Who….. me??

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and, upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matt 13:45-46).

Love array

“The kingdom is compared to the merchant who seeks the pearl, not the pearl itself. It is of paramount importance that we make this simple observation: the kingdom of heaven is not the pearl in this parable; it is the guy seeking the pearl. In… [another] parable, we have some bumbling fool who trespasses and stumbles over a treasure quite by accident. But here we have a merchant who is an expert, and who is always searching – in fact, searching his whole life – for this great pearl. He knows pearls. He is an expert. He knows what he seeks. This person is like the kingdom of God. In other words, God is the merchant.

If God is the merchant, what – or who – is the pearl? Here is the crux of the matter, the amazing fact. We are the pearl. This is the intent of the message: we are a rare and sought-after treasure in the eyes of God. He sees something unseen by our own condemning self: not failure, but beauty. He really, really likes us. He wants us; He perceives enormous beauty and wealth in us. He has become greedy and jealous over us because He is consumed with strong and passionate desire for us.

I will never forget the moment when this first dawned on me. I was going through a number of difficulties; my business was failing, and I had the dreadful task of laying off my trusted and devoted employees who had sacrificed much for me. I had many other problems going on that were even worse. It was a bad time. Meanwhile, in a men’s Bible study, we were going through the parables of Jesus and had just discussed His story of the pearl. As I was taking a shower, I was pondering this seemingly dull and familiar parable when it suddenly hit me: He is the merchant and I am the pearl. Me! I’m the pearl. That means He went and sacrificed all to get me, not just because of some weird theological obligation but because He wanted me and saw great worth in me. When that truth hit me, I cried so hard that my stomach muscles hurt. A switch had turned on inside somewhere, and I finally understood: God really desires me.

God, by His own initiative, likes us. There is none of this nonsense about ‘loving but not liking’ with God. In fact, He is extremely taken with us, to the point of sacrificing all else to have us. We are not battling an attitude in God in which He is constantly ready to condemn us and reject us, ever focused on our flaws and shortcomings. Rather… He has dealt definitely with our flaws, sins and shortcomings because He wants these things swept completely out of the picture. He is excited about us. We are very greatly loved, even as we presently stand.”

Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace, pages 14-16.

What if the extravagant love of Jesus’ kingdom is not primarily asked of us, but aimed at us?

Isa 43:1-4, Zeph 3:14-17

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7 thoughts on “Who….. me??

  1. I’m not going to say this interpretation is “wrong”, but everything I have read about this passage says that this parable is another way describing previous parable. From what I’ve read, the parable before this one is like someone that just “gets” their faith with no real struggle, whereas this parable shows someone who has sought it out for a long time and has finally found it.

    I take it to believe the first parable is someone who, like a light switch, chooses to follow Christ and the parable from this post is like one who struggles to find the answers to deep, challenging questions and comes to a very well informed decision to follow Christ.

    From the ESV Study Bible: “Unlike the man who stumbled upon the hidden treasure (v. 44), this merchant searched diligently for the fine pearls. But when he found the one pearl of great value (the kingdom of heaven), his reaction was the same: he sacrificed all that he had and bought it (see note on v. 44).”

    This is not to say I don’t want to believe this interpretation of the parable, because I want it to be true. It just doesn’t seem like this fits the context of other verses surrounding it. I hope I’m wrong (and subsequently the Bible commentaries as well 🙂 )

    • Hi Motoxer,

      Here’s my way of doing this. Context means nothing if you don’t observe the actual text that constitutes the context. Bible commentaries are written by human beings, and are not inspired, but the text itself is inspired. So we look at the context by carefully examining the content of the surrounding text as well as the text in focus. This means that you have to actually, at some point, actually examine the text in focus and figure out what IT says.

      So what does this text say? Not, what does this commentary or this study Bible say, but what does this TEXT say? It says:

      “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls”

      It does NOT say the kingdom of heaven is like the pearl. This is a very common sense normal human logic observation. We are not talking about interpreting the verse, we are making a simple observation. This is an observation which is true across all translations including all Greek manuscripts. It is not under dispute. The kingdom of heaven is like a MERCHANT. The kingdom of heaven is not like the pearl, the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant. Are we solid on this point? If not, we can throw out any idea of interpreting this well, because we are not doing hermeneutics, we are reading commentaries.

