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Who is the Seeker, Lover, Elector, Redeemer I wonder?

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Continuing the theme of turning the parables right-side-up again, here's the latest from the King's English on "The Pearl of Great Price"...

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Recently a friend emailed me with a question.  He’s not yet a Christian but he’s been attending bible studies for a while.  The previous night they had used Christian-sounding language that he didn’t understand.  He wrote:

“They asked me if I had ever ‘given my life to God.’  I was unsure.  What does that mean?  Is it in the bible?”

I wonder how you would respond?

Every evangelical sinew in my body twinged: “Of course you need to give your life to God! What is a Christian if not someone who has given their life to God?? As it is written in the book of…”  Hmm.  That’s funny.  I’m usually pretty good at citing bible verses.  I can proof-text in my sleep.  But it took me a long time to come up with any “giving-your-life-to-God” language.

Eventually a couple of verses in Romans sprang to mind (6:13; 12:1).  But both of them assume that becoming a Christian has happened.  Even in these verses, “giving your life to God” is the response to salvation, not the way towards it.

And far, far more, the Scriptures speak of Christ giving His life for me! That’s the great theme of the bible. Whatever offerings we make to God, the good news is the other way around.  He offered His life for me!

With that in mind, let’s read a couple of parables that Jesus told.  And let’s see how to understand them:

“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.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)

Here is how I usually hear these stories explained:

The ‘treasure’ / ‘pearl of great price’ is Christ.  There He is – precious but passive.  Inert.  Waiting.

The ‘man’ / ‘merchant’ is us.  We are the spiritual seekers.  Active.  Adventurous. Sacrificial.

And – well done us! – we sell everything to gain the treasure of Jesus.

But I wonder whether such an interpretation misconstrues all the literary clues of the passage.  More worryingly, I fear it misconstrues the very nature of “the kingdom”.

“Treasured possession” is a famous way of describing the people of God (Exodus 19:5).

“The man” who is active throughout the parables of Matthew 13 is not us but Christ.

At the same time we are consistently represented by impersonal and passive objects (i.e. the soils).

If these were two parables about us finding Christ they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves.

Given these facts, surely the most natural interpretation is this:  Christ is the Man who gives everything to purchase the world so as to possess His church.  He is the great Seeker and He is the great Treasurer.  He is the great Rejoicer and He is the great Sacrificer of all.

“For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

We are the purchased treasure, not valuable in ourselves but only in our Redeemer’s eyes.  He is the Glorious Giver, we are those bought at a price.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

And yet… what happens when we opt for the first interpretation?

We become the great seekers.  We are the ones who treasure.  We are the great rejoicers and the ones who sacrifice all.  The weight is thrown back onto our shoulders.

What do we say to this?

Well, first, we ought to read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t our first assumption be that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same?

Second, we ought to understand the fundamentals of the gospel.  Isn’t it Christ who seeks and saves what is lost?  (Luke 19:10)  And don’t we love only because He first loved us?  (1 John 4:19)

Third, we ought to think about the nature of kingdom living.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but it flows from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love.  There is a great danger of over-burdening the Christian when we insist that they play the role of the electing, rejoicing, sacrificing Seeker.  I learn my true place in the kingdom when I realise that I am not Chooser but chosen.  I am not Lover but beloved.  I am not Redeemer but purchased.  I am not Seeker but found. Then my heart is won, then I treasure Christ, then I rejoice, then I consider all things as loss for His sake.  But such a reaction is always just that – a reaction.  Christ is always the self-giving Actor.

So what did I say to my friend?

I told him that every Christian ought to say “I belong to God.”  If my friend couldn’t say that, then he probably wasn’t a Christian.

But here’s how we belong to God.  Not by “giving our lives to Him.”  Instead we look to Jesus on the cross and there we see the most incredible truth: He has purchased me at an incredible cost.  Keep looking there until you are won by His love.  Whatever response we make at that point is belated.  The ultimate and eternity-defining truth is this: He gave His life for meOf course I belong to Him.

10 thoughts on “Who is the Seeker, Lover, Elector, Redeemer I wonder?

  1. Emma Bail

    Great stuff....Just love your way of explaining all the post in such a spiritual language. It really opens our mind and heart and force us to see the world from a new vision.It make us to think about yourself.I specially like the paragraph where you explains ""I learn my true place in the kingdom when I realize that I am not Chooser but chosen. I am not Lover but beloved. I am not Redeemer but purchased. I am not Seeker but found....." Thank you so much for sharing this post with us.It means a lot...

    Love and Blessings

  2. Cat

    Love this! Everytime I read your blog it turns my thinking upside down!!! I had never thought of it like this nor have been taught it like this. It changes everything..

  3. Dave Bish (@davebish)

    It's how Keller / Jesus Storybook does it I think. I'd got so caught by what I assume is the Piperan approach that I faltered a bit the first time I heard it this way, but actually it makes so much more sense... of the parable, in the context of Matthew's book, in the context of the gospel!

  4. Dave K

    Alternatively, the pearl is not us or Christ, but the Kingdom of God.

    Both we and Christ are in the Kingdom but in the first instance it is a eschatological reality. I don't know Greek, but doesn't it say "the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure"

    Elsewhere Jesus talks of 'treasure' as something other than us (e.g. Matthew 6:19-21)

    If that is the case then the kingdom is something sought out and found at great personal cost by Jesus. Then, after he has gone before us through the curtain into this future reign and realm of God we follow him in the way that he has made (yes, I have just been reading Hebrews). In that sense we can be active people (ala Luke 16:16 where people press into the Kingdom), but only because he has first been active in his love and movement to death and then life.

    That protects what both Keller and Piper may get at but introduces a good dose of physical and eschatolgical juice.

  5. Glen

    Thanks all. And that's interesting Dave K. I spose there is a sense in which the Matt 13 "Sower" baton gets passed to the disciples as they sow the seed. In that sense "the man" could start off as Jesus and then become children of the kingdom in a derivative sense. But you'd want to make that derivative sense very clear lest people shoulder the burdens of "the Man" by themselves.

  6. Dave K

    Yes, I hadn't thought of carrying that through to the sower.

    I was just thinking afterwards that that would be the gift and then example way of reading the Gospels that Luther espoused. Also I thought of "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" Pastorally teaching that in such a way that the gift was heard so clearly that the example is not heard as a burden we carry is why teaching is such a hard task.

  7. James S

    cool exegesis there.
    Kind off topic thought from reading the replies.
    Got a laugh cause it always seems like you brits take to american preachers more than us americans, and the opposite is true for us. Bish likes Piper a lot, but me, I would rather listen to a Dick Lucas sermon or bible study anyday.
    Piper and Keller are good, but Lucas is my favorite by far.
    Maybe it's a 'grass is always greener' thing.

  8. John B

    Echoing James S here. Whitefield, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones... The greatest preachers of the past three centuries were all British. I too, can't hear enough of Dick Lucas, and would rather listen to his preaching than anyone today. Then there's David Jackman, and Vaughan Roberts—the list just seems to go on and on. It's much more than just their cool speaking accents; or the inverse of Jesus' teaching in Mark 6:4. So please, share the treasure, and send some of your preachers to us here in America!

  9. Matt Ingle

    I wonder if it's a case of both and? Not being a Greek scholar, I can only take the text I see, but in the two parables the kingdom of God is described in 2 ways - the treasure in the field and the merchant who buys at a price.

    In the second parable the pearl of great value is the lost, and the merchant gets it at the great cost.

    I'm not really sure where I'm going with this comment, but that the KoH is described 2 ways makes me wonder how similar these parables are, like they are normally taken. (I'm preaching on them on Sunday!)

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