Lessons learned from the Parable of the Lost Coin
Have you ever lost something really valuable? I don’t mean your car keys; everyone does that. Most people at one time or another have lost something valuable, really valuable. I mean something like a valuable ring or on a more common and lower level, a cell phone. Here, Jesus is playing on the joy a person feels when the valuable item is found to make an important point about the salvation of the lost. Jesus said:
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’
10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Is this parable about money? It really isn’t about the money, not for the people of Israel and certainly not for us! This is, as with everything about God, all about people.
This woman has just lost a tenth of all of her savings. This is not a lost dime that fell and rolled under a sofa. Yes, a dime is silver in color, but instead this is a very valuable coin, one that represents a significant part of what she has to live on for the rest of her life. To try to better understand her sense of loss, a sense that is missing in our coin-filled culture, read what a man who was an expert on ancient Middle Eastern lifestyle wrote that coin money in the middle east in the time of Jesus. Coin money was not common among peasants: “The peasant village is, to a large extent, self-supporting, making its own cloth and growing its own food. Cash is a rare commodity. Hence the lost coin is of far greater value in a peasant home than the day’s labor it represents monetarily” (Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, 1983, p. 157).
Her house is small and the lighting is dismal. Windows are small and it is necessary for her to light an oil lamp to help her eyes in the dark. That effort is expensive in itself, because the oil for the lamp is an expensive commodity, but that coin means a lot to her.
Lessons for the church and for believers
The lessons begin even before the woman finds the missing coin. The woman sweeps the floor as she works frantically to find the lost coin. This lost coin was so important she went immediately to work!
However, many in the church don’t sweep, but instead wait for the coin, or the lost person, to appear on its own, driving into the parking lot. Welcoming people, inviting people, making serious hard effort to find those lost coins is a lost art in many churches. Many church members think that is the business of the pastors. That is hardly the case as the business of the church is the business of the members of the church. Ephesians 4:11-13. After all, we (the members and believers) are the church.
There is another lesson lying in the possible symbolism of this parable. In verse 8 we see that the woman lights a lamp. A few chapters earlier, Luke addressed such a lamp.
16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.
17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.
We already know that Jesus is the light of the world. John 8:12. We are as well. Matthew 5:14. The woman who lost the coin lights a light and gets to work. Likewise, the church and its members in a world of lost people must light its light, place it in a visible location, and start working to find and save the lost. If a church doesn’t do that, it may not really be a church. Would anyone notice if its light went out?
The final lesson occurs as the woman finds the lost coin. Her joy is great when she finally spots the missing coin.
In context, that joy is multiplied because there were three parables told at this one lesson, the parable of the lost sheep, Luke 15:1-7, this parable of the lost coin, Luke 15:8-10, and the parable of the lost son, more commonly known ass the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32.
All parables had something valuable lost and all three parables ended with great joy when whatever was lost was found. Recognizing that the lost item, whether a sheep, a coin or a son, represents a sinner lost to a loving Father, that now raises the next question for believers and for the church today.
Where is the joy at the of the church at the time of salvation? This is a joy that most churches don’t display and that seems to be largely lost in the church. It is a joy we desperately need to regain.
What happens in your church when a person joins the church? I will admit that does not mean salvation; that person might have come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior long ago and just moved to your area. But what if it is a new believer, someone who just has seen the truth and has met Jesus? Shouldn’t our joy at least equal that of the woman who found a mere possession, a lost silver coin?
This parable gives us a message about how desperate we should be to find the lost and how overjoyed we should be when they are found! This and a lot of other joy is something sadly lacking in much of our world. Even more sadly, it is missing from many churches.
Perhaps churches, like the world, have lost sight of the amazing event that salvation is to a lost person. In May, 1993, The Bible Friend, Turning Point, published this illustration about real joy, and where it can and cannot be found:
Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in Christ alone.
Instead of a lack of joy, the church needs to return joy to the pulpit, joy to worship, and especially needs to return joy to the moment when people meet Jesus for the first time.
We tend to lose sight of the fact that all people are precious to God, especially the lost ones. As with the lost sheep and lost coin, attention will be directed towards that lost sheep or coin. And as with the son who left, the father’s attention was obviously looking for him because he saw his son “a long way off” and his joy upon seeing his son was so great he “ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20.
How valuable is that lost soul who has been found? That person was valuable enough for Jesus to go to the cross and suffer a horrible death. How valuable was that lost item you thought of when you read the first paragraph of this article? How happy were you when you found it (assuming you did find it)? If you can get that upset over a lost ring or phone and that happy over finding it, how much more should you be over a person not going to hell?
It is all about perspective. The Pharisees and viewed their religion as being about themselves. They saw they had to work to stay right with God so they did – keeping their “religion” about themselves and their work. In others, they just saw people who were sinners who weren’t working as hard as they were to be “good,” or righteous. God seems something entirely different. He sees lost people who need a Savior. For that enormous difference in perspective, we can and should be eternally grateful.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth called joy “the simplest form of gratitude.” Be joyful and say thank you to God for all that you have.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.
This is the thirteenth in a series of articles on financial and other issues facing the American church in this no longer very new millennium. These articles represent the personal thoughts and reflections of the author and are not necessarily a statement of The Idlewild Foundation. These articles are based upon parables told by Jesus and stories from the gospels on events in His life, applying His life and teachings to the lives of believers and to the church as a whole and not to any one church in particular.