      Now, since it is true that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant, and not like a pearl, according to the text, we can interpret certain reasonable things. Since it is the merchant who is seeking fine pearls, and that is what the kingdom of heaven is like, this means that God is seeking something. I don’t think that is much of a stretch. I also don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that we, the redeemed, are the pearl. It is harmonious with great swaths of NT scripture to say so. Be a Berean and go find them, I don’t want to hand this to you on a silver platter.

      I will say this about the context. matt 13:34. The surrounding of parables are not about man-initiated action, but God-initiated action. The kingdom of heaven is the dragnet, and the fish are fairly passive participants. The good seed and the tares are also about God-initiated action. The good seed and the tares are fairly passive participants as well. So I would say that the parable about the treasure hidden in the field is the odd man out, but by examining the TEXT and not the immediate context I think we arrive at the right idea, that this is about the bumbling foolish man who by chance and/or fate stumbles upon his treasure.

      So, if you really want it to be true, rejoice! It really is true, it is the hermeneutically sound way to read the parable.

      • JIm –

        Thanks for commenting back! What you said makes a lot of sense. On one hand, I’m surprised so many commentaries & study bibles have misinterpreted this passage; on another, I’m not, as you alluded to (humans inspired).

        I think your comment really helped clarify one vastly important piece to my interpretation, when you said “Since it is the merchant who is seeking fine pearls, and that is what the kingdom of heaven is like, this means that God is seeking something.” I appreciate you not “handing this to me on a silver platter”, but it does come across slightly smug – nevertheless, it is truth and I regard it as such.

        I found a sermon by Ray Stedman that talks about this passage if anyone else is interested: http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/matthew/the-case-of-the-valuable-pearl

  2. Pingback: Who….. me??

  3. Motoxer, You’re right, sorry about the attitude. I didn’t mean to imply that you hadn’t looked things up. I just don’t have all the time in the world to do this, I have to attend to my day job, which is what I should have said. The Ray Stedman article is fantastic, thanks.

  4. Late to the party here, sorry.

    Jim said – ” This person is like the kingdom of God. In other words, God is the merchant. ”

    This is the part of the interpretation that I don’t quite understand. How is it that God the person, and the kingdom of God are the same thing? Isn’t one God the person, and the other the place where God the person dwells?

    Tim Keller and others have said that the “pearl” instances in the 4 gospels refer to the Gospel. So, the kingdom of heaven is like the guy who finds the gospel and gives up everything to possess it, or more directly, the kingdom of heaven is like the God-changed heart of the person who finds the gospel. Kind of Pascal’s “God-shaped place” inside everyone of us, which can only be filled by Him. Thus then, the kingdom is the God-shaped space and new reality that we come into when he saves us.

    So, like Motoxer, this is interpretation is different than what I’ve heard.

    I kind of like both of them actually (the interpretation I’m more familiar with, and Jim’s).

    • Thanks for the kind comments! I’ve been surprised at the response surrounding this passage in Romance of Grace. It’s a very natural question really. The whole light bulb moment for me was this very thing, that traditionally everyone thinks that the pearl is the kingdom of God and we’re the merchant, and that isn’t what it says. The “aha” moment was simply to observe the text of the parable itself. It isn’t an interpretation. It is a simple observation. In hermeneutics, the first task is not to interpret but to observe. The text itself says, clearly, this:

      “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant”.

      It is completely simple, completely obvious. It doesn’t need interpretation. It says, plain and simple, very clearly, in all translations and all accepted Gr. manuscripts, that the kingdom of heaven is like a MERCHANT. The kingdom of heaven is not the pearl, it is the merchant; that’s what it says no matter what anyone else may think it says. So, it doesn’t really matter what Tim Keller or John MacArthur or Michael Horton or even what the contemptible non-academic untrained sinning idiot Jim McNeely says. I’m not the one saying it. I’m observing and reporting on what Jesus said. The bald vanilla Bb plain common-sense fact is that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant. You have to hang your interpretation on that fact, otherwise you are running to interpretations of something that it doesn’t actually say.

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