Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2003
Dear Friend in Christ,
I pray this letter finds you and yours doing well. This month, I want to continue to share with you about people and why the Lord invests so much in seeking and saving those who are lost.
What is the value of a person? Generally speaking, our society values life very highly (except in the case of the unborn). We will go to any expense in order to rescue a lost person, or to punish the taking of an innocent life. Jesus taught us the value of life when He gave His own life to save others.
When I was growing up, I knew a boy named Pearle; his family was very close to ours. However, as you might guess, he didn’t like his name. He thought it was a girl’s name, so he went by his initials, “P.E.”
Pearls are very valuable; maybe not a good name for a boy, but valuable as a possession. Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a pearl of great value. He told a story that is found in Matthew 13 about a man who found a great treasure, hid it in a field, then sold all that he had to buy the field.
Jesus followed that story with another one about a pearl merchant who found a very fine pearl, and sold all that he had to purchase it. Both stories illustrate the value of the kingdom of God and the wisdom in sacrificing for it.
THE FIELD AND THE TREASURE
I have three questions to pose regarding these stories:
- What is the field?
- What is the treasure?
- Who is the merchant?
Let’s deal with the last question first. I believe that Jesus is the merchant, seeking fine pearls. He came to seek and save the lost (see Luke 19:10). Jesus came to earth, not for a casual stroll, but on a mission. His mission was to find and save people who were “lost” or sick, or controlled by evil spirits. And He found them.
Now the next question: What is the field? Again in Matthew 13:38, we see that the field is the world. Jesus came into the world to find the treasure, or the “pearl” of great value. The treasure is in the world. The world was – and still is – a mess. It is full of thorns, weeds, and dangerous people. Yet, that is where the treasure is, “out there” hidden among the rubble.
The field is not only the world in general, but one person’s world in particular. They may be lost or hidden in ugly circumstances. The seeker must go there to find them.
Now here is another significant question: what is the pearl? Perhaps I should ask, “Who is the pearl?” Jesus was not seeking physical pearls; He was seeking people whom He valued highly. He called them pearls.
Peter and Matthew was a pearls, though I doubt that they would like that name. Jesus valued them with a great price. How great? He gave His life for them and the world. We must keep these questions clear in our minds: The field is the world; the pearl is the person.
ENTERING THE FIELD
This is the difficult part: we want the treasure, but not the field. The field is ugly, dangerous, and offensive. All too often, Christians view the world as their enemy instead of their opportunity. We are turned off by profanity, vanity, and promiscuity. But that is where pearls are.
Real, natural pearls are found in oysters, lying in the muddy bottom of a bay. The oysters must be scooped up with large tongs, which is hard work! The oysters are washed and pried open to expose the pearls, which are rare. Then, if pearls are found, they must be polished. One reason why pearls are expensive is because they require a lot of searching and difficult work. In the end, they are beautiful; but at first, they are hidden and rough.
Let me tell you about a “pearl” named Eddie. He and I became friends, but his world was ugly. His world involved drugs, prostitution, and crime. His language was of the most vulgar and profane kind. But the Lord led me to him. Yes, it was a bad field, but in the end, he was a beautiful pearl.
Eddie’s girlfriend was a pearl. Before that, she was a prostitute; her world was ugly and dangerous. I remember when Eddie took me to visit her world. I had never seen such a field, but there in her world, I shared the Gospel. She not only accepted Jesus, but she also became a “seeker of fine pearls” herself. She found many of them through a prison ministry that the Lord subsequently gave to her.
Too often, we are waiting for “pearls” to walk into church so we can “eyeball” them, and see if they are worthy to sit beside us. But pearls are hidden “out there” somewhere. The great treasures are usually unnoticed and will never be found, unless they are sought by those who know what God can do. To find the great and valuable pearls, we must seek them and enter the dangerous fields as Jesus did. People who do not love pearls will not take the risk.
