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14. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price: Spiritual vs Human Sense of Value


Chapter 14

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Spiritual Values vs. Human Sense of Value

Matthew 13:45-46

by Pastor Eric Chang

(Translated from Putonghua by W. Yee)

Hong Kong, June 15, 1997


Let us read together a parable told by the Lord Jesus in Matthew. 13:45-46:

“Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

This is a very short parable which consists only of two verses, but it has a very important message in it. In fact, I preached this parable almost 20 years ago, but you cannot exhaust all the riches in this parable by preaching on it once or twice. So we return to this parable today.

You are what you value

Today, I would like to speak about the human sense of value. I would like to ask all of you, what are your values? What do we mean by values? It means what you think is valuable, and what you think is not valuable. What is the importance of values? A person’s values show what his mentality is, and it reveals his direction of life. When you talk to a person, you can tell his character from what he says. For example, if you ask him, “What’s the stock market like today? Are the shares going up or down?” If the shares go up, he is very happy, but if they drop, you will also see his face drop. For me, I am absolutely not interested in the stock market. I don’t understand it at all. I also don’t wish to understand it, because I don’t have the money to invest in it, and so this subject does not interest me. But some people invest their whole lives into the stock market. Once they wake up in the morning, they start thinking about their stocks. When they go to bed, they dream about their stocks. This is their sense of value. So what do they talk about? They only talk about stocks and shares. Others like to talk about the real estate market. Still others like to talk about fashion and design. Some wives talk about food, which restaurants have what kinds of good food. I’m sorry, but I am bored by this subject, not that I don’t like food. Although there is value in food, it is of less value to me.

That is why I say the values of a person reveal his mentality and his direction of life. This is very important. If a person wants to change, but he doesn’t change his mentality and his values, obviously, he hasn’t changed. A person must change his values before his life can be changed. Take for example, you can tell what a Christian’s values are when he opens his mouth to talk. If all he talks about is “my job, my interests, my family, myself” and he is enclosed in himself, then you should ask, what kind of Christian is he? He is absolutely no different from a non-Christian, because he has not changed his values.

That is why I have to ask you, what are your values? Supposing you live at home, when your parents look at you, would they think, “Oh, this person is entirely different from others”? Or would they think that you are no different? If you are no different from others, your parents will think, “Why should I believe in God?” So you can see how important your values are.

Do you value Jesus Christ enough to sell your all?

This parable is about a merchant, and what does he value? He is in search of pearls. How strange! Are you interested in pearls? Frankly, I’m not. This merchant sold all he had to buy a pearl of great price. Now I honestly can’t understand this! Would you sell all you have to buy a pearl? Even if you see a beautiful pearl, how would you live after selling all that you have to buy it? If you sell all that you have, it means that you will have nothing. Can you eat this pearl when you are hungry? Can you wear it when you are cold? Can it turn into a house if you need a place to stay? You will say, “I really can’t understand this parable. I have no interest whatsoever in pearls. How can I understand this parable?” This merchant’s sense of value seems different from our values. We, Chinese people, like to be practical. What is this talk about buying pearls? Buying pearls is all right, but it’s a different story to sell all that you have to buy a pearl of great value. What would you do? What does the Lord Jesus want to say to us? Is the Lord Jesus telling us that we don’t have to be practical? Is he saying that it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to eat when you have sold all that you have? Does he mean that it doesn’t matter if you have no clothing for the winter as long as you have a priceless pearl? If you see a man walking around holding onto a pearl, you would say that he is crazy. You would question his sense of value.

What I am trying to get at is, what does it mean to believe in God? When you believed in God, did your parents say to you, “You can be­lieve, but don’t go to extremes”? You don’t have to be like this merchant who sells all that he has. Spending a few hundred dollars to buy a pearl would be enough. But selling all that you have to buy it is a joke! Are you joking when you talk about total commitment to God and being justified by Him, because you believe Jesus died so that your sins can be forgiven? If you give up all that you have, will God feed you when you are hungry? Is God going to clothe you when you are cold? Will God give you a home when you have no place to stay?

What is this pearl of great price in this parable? This pearl represents holiness (Mt. 7:6); the Word of God (Ps. 19:7-10); and spiritual wisdom, which God has given to Jesus Christ (Col. 2:3). This pearl of great value represents Jesus, who is the only way to God (John 14:6), and in whom the only true God lives in all His fullness (Col. 1:19.

