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 not a hobby, it's a livelihood. We can also understand that his greatest ambition is to discover that once-in-a-lifetime treasure, the pearl of great price. One important point to make is that, unlike 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 need for warmth and nourishment. However, the build-up of material reserves for ourselves beyond our daily requirements is conducted at the expense of the more pressing needs of others, who may be stricken by calamity, or sickness. It's all too easy to accuse the afflicted of improvidence, saying, 'it's not my fault that they didn't they take out a bigger, better insurance policy' (as if only guilt, rather than love, justifies ending selfish behaviour).
Accumulating funds for long-term individual financial stability 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 erosion, devaluation or dispossession.
Even relationships can be corroded over time. A young love, that starts out as fresh and exciting, can lose its appeal through neglect, beginning a vicious spiral of serial monogamy, or worse still, thoughtless promiscuity.
Back to our merchant and one day he chances upon a most extraordinary find: a single perfectly spherical pearl with astounding blemish-free lustre and massive carat weight. He wants it.
After considerable negotiation with the owner, he realises that his trade account cannot nearly meet the agreed purchase price. He's haggled as far as he can, and yet this bargain will cost more than he has in cash and securities.
Then he has an idea: liquidate everything. '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 fetches his precious assets to be valued and waits for the verdict...still short by hundreds of thousands.
Desperately, he asks, 'But what if I sell my house and its contents?'... 'still not enough.' the owner replies...'Clear my emergency fund?'…'Maybe?'
The owner adds it all up and finally delivers the good news. The merchant beams with satisfaction, though stripped of his worldly possessions, he has what it takes. The precious pearl is his forever.
Later that day, another gemologist examines the pearl asking 'How much did you say you paid him?’ The anxious merchant tells him the figure, his heart sinking at the thought that he's been sold a dud.
The feeling is 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 void of 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 my current lifestyle are on the auction block in order to win Christ? How many of those things relegate an all-consuming passion for Christ to second place or worse? What legitimate pursuits will you or I, like Paul, abandon to gain Christ?
'For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also' (Matt.6:21)