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14. Spiritual Values vs. The Human Sense of Value

– Chapter 14 –

Spiritual Values vs. The Human Sense of Value

Matthew 13:45-46

(Translated from Putonghua by W. Yee)

Hong Kong, June 15, 1997


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. (Matthew 13:45–46, ESV)

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13:45–46 is a short parable of only of two verses, yet it has an import­ant message. I preached this parable al­most twenty years ago, but you cannot exhaust all the riches in this parable in one or two messages. 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 reveal his mentality and direction of life. When you talk to a person, you can tell his character by what he says. For example, if you ask him, “How is the stock market doing today? Are the shares going up or down?” If the shares go up, he rejoices, but if they drop, his face drops. For me, I am not the least 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 in the stock market. As soon as 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 like to talk about? They talk about stocks and shares. Others like to talk about the real estate market. Still others like to talk about fash­ion and design. Some talk about food, and which restaurants have good food. I’m sorry, but I am bored with 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 a person’s values reveal his mentality and his direction of life. This is very important. If a person wants to change, but doesn’t change his mentality and his values, he cannot change. A person must change his values before his life can be changed. You can tell what a Christian’s values are when he opens his mouth. If all he talks about is “my job, my inter­ests, my family, myself,” and is preoccupied with 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, will they think, “Oh, this person is entirely different from the others”? Or will they think that you are no different? If you are no different from the 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 fine pearls. How strange! Are you interested in pearls? Frankly I’m not. Yet this merchant sold all he had to buy a pearl of great price. Now I honestly can’t understand this! Would you sell all that you have to buy a pearl? Even if you see a beautiful pearl, how would you continue living after selling everything you have to buy it? If you sell all you have, it means that you will have nothing. Can you eat this pearl when you are hungry? Or wear it when you are cold? Or turn it into a house when 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?”

But this merchant’s sense of value is different from ours. We Chinese people like to be practical. What is all 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 is the Lord Jesus saying to us? Is he telling us that we don’t have to be practical? Is he saying that it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to eat after selling all that you have? Does he mean that it doesn’t matter if you have no warm clothes for the winter as long as you have a priceless pearl? If you see a man walking around holding a pearl, you would say that he is crazy and question his sense of value.

What I am trying to get at is this: What does it mean to believe in God? When you first believed in God, did your parents say to you, “You can believe, but don’t go to extremes”? That you don’t have to be like this merchant who sells all that he has? Spending a few hundred dollars on a pearl ought to be good enough. But selling all that you have to buy it is a joke! So are you joking when you talk about total commitment to God and being justified by Him, because you believe that Jesus died so that your sins may 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 the parable? This priceless pearl is Jesus Christ, to whom God has given all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3) in the Word of God, the pearl (Mt. 7:6); and in whom God, the source of all wisdom, knowledge and understand­ing (cf. Prov. 2:6, 3:19-20), was pleased to live in all His fullness (Col. 1:19).

How much is Christ worth to you? Would you lose your job for the sake of Christ? If you see something unrighteous hap­pen at your place of work, do you dare to speak up? If you speak up, you would lose your “rice bowl”. Do you dare to stand for holiness and truth? How much do you value God’s holiness and truth? You might reason like this: “The whole world is like this, and we have to survive in the 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 did a research study. He put a tape recorder on each of the 20 people he selected, to study what these 20 would 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 on average! 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! 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 will 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 in.” Or you might say there was a traffic jam. It wasn’t your fault that you are late. Have you ever acknow­ledged that you are wrong, that it is nobody’s fault but your own? You may excuse yourself and think this is only a very small lie that doesn’t matter. But if you can tell a small lie, it should not be hard to tell a big lie.

The phenomenal value of the world’s biggest pearl

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

I am going to talk about pearls again. I recently read an article about the biggest pearl in the world. Would you like to guess how big is the biggest pearl in the world? We look around and see many pearls the size of green beans. Have you seen pearls the size of a peanut? That is a sizeable pearl. What about a pearl 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 the biggest pearl in the world is. Would you like to guess? What if the biggest pearl in the world were the size of my fist? You must think this is a joke. Do you believe that it can be that big? What would be the value of a pearl of this size?

The Lord Jesus says in the parable that a merchant found a pearl of great price, and he sold all that he had to buy it. He must already be a rich man, yet he still had to sell all that he had to buy it. This pearl is so costly! I am afraid that if I were to sell all I have, I wouldn’t even be able to buy a small fraction of this pearl. Now if the pearl is the size of a fist, exactly how much will 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 were some coral reefs, and they felt that they could find clams among these reefs. There are huge clams in the Pacific Ocean in the Philippines, and how big are they? They often mea­sure 1.2 meters wide. That is a jumbo clam! It is not like the small ones that we buy at the market. Certainly the two men cannot finish such a giant clam.

