The parables of the pearl of great value
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The Pearl of Great Value
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:45–46 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
This is the shortest of the parables of Jesus. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, there are two groups of ways of understanding it. We will look briefly at both and include implications of both for our lives.
μαργαρίτας· 46 ⸂εὑρὼν δὲ⸃ °ἕνα πολύτιμον μαργαρίτην
(Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 13:45–46.)
Before we look at these interpretations, an illustration from my life. The Greek word for pearl μαργαρίτας, is the origin of the English name Margaret. Next week is 48 years since Margaret and I first met, at her home church. We discovered we were going to the same University. Both of us had been helped in our early Christian lives by friends at University. Four years later, at the end of our full-time University careers, we started going out together and, two years later, were married. That was one experience in my life of finding a pearl of great value. This morning we are looking at this parable told by Jesus about a pearl of even greater value.
There are two groups of interpretations given to this parable.
The merchant is Jesus
The first interpretation is that the merchant is Jesus and the pearl is the church or, for some, an individual. At the cross, Jesus sold all he had to buy the church, represented by the pearl.
“We rather believe that the merchant is the Lord Jesus. The pearl of great price is the church. At Calvary He sold all that He had to buy this pearl.”
(William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1259.)
But the parable of the Pearl of Great Value reveals the measure of Christ’s love for each human soul individually. It is very important for each of us to appreciate how God loves us as individuals, not just as part of a group.
(Derek Prince, Extravagant Love (Charlotte, NC: Derek Prince Ministries, 1990), 11.)
This approach emphasises the cost to God of restoring people to his Kingdom.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5–8 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The merchant is an individual
The second interpretation is that the merchant is an individual.
The merchant is deliberately seeking pearls: items of great value. They were prized more at this time than nowadays. They are even pictured as forming the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem
The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
Revelation 21:21 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The apostle Paul ranks them with gold in his caution to Christian women:
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,
1 Timothy 2:9 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
WIlling to give up all for the Kingdom of God
Having recognised the value of what he had found, the merchant set out to obtain it, gave up everything else to have it, and got it.
This is a picture of obtaining the Kingdom of Heaven. But we know that salvation cannot be bought. It is freely available:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Isaiah 55:1 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The picture is not selling goods to buy salvation, rather it is one of recognising that we need to be prepared to give up anything.
Salvation cannot be purchased by works, or earning merit, or giving up possessions, or abandoning relationships. Yet nothing must keep us from God’s kingdom. As Jesus said,
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The Kingdom of heaven is where God’s will is done. As we seek to express our thanks to Jesus, to show our love for him, so we will obey his will more and more.
Jesus does sometimes call those who want to follow him to sell all. So, when the rich young man who believed that he had fulfilled the law, done all that God required of him to inherit eternal life, asks Jesus whether he needed to do anything else,
Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
Matthew 19:21 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Not every disciple is asked to sell all, but all are called to an inner detachment from money and possessions. We are to be willing to give up “anything that would stand in the way of wholehearted allegiance to Christ and the priorities of the kingdom.” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 224.)
Matthew relates several of Jesus’ teachings on this, such as
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Matthew 19:29–30 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:37–39 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
And we see this in the apostle Paul’s life and attitude:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3:8 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
When Jesus calls us to follow him today, it still demands forsaking. For most Christians this does not mean leaving our homes, or our jobs, or selling all. It does imply an inner surrender, not allowing anything or anyone else to have first place. Primarily there must be a renunciation of sin. “We cannot follow Christ without renouncing sin.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 142.)
There must also be a renunciation of self: we must deny ourselves, take up the cross, and lose our life.
Jesus offers salvation for free: he has paid the whole cost. But having faith in him means actively trusting him, yielding to his will. Sometimes you may hear that we should let Jesus take over the steering wheel of our lives. That could imply that we are just passengers. We must expect to be more active. Perhaps a better analogy would be to let Jesus be the reliable and accurate GPS of our lives. Through his guidance through, for example, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, worship and prayer, and fellowship with other Christians, God will tell us what we should be doing: we then need to obey.
We should count the cost before trusting in Jesus, before yielding our lives to him.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”
Luke 14:28–30 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
But whatever the cost, it is worth it. We should follow Jesus because it is the best for us: he came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). We should follow Jesus because it is the best we can do for others. Most of all, we should follow Jesus because of what Jesus gave for us.
And, whatever we are called to forsake, whatever we give up, we give up because of our love for Jesus, enabled and empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit. Any sacrifice comes not from what we can get out of God in exchange but because we love him and want nothing to come between us:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.
Psalm 40:8 ESV
As we follow and obey Jesus, growing in love for God and for others, forgiving others the more readily as we
appreciate all the forgiveness God extends to us, God’s Spirit grows the fruit of the Spirit in us: love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22f)
This is the salt, the leaven, that can change the world. As John Stott wrote:
The best contribution anyone can make to putting the world to rights is to live a Christian life, build a Christian home, and radiate the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 153.)
The apostle Paul sums it up:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Finally, the merchant would not return the pearl of great value and try to recover all he had given up for it. He had made the deal of a lifetime. A bargain he would never want to go back on. So with those who accept Jesus’ free offer and continue to live in obedience to him.
As the commentator J M Boice wrote,
So it will be for you. You are not called to poverty in Christ but to the greatest spiritual wealth. You are not called to disappointment but to fulfillment. You are not called to sorrow but to joy. How could it be otherwise when the treasure is the only Son of God? How can the outcome be bad when it means salvation?
(James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 249.)
Let us pray.
the light of the minds that know you,
the joy of the hearts that love you,
and the strength of the wills that serve you:
grant us so to know you
that we may truly love you,
so to love you that we may truly serve you,
whose service is perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(after Augustine of Hippo (430))
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