By Steve Wolfgang
“Buy the truth and sell it not; yea, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23, ASV). In this proverb, the Wise Preacher has distilled for the ages a principle which is as applicable today as it was when first spoken thousands of years ago. Keil and Delitzsch comment perceptively on the passage as follows:
“To buy the truth, i.e. to shun no expense, no privation, no effort, in order to attain to the possession of wisdom; and to sell it not, i.e. not to place it over against any earthly possession, worldly gain, sensual enjoyment.”
Although spoken before the gospel was first preached in its fulness, these words of wisdom present several fundamental concepts which can be found repeatedly in the New Testament.
Buying: Count the Cost
The idea of “buying the truth” may involve several things. Jesus clearly taught that there would be some expense involved . in becoming citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We may be called upon to sacrifice “social prestige,” or to surrender things which are momentarily pleasurable in order to receive a more enduring kind of happiness and fulfillment. It may be necessary for us to surrender financial “security” or to cease to be involved in questionable practices which might be profitable to those who are not Christians. We may even come to be estranged from family or close friends (cf: Matt. 8:19-22; Lk. 10:57-62). Jesus plainly taught that we need to count the cost which may be involved. One who intends to wait until it will be “easy” for him to change and become a Christian, when he will not have to give up anything, or until there is nothing left to prevent him from so doing, will likely go to his grave still waiting. We need rather to “calculate” the stakes involved and act accordingly (cf. Lk. 14:25-33).
“One Pearl of Great Price”
But it is equally evident that our Lord taught that whatever the cost of discovering the truth, it is not (in the words of the apostle Paul) “worthy to be compared with, the glory which shall be revealed to usward” (Rom. 8:18). Jesus expressed it in these words:
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking costly pearls; and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. 13:44-46)
“And Sell It Not”
But the quest for and acquisition of the truth is only one half of the proverb-and the fact that the wise man felt constrained to include the second portion indicates that he understood a sad fact about human nature-the tendency to lose our zeal, or our sense of perspective and value, as time progresses. Centuries of church history, and Biblical history as well, bear mute witness of the multitudes who, having once grasped the truth, held it not fast “unto the end” (cf. Heb. 3:5-6, 12-14; 6:11-12; Rev. 2:10).
Selling It Out: Apostasy
Jesus Himself taught that there would be many vvho, having once heard the truth, would have it “choked out” (cf. Lk. 8:4-15). One need not even peruse the pages of church history to see the innumerable demonstrations of this principle; even in our own generation there are ample examples of those who, through discouragement, for the praise of men, out of a love for “the wisdom of the world,” because of malcontentedness, or for an unnumbered host of other reasons, have “sold out” the gospel, and thus their spiritual inheritance, for a “mess of pottage” (cf. Gen. 25:27-34; Heb. 12:14-17).
Selling It Short
But there is another way of “selling the truth” which occurs, perhaps, more often than common apostasy, and which, because of its subtle nature, is more apt to affect faithful Christians; it is selling short the power of the gospel to save those who will believe it (Rom. 1:16-17). When we believe that the gospel cannot save, and churches cannot grow, without some hot-shot, supercharged, well-educated, “full-time” preacher (whatever that may be), without a “good location” (translation: a new, quarter-million-dollar building, preferably “across the tracks” in a white, upper-middle-class section of town), or without some “super-dooper” special, mass communication program-brethren, we have sold short the saving power of the gospel of God! There is nothing wrong with a “located” preacher who receives his full financial support from a church, or with nice, commodious church buildings, or well-developed personal work “programs,” or congregations that are “friendly” toward the visitors; but these things are not the gospel. If the growth of the first-century church had been dependent upon these and other like things, it would never have survived to the dawn of the second century! It is the gospel which saves, and church buildings, teaching programs, located preachers, friendly Christians, etc., while useful, are merely means to the end of presenting the vibrant, soul-transforming word of God to as many people as possible. When we suppose that the gospel cannot save, or that people cannot and will not be converted, without these “extras,” are we not as guilty of “adding to” God’s word as those who festoon it with the doctrines of men and then follow such a perverted gospel straight into apostasy? May we each one encourage others to “buy the truth,” paying whatever price may be necessary, and strengthen our own resolve to “sell it not,” come what may!
Truth Magazine XIX: 30, p. 477
June 5, 1975