The Bible contains several passages where two things are set in a scale and weighed in order to determine which is of greater value, and it is those passages that have caught my eye over the years, and I’ve just sort of tucked them in the back of my mind and thought someday I’d like to put a bunch of them together into a series of sorts. So, here is my introduction to the subject, and following articles will begin breaking down some of those fascinating texts.
Taking two things, comparing them, and making some sort of determination as to which is of greater value is a practice that we involve ourselves in daily. In fact, every time we purchase something, we make a value decision: Is this cheeseburger worth more to me than the two dollars in my wallet? Considering what I have to do today, are the tennis shoes or the dress shoes going to be of more value to me? Is it better to be comfortable or to dress up nice? Is it better to make 2 left hand turns on a busy street in order to save 2 cents per gallon, or pay more and stop at the station in front of me?
Anytime we are asked to choose between two things, we immediately and instinctively begin the process of evaluating which of those two things is most valuable to us. We don’t all reach the same conclusion, necessarily. If I offered you either a football or a cup of coffee, some of you would choose the football, and some of you would rather have a cup of coffee, because a football holds no value to you.
The same process of thought happens in regards to spiritual things as well, and more than we realize it, we weigh the value of spiritual things we can’t see against the value of physical things we can see. For instance, when you attend church on a Sunday morning, it is because, considering all the options you had available to you, you chose being at church to be of greatest value. You placed a certain value on singing together with the other people assembled, praying together with them, visiting, and sitting under the instruction of God’s Word with them. To you, the value of those things outweighed the value of sleeping in, or going to Perkins for breakfast at this hour, or watching a movie on television, or whatever else you may have done. At the same time, every person who isn’t there has made that same decision and come to the opposite conclusion: it’s worth more to them to be wherever they are doing whatever it is they’re doing.
That’s why I often wonder, if a church were to put an ad in the paper that said it was going to give every person who attended a crisp, clean $10 bill, how many would show up? I would imagine that in all likelihood that church would see an uptick in attendance. If they passed out $100 bills, they couldn’t fit all the people in there sanctuary, I’m confident. What does that tell us? It tells me that most people in our community value spending a Sunday morning in church as being of far less than $100, and most even less than $10. Most won’t attend when the doors are open for free, but if a church gave money away, all of a sudden the value of being there goes up.
And along those lines, if I could just say a word about how busy we all are, and the all-too-common excuse that “I’d be there and I’d do that if I wasn’t so busy.” We’re busy, yes, but we’re busy with things we value. We fill our time up with things that have some sort of value to us, to the exclusion of things we value less. “I’m too busy” is generally just a cover for “I don’t value this other thing” high enough. How do I know that? Because on your busiest day, if I told you that if you immediately got in your car and drove to a secluded place in Oregon, and under a certain log you’d find a briefcase with a million dollars in it, most of us would all of a sudden not be so busy after all. Like me, you might be too busy to visit the sick, but also like me, you’re probably not too busy to spend two days on the road going to visit a suitcase of free money.
I don’t necessarily say that to guilt you, but rather to help you understand that each and every day we make decisions based on what we value or what we treasure. And most of us aren’t deliberate in choosing our treasure wisely. The world tells us what is valuable, and like lemmings, we join in the race to gather up as much of that treasure as possible. In this world of social media, what is valuable is being famous and being noticed, so people en masse constantly parade themselves and their every activity online in an endless effort to be noticed. Why is that? Have you ever thought about the actual value of getting 100 likes? Yeah it’s a big number, but why is it so valuable? It’s important to the world, so we assume there must be value to it.
What we need to do is construct a system of value that is not tied to the latest shiny object the world is chasing after, but to what is truly valuable. Occasionally you’ll hear of someone who buys a nearly priceless work of art at a garage sale for $20, and we think to ourselves, “that poor person who sold that had no idea of the value of their painting that sat in the garage for the last 45 years. If only they had known, how different would their lives have been?” And I think we as Christians far too often find ourselves, not like the art dealer who bought the DaVinci for $20, but more like the person who sold the painting. We possess, in Christ, a treasure of inestimable, eternal value, but how many of us, like Judas, would be willing to sell it all away for thirty pieces of silver?
You see, to our shame, many of us understand the value of silver far more than we understand the value of the things of God in Christ. As is demonstrated in John’s gospel so often, many people only value Jesus as highly as the money, or the comfort, or the entertainment they think they can get out of Him. There are far more Judases sitting in churches all across this world than we would care to admit: people who are singing to Jesus, praying to Jesus, weeping before Jesus, wanting to hear His voice, but not in a plea that He would forgive their wretched sins, and not that He would use them to bring honor to His name, and not to affirm their willingness to be used in any way for the advancement of His kingdom no matter how painful the road might be, but rather worshiping Him in order that He would take away all their problems and fill up their bank accounts. That’s a telling statement people make about how they value Jesus.
If God says something is of value more value than another thing, we need to pay attention. The Federal Reserve doesn’t determine how valuable something is, and really the free market doesn’t determine real value either; God does. So these texts which give us comparisons between two things and give us God’s determination as to which is more valuable are immensely helpful, and it’s my hope and prayer that we learn to value what God values, so that we are constantly choosing the better, the more valuable, the greater treasure.
ed. note: this taken from a sermon I preached in November of 2013, during a little gap between preaching through the books of John and Ephesians, which I filled with some of those sermons that had been percolating in my mind for some time but I didn’t have a place to preach them so long as I was working through a book series.
Photo credit to my dear wife. I use it here in gratitude to John Piper for his famous line, “Look Lord, see my shells!” -jr