In Christ's parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46, perhaps His shortest spiritual illustration), He describes an avid merchant.
For this man, trading precious stones was not a hobby, but a livelihood. We can also understand that his greatest ambition was to discover that once-in-a-lifetime treasure, the pearl of great price. One important point to make is that, unlike diamonds and other gems, the value of a pearl can’t be substantially improved upon by human effort.
As an aside, Jesus also had a lot to say about treasure. For instance, 'lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth which moth doth corrupt and thieves break in and do steal' (Matt. 6:19). Treasure is a store, reserve or fund. Of course, God wants us to be free from daily worries over our bodily needs for warmth, shelter and nourishment. However, the build-up of material reserves for ourselves beyond our daily requirements can be carried out at the expense of the more pressing needs of others: those who may be stricken by calamity, or sickness. It's all too easy to accuse the afflicted of improvidence, for instance, by saying, 'it's not my fault that they didn't get a better education, or take out a bigger, better insurance policy' (as if that frees us from responsibility to be our brother's keeper).
Accumulating funds for long-term personal financial security is similar to the Israelites who tried to store up the manna from one day, just in case God might neglect to provide for the next. The behaviour smacks of distrust in His providence and no fund (however large and well-managed) is ever safe from devaluation or dispossession.
Back to our merchant and one day he chances upon a most extraordinary find: a single, massive blemish-free pearl. He wants it.
After considerable negotiation with the owner, he realised that his trade account couldn't possibly meet the stated price. He haggled as far as he could, and yet this bargain cost more than all the wealth he possessed.
Then he had an idea: liquidate everything. He asked the vendor: 'what if I also sold you my whole collection, everything I've examined and amassed over my 40-year jewellery career?' Under tight security, he fetched his precious assets to be valued and waited for the verdict...still short by hundreds of thousands.
Desperately, he asked, 'But what if I sell my house and its contents?'... 'still not enough.' the owner replied...'Clear my emergency fund?'…'Maybe?'
The owner counted it all up and finally delivered the good news. The merchant beamed with satisfaction, though stripped of his worldly possessions, he had what he wanted. The precious pearl would be his forever.
Later that day, another jeweller examined the pearl asking 'How much did you say you paid him?’ The anxious merchant told him the figure, his heart sinking at the thought that he'd been sold a dud.
Yet, that feeling was short-lived: 'Well, it's quite frankly the best in the world, it's unique and worth millions more than you gave up for it...is the pearl’s former owner a best friend, or something?!''
Christ used the parable to describe the eternal Kingdom of God. Salvation may be freely given by the Owner, but it's not free from personal sacrifice. Paul, in response to God's forgiveness of his former life (that included persecuting Christians), realised he had to abandon the comfort and privileges of his Jewish roots in order to fully embrace his Christian calling. He describes what happened, ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ’ (Philippians 3: 7,8)
So which aspects of our current lifestyle will we auction away (like the Pearl Trader did) in order to win Christ? What worldly desires relegate Christ to second place or worse in our lives? What personal priorities will you or I, like Paul, abandon to gain Christ?
'For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also' (Matt.6:21)