How much is Christ worth to you? Would you lose your job for the sake of Christ? For example, if you see something unrighteous happen at your place of work, do you dare to speak up? If you speak up, you stand to lose your “rice bowl”. Would you dare to stand for holiness and truth? How much do you value God’s holiness and truth? You might just think like this: “The whole world is like this. We have to survive in this world. Standing up for God’s holiness and truth is good, but let’s just compromise.” What are your values?

A professor of psychology at the University of Southern California in the United States did a research survey. He put a tape recorder on each of the 20 people he selected, to study what these 20 would usually talk about every day. And he discovered something very interesting. He found out that each of these 20 people told a lie every 8 minutes! That means to say, each person lied 200 times every day! This is an astonishing discovery indeed! This professor concluded that in our society today, you cannot survive if you don’t lie. And he continued to say that in fact, our society needs lies in order to progress. So according to this professor, progress depends on lies! This shows us that our whole society is built on falsehood! But we must not laugh at this professor.

Supposing you are late for a Bible study, would you say, “I didn’t plan my time well, so I’m late. I’m really sorry”? You would not say this, would you? You would lose face! What reason would you give for not planning your time as a Christian? “Well, I’m late because the subway was so crowded that I couldn’t get on.” Or you might say there was a traffic jam. It really was not your fault that you are late. Have you ever acknowledged that you are wrong, that it is nobody’s fault but yours? You may excuse yourself and think this is only a very small lie, it doesn’t matter. But if you can tell a small lie, it should not be difficult to tell a big lie.

Phenomenal value of the world’s biggest pearl

How much do we all value Christ who represents God? Why is some­thing valuable to some and not to others? Why do stocks and shares have such value to some people, but are valueless to me? Perhaps one reason is they are rich and I am not. Then why is Christ so valuable to some, but valueless to others?

I am going to talk about pearls again. Recently, I read an article about the biggest pearl in the world. Do you want to guess how big is the biggest pearl in the world? We look around and see many pearls that are the size of green beans. Have you seen pearls that are the size of a peanut? That is a sizeable pearl. What about a pearl that is the size of a broad bean? That is bigger than a peanut. Have you seen a pearl of this size? Then take a guess at how big is the biggest pearl in the world. Would you like to guess? What if the biggest pearl in the world were the size of my fist? You must think, is this is a joke? Do you believe that it is that big? What would be the value of a pearl of this size? The Lord Jesus said in this parable that this merchant found a pearl of great price, and he sold all he had to buy it. Now he must already be a rich man, and yet he still had to sell all he had in order to buy it. This pearl is so costly! I am afraid that if I were to sell all that I have, I would not even be able to buy a small portion of this pearl. Now if the pearl is the size of a fist, exactly how much does it cost?

In May 1934, on one of the islands in the Philippines called Palawan, a youth and his grandfather, who were fishermen were looking for some clams to eat. Close to the shore of this island, there were some coral reefs, and they felt that they could certainly find clams among these coral reefs. There are some huge clams in the Pacific Ocean in the Philippines, and how huge are they? They measure 1.2 meters long. That is a jumbo clam! It is not like those small ones we buy at the market, and two people cannot finish such a giant clam. This youth and his grandfather found such a clam, and they opened it up.

When they saw what was inside, they shouted! What did they see? The most gigantic pearl in the world was right in front of their eyes! How big was it? How big do you think is the biggest pearl in the world? This pearl the two men found is not round. Pearls come in all different shapes. It is 9-1/2 inches long and 5-1/2 inches wide. In order to help you visual­ize it, I have cut out a piece of paper according to these measurements. It is almost bigger than my head! Isn’t such a pearl mind-boggling! So the two men took this pearl back to their village, and all the villagers ex­claimed that they had never ever seen such a giant pearl before! Generally speaking, pearls are found in oysters, and are very rarely found in clams. Scientists say that the possibility of finding a pearl in a clam is only 1 out of a million, and these two found it! All the villagers studied it and found it just amazing!