BUYING THE FIELD AND THE TREASURE
Jesus’ story involved extremely valuable subjects_actually, it involves people. But in order to obtain the object of His search, He had to pay a price. Some groups leave out this part of the story. But in Jesus’ stories, the one who found the treasure gave all that He had to obtain the object that He found. Pearls are highly prized and worthy of sacrifice, but they cannot compare to a life.
Several years ago, Carolyn and I watched our daughter, Charlyn, go through the process of “buying the field.” She made some short-term mission trips to Central America, where she discovered the plight of under-privileged and often abused children. She came to understand that her call was in that part of the world. She left her home, her friends, her car, and her comfort zone, and moved to a place where she could study the language and customs of another culture. She became one of them.
Charlyn did not want to be known as an “American Missionary.” She identified with the people that needed her. She was ministering on the street to homeless people, in ghettos and to neglected children. She called her ministry, “Hidden Treasures.”
As I have thought about Charlyn’s journey, often lonely and sometimes dangerous, I have been reminded of my own parents who planted churches among the French-speaking people of South Louisiana. Dad often recounted stories of people won to Christ in those settlements along the bayous. They, too, were “hidden treasures.”
“Buying the field” means giving what we have in order to find those to whom He sends to us. Above all, it means loving them before we see them, and after we see them, loving them even more than we love ourselves. Many followers of Jesus, like Him, have literally given their lives in the process.
No, we don’t have to love the whole field. We may even dislike it. But we do have to love the treasure enough to engage the field and pay the price. That is the example of the cross. Jesus loved sinners, identified with them, and gave His life for them. He bought the field to get the pearls.
The vast majority of us will not be required to go abroad and learn a strange language and strange customs. But we are required to take up our cross and follow Jesus, in buying some field somewhere (Matthew 16:24-25). And we can support others who are called to go out.
The big change that must take place – and the change to which we are dedicated – is to cause the individual believer to focus on the field, the hidden treasure, and not simply to sit in church.
WHAT WILL WE GET?
In Matt. 19:27-30, Peter asked the question that was on all of the disciples’ minds: “We have left all, what will we get?” Jesus’ answer was, “Many times as much.”
Jesus was one precious seed that “fell into the ground” (see John 12:24). But His harvest is in the billions of seeds. The disciples were a small group, but they reaped a harvest of many thousands of people. Concerning houses and lands, thousands of people sold theirs and laid the proceeds at the Apostles’ feet for the spread of the Gospel.
Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a large net cast into the sea. A great variety of fish were caught and sorted out. Our task, like His, is to cast a large net. If we don’t cast, we do not catch.
My father worked among fishermen. My earliest memories go back to the fishing boats of the bayou and Gulf Coast. The fishermen pulled a net 1800 feet long – as long as six football fields! They would catch as many as 40 barrels of shrimp and a great variety of fish. Jesus’ net has extended 2000 years! He is still catching a great variety of fish.
When the Lord called me, I didn’t have much to give; all that He wanted from me was all that I had, including my future. It was a painful decision. But He gave me a promise from Philippians 4:19 that He would supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory. It has amounted to “many times as much” as I gave. Many of you have been “pearls” of support that have enabled us to search for “hidden treasures.”
Our daughter Charlyn gave what she had, but she found much more; a husband and 6 beautiful children, a home, and scores of friends. Everyone who has sacrificed for God’s will could testify to the fact that God is indeed a “rewarder of those that diligently seek Him” (see Hebrews 11:6).
Maybe the question isn’t what, but who? The true pearl is not possessions. Possessions are only means to purchase the fields and the pearls. If we can sacrifice in the area of possessions, we will obtain the treasure. Surely Jesus has taught us that.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS?
At the end of His discourse, Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you understand these things? They said, “Yes.” At the cross, they had to review the question again. The Church must also review the question.
Do we understand the field, the treasure, and what it means to be a merchant seeking fine pearls? If we do, it will move us out of the house and into the fields – here the pearls are. Jesus called them “pearls.”
Scripture References: Luke 19:10; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 16:24-25; Matthew 19:27-30; John 12:24; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 11:6