Tares Among the Wheat

“He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” (vv. 9–10).

- Mark 3:7–10

Pastors and church elders well understand the difficulty of knowing the hearts of the people in their congregations. Though there are signs of spiritual maturity that leaders can look for, they are not omniscient, so they cannot know with absolute certainty the states of the souls under their care. A church may have a large membership, but not everyone in the congregation is necessarily there for the right reason—to gather with God’s people to worship Him. In fact, the reality of wheat and tares in the church until Christ returns almost certainly guarantees the presence of unregenerate people in every church gathering (Matt. 13:24–30).

Even Jesus ministered to crowds that included people who did not follow Him for the proper reason. Our Lord attracted a large and diverse following during His earthly ministry, as Mark 3:7–10 informs us. Not only did people from Galilee, the northern portion of the Promised Land, follow Jesus, but also people from Idumea, located 120 miles south of Capernaum. Jews from Judea and Galilee flocked to Him, but there were almost certainly Gentiles in the crowds as well. People also came to Jesus from Tyre and Sidon, Gentile inhabited cities in Lebanon that sat fifty miles north of Capernaum.

Given the size of the crowds reported in today’s passage, tares had to have been present. Some people came not because they loved Jesus and sought His yoke of discipleship. This is evident from Mark 15:6–15, as the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday quickly turned against Him, and that crowd likely included at least some of the people mentioned in today’s passage. Mark’s description of the crowd in 3:7–10 also indicates the compromised motives of the people. The desire for physical healing drove many of them to the Savior, and while it is not inherently wrong to seek physical healing, there is little evidence that the people in the crowd wanted anything more than that. They were not coming to Jesus to learn from Him or to serve His kingdom but rather to see what they could get from Him. Mark 1:45 offers confirmation of this. The huge, clamoring crowds were something of a burden for Jesus, for they made it impossible for Him to preach the gospel in many places.

All this cautions us not to measure the spiritual vitality of a group of people by its size. It is not wrong to take the number of people to whom we minister into account, but the number itself tells us nothing about the maturity of the congregation.

Coram Deo

In the drive to build a large church, elders can lose sight of what is most important—congregational discipleship. A large congregation might be spiritually mature, but it could also be that the tares outnumber the wheat in a given locale. The same dynamics are true of smaller churches as well. Let us encourage our pastors and elders to do the work of discipleship, and may we seek to be involved as well, according to our circumstances and abilities.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 13–14
2 Kings 17
Matthew 26:47–56
Luke 23:8–12

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.