, and others bad.” – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 37. [Source available here.] This was long before Augustine came up with his massa damnata theory at the end of the 4th century, which basically said that everyone was evil by nature. In Augustine’s own words: “Man’s nature, indeed, was created at first faultless and without any sin; but that nature of man in which every one is born from Adam, now wants the Physician, because it is not sound.” (…) “The entire mass, therefore, incurs penalty and if the deserved punishment of condemnation were rendered to all, it would without doubt be righteously rendered.” – Augustine, On Nature and Grace, chapter 3 & chapter 5. [Source available here.]

[7] For example, John Calvin wrote: “The devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, paragraph 11. [Source available here.]

[8] Strong’s Concordance module, available in BibleWorks version 10, among other renderings, gives the following possibilities for rendering the Greek word “εὑρίσκω”: “2) to find by enquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, to find out by practice and experience 2a) to see, learn, discover, understand (…) 2d) to get knowledge of, come to know (…) 3) to find out for one’s self, to acquire, get, obtain, procure.” This is translated as “hath found” in the King James Version rendering of this verse. Again, this rendering might do injustice to the original Greek.

[9] Strong’s concordance has the following explanations for the Greek word “μαθητεύω”: “1) to be a disciple of one 1a) to follow his precepts and instructions 2) to make a disciple 2a) to teach, instruct.”

* This verse has been modified from its original plural form to a singular form.

All Scripture passages taken from the King James Version (KJV). International copyright: public domain. Copyright in the United Kingdom (UK): The British Crown.

 

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