This youth and his grandfather found such a clam, and they opened it up. When they looked 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 the biggest pearl in the world is? The pearl the two men found was not spherical. Pearls come in different shapes. This one was 9½ inches long and 5½ inches wide. To help you visualize it, I have cut out a piece of paper according to these dimensions. 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 seen such a giant pearl before. Generally speaking, pearls are found in oysters, and very rarely in clams. Scient­ists say that the possibility of finding a pearl in a clam is one in a million, and these two men found one such clam! 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 one ounce, which is approximately 6.5 kilograms.

What do people usually do with pearls? Usually people would drill a hole through a pearl, put a string through it, and wear it around the neck. But you can imagine what it is like wearing this gigantic pearl around your neck! Which woman would be willing to wear it? If she puts it around her neck, she would not be able to stand up straight under the weight.

They thought about the matter, and came to the conclus­ion that this pearl is truly phenomenal, though 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 put it aside. This happened 63 years ago in 1934.

In the same year, an American businessman somehow heard about this giant pearl, and 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 could not 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 worthless to himself, but were of interest to this elderly man. Then the grandfather and the youth handed this pearl over to the American businessman! This business­man hid the pearl at his home in the United States, and did not tell anyone about it from the time he got 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 people got acquainted with this pearl at the auction. Right there, two Americans bought it for US$200,000. But by 1988, within four 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 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 long passed away. The reporter asked him, “Do you know the current value of the pearl that you found? It is worth nine billion Philippine pesos (US$42,000,000). Can you even imagine this enormous sum?” Ninety thousand pesos is already beyond the understanding of this simple fisherman, let alone nine billion! In fact, the number nine billion is 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 had exchanged it for a few play­things offered by the American businessman. The reporter asked this man, “Are you sad about it?” Do you know what the reply was? The man said, “That’s okay. If there is any woman who can wear this 14-pound pearl around her neck, let her enjoy it!” Do you see that this man still cannot change his mentality? He has limited his mentality to his fixed sense of value, namely, that a pearl is to be worn around the neck.

You cannot change if your values have not changed

Now you can see where our problem lies. A person cannot change if his values do not change. His values have been locked in by his mentality. This is the reason many “Christians” have never changed their values after believing in God. Their sense of value is the same as that of 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. 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? (Romans 3:26)

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

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

You can’t simultaneously hold two sets of values

Another principle is this: You cannot hold on to 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 the fact that you cannot embrace demo­cracy and totalitarianism simultan­eously, because these two are opposites. Or you cannot think that it is important to acquire more knowledge while hoping to live a not-so-diligent life at the same time. If you want to enjoy an easy-going life, then you won’t be able to acquire deep knowledge. So you have to choose between enjoyment and knowledge. Some people want to make money, but 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. Well, you cannot ride two horses at the same time. You have to choose between two sets of values, whichever is more valuable to you.

People perish without a sense of value

There is 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 them in conver­sation. I say to myself, perhaps I can talk to him about politics. But there is no response from him because he is indifferent to politics. Or maybe he likes the sciences, so I would talk to him about physics or medi­cine. Although my knowledge on these subjects is superficial, he might just talk if he finds the topic interesting. But he is not interested in science either. I try to think of other topics, but nothing interests him! Strange, what values does this person hold? I discover that he is content if every day he has food, watches TV until bedtime at 11 p.m., and goes to work in the morning. He is like a robot! He has no values whatsoever.

Even more tragically, there are youths who are searching for values but cannot find any. Do you know that a few hundred youths com­mit suicide in the United States every month? They see no value in their own lives. To them, life is meaningless and valueless. When they run into a 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 in life, searching for something in the world that is valuable and worthy to pursue. I found it quite difficult. As a result, like many young people at the time, I threw myself into patriotism. 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 that lacks values. I wanted something to hang on to even if that sense of value might end up being empty.

Many elderly people talk about food all the time, and this is tragic because they cannot find their sense of value in this world. They feel that they can at least relish 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 (John 14:6). How then would I know that he is real? The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:12,

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (ESV)

Here Paul says that when we are of the world, we simply would not be able to understand spiritual things.

What should I do if my sense of value is constrained by the sense of value of this world, and if I cannot see spiritual values, let alone see the value of Christ? In my own experience, I know that we can under­stand something only when God reveals it. You would remember that the Lord Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And what was Jesus’ reply? “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15–17)

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

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

My final words of exhortation are directed to 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, 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 twice: do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13).

Secondly, the Lord Jesus says that the merchant in the parable sold all that he had. To be honest, none of us has sold all that we have. You are still relatively young. If the Lord Jesus doesn’t return yet, you will still have 20 to 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 thing to you. You must continue to sell and give all of the rest of your life to God. Don’t stop and don’t 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, so that the church will see that you continue to endure faithfully to the end, in fatigue, in weakness, and in poverty or prosperity.

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



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