We come to two short parables, given to us side-by-side, and with the same basic point. Given their length, teaching, and placement, it only makes sense to treat them together. As with the parable of the leaven, we first have to decide on which way we shall take it. Some interpret this with the treasure/pearl representing the church, and the discoverer of them as being Christ, sacrificing all for His people. The other way to take it, and the way I will be handling it, is to represent the treasure as Christ, and the discoverer as the disciple who gives up everything for the sake of what he has found.
“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. 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” (Matt. 13:44-46).
Summary of the Text
The treasure parable is about hidden treasure (v. 44). A man comes across it (apparently by accident), and then he hides it again. Having done so, he goes out in joy and sells everything he has in order to obtain the field the treasure is in (v. 44). The next parable comes hard after, with the same basic point. The difference here is that the merchant traffics in pearls—that is what he is looking for in the first place (v. 45). When he comes across the sort of object he seeks, a pearl of great price, he goes and sells everything he has in order to get it (v. 46).
Parables, Not Allegories
We treat parables as though they were allegories when we try to assign a meaning to every last detail in the parable, and by so doing distort the central meaning of parable. What does the field containing the treasure in the first parable represent? Some have said the church, some have said the Bible. I think it would be better to key off an earlier parable and say it is the world, which would include any place where you found the treasure, even though that might be a tract in a laundromat. And if we insist on a meaning for every detail, does this mean that the gospel can be purchased for ready money? Not at all—although there is an exchange based on an understanding of value that we shall see in a moment. Chaucer rightly mocked the idea of “pardons, come from Rome, all hot.”This also means that we don’t need to get sucked into discussions of the ethics of hiding a treasure you found in somebody else’s field. That is not the point. The parable of the unjust judge does not commend injustice in the judiciary, and the parable of the dishonest steward does not teach us to pilfer from our employers. The fact that the Lord will return like a thief in the night does not mean that He is returning to steal something.
Going All In
What is the point then? The point is the surpassing value of our salvation, a value not immediately obvious to other onlookers. That surpassing value, once seen, makes every sacrifice a joy. The man who stumbles across the treasure in the field goes and sells everything he has, and he does so impelled by joy. He does not mope around because of the “sacrifices” he now has to make. As Jim Eliot put it, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Because he did not see this, the rich young ruler went away sorrowful (Mark 10:22).
Just as faith is the natural response to the perceived faithfulness of God, so sacrifice is the natural response to the perceived value of salvation. But you fall between two stools if you do not see the surpassing value of Christ, and yet are guilted into giving up a bunch of stuff anyway.
The man who finds the treasure sees what he needs to do instantly, and he does it with joy. The merchant looking for good pearls knew all along what he needed to do, and only needed to find the appropriate opportunity to do what he knew all along.
More Than Much Fine Gold
So Jesus is not talking about giving up everything, and then groaning over it. We are simply talking about the natural functioning of a value system. Which do you value more? Gold or God’s commands? The psalmist much preferred the law of God to gold (Ps. 19:10). God’s commands are worth more to us than gold (Ps. 119: 27- 128). All your choices proceed naturally out of your value system. The response from Heaven will reflect God’s value system. This is why the one who prefers the world over God will lose both. The one who prefers God to the world will gain both. Why is America losing all its dollars? Because we worship dollars—you cannot serve both God and Mammon.
False gods are impotent. The gods of green give us brown. The gods of pragmatism don’t work. The gods of wealth breed poor people. The gods of liberty are slave-drivers. Our national election last Tuesday demonstrated that we love our false prophets (Jer. 5:31). This will not be changed without a massive religious reformation and revival.
Where You See Excellency
The one excludes the other, and the choice is an easy one for every one who actually sees the choice.
“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, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8-9).
You set your hand to the plow. You don’t leave behind your goods like Lot’s wife did with Sodom, with many long, lingering glances . . . and more than a few sighs. And so what is it that we are to see as surpassing all other value? It is the righteousness of another. It is the rejection of our own performance. It is to see, truly see, the worthlessness of our own goodness. It is to treat homemade piety with contempt.