From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”. I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff. I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids. Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement. In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day. Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on. I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy. In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow. Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth. Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.
As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price. “But Salvation is free” you might retort. True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything. You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father. Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality. In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything. This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”. Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it. In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.
Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority. At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth. His defense was both simple and profound. In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23) We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority. True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.
A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles. He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years. He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life. So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered. Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.” At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods. How dare he!
I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events. It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry. They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?” Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works. Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so. And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will. This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t believe me? Is your theology getting tweaked a bit? Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next. I can tell you from experience what will happen. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN… at least not any time in the foreseen future. You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.
Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here. God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend. As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited. But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain. There is purpose in our difficulty. The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.” (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.
“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.” (Isa 53:3, 12)
Have you ever seen The Antiques Roadshow on PBS? Though the premise is remarkably simple, this little TV show has become quite popular. Every week, hundreds of people stand in line for hours just so that they can have a few moments with an expert appraiser who can tell them how much the item they’ve brought in is actually worth. The items that make it on the air are usually the ones that most of us would have no clue as to their true value. In one episode, a young man brings in a rusty old sword. He tells the appraiser that he and his brothers used to play with the sword when they where kids, and that they often “split watermelons and dug in the dirt” with it. Without a flinch, the appraiser quietly puts on a pair of white gloves. He then gives a pair to the young man and asks him to do the same. He proceeds to explain the origin of what is actually an extremely rare civil war relic. The painfully clueless owner finds himself rightfully stunned when it’s revealed that the old sword is actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In another episode, a woman finds an old metal helmet wedged in the rafters of her attic. She later confesses that she polished it up with Pledge before bringing it in to the show. This is after the appraiser explains that the helmet is that of a Spanish Conquistador from the early 1500s and worth about a half a million dollars!
It’s hard to comprehend that items with this kind of value can be right under our noses without us even realizing it. Nonetheless, I’m starting to believe that this kind of thing happens a lot more often than we might think and in more ways than we may be aware. Hidden worth is truly a fascinating concept and one found frequently in the Scriptures. Jesus would often speak to large crowds in the form of parables only to then draw away and later explain their meaning to his disciples. On one such occasion he gave his closest followers the following two parables as further elaboration on his teaching. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)
When we think of the word “treasure” what comes to mind? Thanks to Hollywood, most of us can easily conjure up images of an old chest full of precious gemstones, or a stack of gold bars. But the scriptures seem to indicate that this kind of treasure is actually commonplace in the heavenly realms. In Rev 21 we’re told that the very foundations of the heavenly city’s walls are “decorated with every kind of precious stone.” and that heaven’s gates are each “made of a single pearl.” John reveals that even the great street of the city is made of “pure gold, like transparent glass.” Can you imagine? The architect of heaven uses these precious materials like we use concrete, steel, and asphalt. When Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a “treasure hidden in the field” and the “pearl of great price” it seems that he was simply trying to appeal to our earthly sense of relative value. Traditionally, we take this passage to mean the Kingdom itself is priceless and worthy of any sacrifice we could ever make. And yet, like every other passage of scripture, there are undoubtedly deeper levels of truth to be found under the surface of these verses.
Earlier in Mathew, we find Jesus using a similar theme. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:19-2) At one point, I had grown very weary of serving as a pastor in the local church. Relatively low pay and years of getting bit by sheep had left a gnawing question in my soul. I asked, “Why do I do this Lord?” You see, I’m a firm believer that no one will endure hardship or make any kind of long term sacrifice if they are not clear on what the pay-off is. So as I was praying, I asked the Lord to show me the treasure that I was storing up in heaven. Almost instantaneously, he began to remind me of people I had ministered to over the years. Face after face came to mind of those I had somehow encouraged to know the Lord in a deeper way, or prayed with, or taught. Most of these people I had long since forgotten about or lost touch with. It was at this point that I began to consider the value of a single human soul.
When we learn to recognize each human life as something the Lord treasures, we cannot help but to treat people differently. The Gospels reveal this truth repeatedly through the example of Jesus. The writers of scripture have provided one account after another of the Lord intentionally associating with people that were guaranteed to lower his social standing. It’s almost as if he was somehow drawn to those relegated to the seedy underside of his culture. Although he was often pursued by the rich and the well educated, we usually find him going after the “down-and-outers”. Was it because he was more comfortable hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes? Maybe, but the fact that the Lord’s behavior is so consistent in this regard means that he was obviously trying to make a point.
In the book of Luke we’re given six consecutive chapters (12-18) of Jesus teaching on the contrast between the values of men and those of the Kingdom of God. Amidst this section of scripture we find Jesus at the house of a prominent Pharisee watching the other guests jockeying for position. After publicly humiliating those who had found their way into the best seats in the house, he then addresses the host. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14) Granted, at first glance it would appear that the Lord is encouraging us to practice some sort of reverse favoritism, and certainly that idea is at least implied here. But the deeper truth must involve our tendency to place greater value on those who we think we can get something from. More often than not, most of us choose to relate only to those people who we feel might benefit us in some way. This is a sad, but very real part of all of us if we’ll be honest about it. By nature, we’re all shameless self-promoters. Jesus, on the other hand, being fully aware of his own position and value, was able to freely lavish value on those deemed virtually worthless by his contemporaries.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we began to consistently discern the treasure that is every person, regardless of how they’re assessed by others. An expert appraiser is one who recognizes value in that which most would be quick to overlook or to write off as ordinary. A treasure hunter is someone who goes to great lengths to acquire that which has been lost and usually long since forgotten. Our world is chocked full of undiscovered treasures. Though often in plain sight, these treasures are hidden from most. In Luke 16:15 we read that “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Through his example, the Lord demonstrated that the transverse must also be true.
It’s often said that “you can’t take it with you.” In terms of earthly treasure, this is commonly understood and acknowledged. The things that we spend so much of our lives trying to attain will ultimately have no place in heaven. But there is something that we can take with us, something of immeasurable eternal value that we will never cease to enjoy. It is a treasure so valuable that God himself proved willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem and restore it. The treasure is you, and me, and the guy standing on the corner with cardboard sign looking for handouts. Each human life represents equal, yet unfathomable worth regardless of its current level of earthly esteem or prominence. In fact, in Malachi 3:17 the Lord proclaims that those who fear him, he will “openly declare them to be his jewels. His special possession, and his peculiar treasure.” (Amp.)
We might want to consider how we’re treating that which God values the most. Do we put on the white gloves, or do we handle one another as commonplace and readily expendable? Does it matter to us that so many of the Lord’s precious resources have been written off or left behind to decay in some forgotten dusty attic? There is only one explanation for being careless in our treatment of others. It’s that somehow we’ve lost sight of their eternal worth. In the heart of every believer there lies a God-given unction for the discovery and restoration of hidden treasure. And though it often seems to manifest in the natural, I’m convinced that this desire is deeply rooted in the supernatural part of who we are. Lord Jesus, your appraisal of us is the only one that really matters. Please help us to view ourselves and those around us as the multifaceted jewels that you created each of us to be.