You are probably wondering, what is the use of this pearl? Do you know how much this particular pearl weighs? It weighs 14 pounds and 1 ounce, which is approximately 6.5 kilos. What do people usually do with pearls? Usually, people drill two holes in a pearl, put a string through and wear it around the neck. But you can imagine what it would be like wear­ing this gigantic pearl around your neck! Which woman would be willing to wear it? If she put it around her neck, she would probably not be able to stand up straight under such weight. So they pondered about the matter, and came to the conclusion that this pearl is truly phenomenal, but it is really not very useful. That was their sense of value, and what was it based on? It was based on whether or not a woman can wear it around her neck. To them, this gigantic pearl had no value since a woman cannot wear it around her neck. So what did they do with the pearl? They laid it aside. This happened 63 years ago in 1934.

Then somehow, an American businessman heard about this giant pearl, and once he heard about it, he began to track it down until he found this youth and his grandfather. And he discovered that they did not value this pearl, because it cannot be worn around a woman’s neck. So he said to them, “Why don’t I give you something that you would find useful, and you give me this pearl in exchange?” He gave the grandfather some things that were absolutely valueless to himself, but were interest­ing to this elderly man. Then the grandfather and the youth handed over this pearl to the American businessman! This American businessman hid this pearl at home, and did not tell anyone about it from the time he exchanged for it in 1934, until the time he passed away in the United States in May 1980.

Then in 1984, four years later, this pearl landed in the hands of an auction company, and many other people got acquainted with this pearl at the auction. There, two other Americans bought it for US$200,000. But by 1988, within 4 years, the value of this pearl had soared to US$4,000,000! How quickly the value of this pearl increased!

Now in 1997, this pearl is currently worth US$42,000,000. What is this amount in Hong Kong currency? It is HK$3 billion! Do you think that this pearl is valuable? What do you think its value will be after a few more years? This pearl is now kept in a bank safe in California. Isn’t this very interesting?

A news reporter decided to visit the man who had originally found this pearl when he was a youth. Of course, his grandfather had passed away. The reporter asked him, “Do you know the current value of the pearl that you found? It is worth 9 billion Philippine pesos (i.e., US$42,000,000). Can you even dream about this enormous sum?” 90,000 pesos is already beyond the understanding of this simple fisherman, let alone 9 billion! In fact, the number 9 billion is also beyond my understanding. How many zeros are there? This is truly mind-boggling! But this poor man never got one cent out of this giant pearl! Why? Because his grandfather exchanged it for a few playthings offered by the American businessman. The reporter asked this man, “Are you sad?” Do you know what his reply was? He said, “That’s OK. If there is any woman who can wear this 14-pound pearl around her neck, then let her enjoy it!” Can you see that this man cannot change his mentality? He has limited his mentality to his fixed sense of value, namely, a pearl is to be worn around the neck.

Principle 1:You cannot change if your value has not changed

Now you can see where our problem lies. A person cannot change when his values have not changed. His values have been locked in by his mentality. This is the reason why many “Christians” have never changed their values after they believed in God. Their sense of value is the same as the non-Christians’. There are many such “Christians” in the church. They are still thinking, what is the value of truth? Truth cannot provide you with food. It cannot provide you with clothing. And it cannot put a roof over your head. It is an ideology that cannot provide you with the essentials for living—food, clothing, housing. Why then should we believe that God is just, and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus? (Rom. 3:26)

Is this how you look at it? This is exactly how that youth and his grandfather thought, and so they could not appreciate that priceless pearl. It is the same today, with many people, who hear about God and Jesus Christ, and ask, “What’s so precious about them?” They cannot see the value of Yahweh God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3).

I hope to inspire you so that you will continue to ponder about this matter. I am talking about a very big and important subject where many important principles are involved, but in our limited time, we can only look at a few points.

Principle 2: You can’t simultaneously hold two sets of values

Another principle is: you cannot hold onto two sets of values at the same time. Many Christians have not straightened out this aspect of their thinking, so their faith is bound to collapse. It is like you cannot follow democracy and totalitarianism simultaneously, because these two are opposites. You cannot be thinking that it is important to acquire more knowledge, while hoping to live a not-so-diligent life at the same time. If you like to enjoy a rather easy-going life, then of course, you will not be able to acquire knowledge. So you have to choose between enjoyment and knowledge. Some people want to make money, but they don’t want to work hard. Of course, they won’t be able to make money. You must make up your mind about what you want. Some Christians want to have spiritual things, eternal things, but they want to have the world as well. You cannot ride two horses at the same time. You always have to choose between two sets of values, whichever is more valuable to you.

