The parable of the pearl of great price is one of the shortest stories that Jesus told. It is part of a string of parables that Jesus tells regarding the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:45, 46).
This parable can be looked at from different angles. From one perspective, the pearl can symbolize Jesus selling everything He had in order to save lost humanity. God looked at humanity not as worthless but as what we might become in the hands of a gifted Merchant.
The second approach looks at Jesus as the pearl of great price. This perspective is somewhat confusing for people. Salvation is free to us. To some, this parable not only implies that heaven must be paid for but that it must be paid for at great cost. However, “we are to seek for the pearl of great price, but not in worldly marts or in worldly ways. The price we are required to pay is not gold or silver, for this belongs to God. Abandon the idea that temporal or spiritual advantages will win for you salvation” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 117).
This parable simply and clearly states that, when it comes to Jesus, value is a radical concept. Unlike the hidden treasure that precedes this parable of the pearl, the seller knows the value. The purchaser of the pearl is not getting a good deal, he is getting a fair deal—he is paying the amount of money that the pearl is valued for. It just so happens that in order for the buyer to afford the pearl, he must sell everything he has.
This is where value becomes radical. There are some people who can afford a car that costs as much as another person’s house. One athlete owns a watch that costs as much as the person’s car. This means that the homeowner is actually able to purchase the watch the athlete wears. The only thing stopping this person from doing so is the fact that he chose to buy the house over the watch. He could wear an expensive watch and be homeless. However, this, to him (and to many others), would be too radical of an idea. The watch and the car, although equal in value to the house, are not worth as much to the person who can afford only one of those three objects.
In the case of Christ, we can’t have Him and hold onto the world in any of its forms. To have Him, we must give up even more than material things like watches, cars, and houses. We must also sell our way of thinking. In fact, we must even sell our motivations for learning, living, and being. This is how radical the value of Christ is.
We cannot earn salvation, but we are to seek for it with as much interest and perseverance as though we would abandon everything in the world for it. . . . There are some who seem to be always seeking for the heavenly pearl. But they do not make an entire surrender of their wrong habits. They do not die to self that Christ may live in them. Therefore they do not find the precious pearl. They have not overcome unholy ambition and their love for worldly attractions. They do not take up the cross and follow Christ in the path of self-denial and sacrifice. Almost Christians, yet not fully Christians, they seem near the kingdom of heaven, but they cannot enter there. Almost but not wholly saved, means to be not almost but wholly lost (Christ’s Object Lessons, 117–118).