I noticed that eHow.com has an article on “How Do Farmers Sift Wheat?“. It covers the difference between pre-industrial age and how it is done with combines.
It goes into how winnowing involves throwing the grain up into the air and allowing the lighter chaff to blow away with the wind. What it does not say, though, is that this is done over and over and over again.
31And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: (Luke 22:31, King James Version)
A sifting, a sorting. Obviously, Satan desired trials to come upon Peter here. That means that sifting, sorting and winnowing do not come without pain.
47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
48Which, 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, King James Version)
A sifting, a sorting.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
~ Mt 3:11-12 (NIV)
A sifting, a winnowing.
All of these actions serve what purpose? To separate.
Why is there no unity amongst the COGs? Perhaps they are intended to be separate.
To be sifted, sorted and winnowed again and again.
10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
~ Jer 17:10 (ESV)
Do we really think that the trials and problems of all the churches are something new? Did they in the first century have no problems? Or, were they persecuted, scattered and killed for their beliefs? Was Paul followed around by others whose sole intent was to disrupt and cause confusion? Even after the Jerusalem conference in Ac 15, was he not still being hounded by those who insisted that Gentiles needed to be circumcised?
Does God sometimes allow the wolves amongst the sheep?
16Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16, King James Version)
Notice Jesus said the sheep would be sent out amongst the wolves! Seems incredible, doesn’t it?
Then comes sifting, sorting, winnowing.
In the end, what will be left will be pure kernels of grain with no impurities. It is similar to the analogy of having the dross refined away from the silver.
Perhaps you have seen the email that was floating around a few years back:
Some time ago, a few ladies met in a certain city to read the scriptures, and make them the subject of conversation. While reading the third chapter of Malachi they came upon a remarkable expression in the third verse: “And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” One lady’s opinion was that is was intended to convey the view of the sanctifying influence of the grace of Christ. Then she proposed to visit a silversmith and report to them what he said on the subject.
She went accordingly and without telling the object of her errand, begged to know the process of refining silver, which he fully described to her. “But Sir” she said, “do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes, madam,” replied the silversmith; “I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.”
The lady at once saw the beauty, and comfort too, of the expression, “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” Christ sees it needful to put His children into a furnace; His eye is steadily intent on the work of purifying, and His wisdom and love are both engaged in the best manner for them. Their trials do not come at random; “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
As the lady was leaving the shop, then she suddenly realized that she had one yet unanswered question. So, she turned and asked, “Sir, how do you know when the process of purifying is complete?”
“Easy,” he answered. “It is finished when I see my own image reflected in the silver.”
While many of the quoted verses are taken on a personal level, and I don’t want to knock that, notice how many of them refers to God working with us in a corporate manner.
Sifting, sorting, winnowing, dodging fangs, purifying.
At my UCG service over the weekend, the man giving the closing prayer asked God to get the chaff out of the church.
That would be nice — but doesn't Scripture show wheat and tares are going to be side-by-side until the "harvest" comes?
@Richard: The best answer I can give (but that doesn't necessarily mean it is the right one) is that there is more than one harvest.
Of course, they are parables, which are analogies. They are meant to serve one specific point, and it is easy to stretch them until they break.