People perish without vision of a value

There is also another kind of person who has no values at all. Have you ever come across such people? I have. And I am unable to make head or tail of them because I don’t know how to engage in conversation with them. I think, perhaps I can talk to such a person about politics. But there is no response because he is indifferent to politics. Or maybe he likes science, so I will talk to him about physics or medicine. Although my knowledge on such subjects is superficial, he might just talk because he finds the topic interesting. But he is not interested in science either. I try to look around for other topics, but nothing interests him! Strange, what values does this person hold? I discover that he is content every day if he has food, TV until bed time at 11 p.m., and work the following morning. He is like a robot! He has no values whatsoever.

Even more tragically, there are the youth, who are looking for values but cannot find any. Do you know that a few hundred youth commit suicide in the United States every month? They find no value in their own lives. To them, life is meaningless, and therefore valueless. So when they run into any problem, no matter how small, they commit suicide to end their misery. How tragic!

I recall the days before I came to God. I was looking for direction of life, searching for something in the world that is valuable and worthy of pursuing. I found it was really quite difficult. As a result, like many young people at the time, I threw myself into patriotism, but how many young people were disillusioned by the misery and poverty of war. How many Chinese adults and outstanding youth have sacrificed their lives for their country. As a youth, I desperately pondered back and forth on how to find my sense of value in a world lacking values. I wanted to have something to hang onto even if that sense of value might end up being empty.

Many of the elderly talk about food all the time, and this is tragic because they cannot find their sense of value in this world. They feel that at least, they can relish in the enjoyment of food. I don’t think we should be critical. Rather, we should be sympathetic.

Ask God to reveal His spiritual values to you

I said that in this parable, this pearl of great price represents Jesus, who is the only way to God. Now then, how do I know that he is real?

The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:12,

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

He tells us that when we are of the world, we simply cannot understand spiritual things.

What should I do since my sense of value is restricted by the sense of value of this world, and I cannot see spiritual values, let alone see the value of Christ? In my own experience, I know that we only understand when God reveals. You will remember that the Lord Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter said, “You are the Son of God.” Then what was the Lord Jesus’ reply? He said, “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:15-17).

How are we going to see spiritual values? It’s only when you have a heart that pursues the truth to ask, “O God, please reveal the reality of Yourself, of Christ and of Your Word to me. Please open the gates of truth to me!” Is there hope in this? Certainly, there is hope! In Matthew 7:7—a very easy reference to remember—the Lord Jesus said, “Keep on seeking, and you will find.”

Do not grow weary in well-doing

My final words of exhortation are for the leaders of our churches, my coworkers. The first thing I would like to say to them is, when you pursue the truth, don’t give up because you are tired. You know that every servant of God often feels so tired in serving, such that he or she just doesn’t have the spiritual motivation to continue to serve, to do good. At that point of exhaustion, you might feel, is it worth pursuing, or should you throw in the towel? That is why the New Testament tells us two times: do not grow weary in well-doing (Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13).

Give all your life to serve God, and endure to the end

Secondly, the Lord Jesus said that the merchant in this parable sold all that he had. To be honest, none of us have sold all that we have. You are still young. If the Lord Jesus doesn’t return yet, you will still have 20-30 years of life ahead of you. As long as you still have life, you have not yet given all your life to serve God totally, so you have not sold all that you have. Your life is the most valuable to you. You must continue to sell and give all of the rest of our life to God. Don’t stop and give up. You must understand that this is the significance of the Lord Jesus’ teaching in this parable. You must endure to the end. Many believe in God, but few endure faithfully because it is difficult to endure. The longer the time, the fewer will arrive at the end. You have to shoulder the responsibility of shepherding, to be an example to the church. You must understand that your endurance is the example you will set, such that the church will see that you continue to endure faithfully to the end, in fatigue, in weakness, in poverty, or in prosperity.

When you offer up your final breath to God in this way, with the love of Christ always constraining you (2 Cor. 5:14), you can rest assured that this pearl of great price, Jesus Christ will be yours forever.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church