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Pearls before Swine: Using Discernment when Declaring the Word

July 22, 2012

 

One of the most enigmatic verses in the Sermon on the Mount has to be Matthew 7:6

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
(Matthew 7:6 ESV)

So what are we dealing with here? What does this verse mean?

Verses 1-5 are dealing with judgement and the extent to which followers of Christ should judge one another. These verses do no preclude all forms of judgement or discernment, rather they provide a timely and helpful admonition for those seeking to judge to deal and grapple with their own sin before they proceed to tackle the sin in other peoples lives. While Jesus is admonishing His disciples and by extension us to guard agains hasty and hypocritical judgments, He is by no means saying that we are not to exercise discernment in dealing with others. Verses 1-5 paint a picture of someone going to a brother and addressing sin in that brother’s life. There is some anticipation in these verses that the one confronted with his sin, if confronted in a un-hypocritical way, might have the speck in his eye removed. To put it another way, there is some anticipation that the brother confronted with his sin is agreeable to receiving correction. We learn from Jesus’ instruction from Matthew 18, that acknowledged sin in a brothers/sisters life is to be confronted openly and consistently with the aim of seeing the wayward brother turn and repent of sin and be restored to fellowship with his believing family. If that wayward “believer” refuses to repent, he is from then on to be treated as someone outside the family of God. But what of those around us who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ who are openly hostile to the gospel of God’s grace?

If the teaching in verses 1-5 serve as an example of how we are to avoid displaying hypocrisy in judgment. The parable in Matthew 7:6 serves as a example of how and to what extent Jesus’ disciples, and by extension us, are to avoid displaying futility in proclamation. “This passage gives us a balance for the teaching against judging. Discrimination is to be applied according to the attitude and receptivity of our hearers.”[1] In the Sermon, Jesus is equipping His disciples with the wisdom necessary to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. He lays out the method by which one becomes blessed in the Kingdom 5:1-11; He describes how one lives and interprets the law in the Kingdom 5:12-6:34; And now He lays out the consequences of Kingdom living, the personal consequences and the eternal consequences 7:1-27. Here He tells his disciples that the precious truth of God’s word (what is Holy and the pearls) will not be received by all, and therefore should be proclaimed with discretion. This attitude is confirmed throughout this gospel (Matthew 10 for instance) and throughout the Bible. Proverbially it is consistent with proverbs like Prov. 9:8 and 29:1, and this attitude is exemplified by Paul’s reaction to the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews of Corinth… (Acts 18:1-6, see also Acts 13:44-51, 28:17-28; Ro 16:17-18). And also (Titus 3:10-11).

Jesus is clear, those who despise the word of God will perish and are not worthy to receive it, but to any who ask “it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and the one who seeks finds…” (Matt 7:7-8) In this Kingdom we are to live as salt and light, to live in such a way that others are prompted to question the hope we have displayed, and we must be prepared to give an answer. (1 Peter 3:15) God will always answer one who asks, seeks and knocks. However, concerning those who lack spiritual understanding (1Cor 2:14) the Word is but folly to be trampled; and we are encouraged to withhold, with discernment, the glory of God’s truth from those who would treat it with disdain.

So based on this verse can we simply write some people off and abandon them in their sin?

 

Well yes and no. “Jesus’ teaching demonstrated that the disciples were not to presume that any person would reject the gospel. They were to offer it to anyone. However, when the gospel was rejected, the disciples were to refocus their evangelistic efforts on others.”[1] Jesus displays this throughout the gospels. When individuals like the rich young ruler come to Him and ask Him about the gospel, He answers. When the young man rejects the gospel and leaves, Jesus does not chase him down and continue to offer the gospel, he lets him go. Likewise when Jesus is before Herod, He does not answer him when questioned about His ministry. Jesus spoke in parables so that those with ears would hear and those without hearing would remain in darkness. We must never “write people off” if writing people off means that we cease to love and pray for them. We are to continually love others and to pray with persistence that it be God’s will that the unrepentant repent and that the hard hearts be softened. For we all at some point stood against our king in hostility to His message, but His grace overcame our sinful will and changed our heart.

We constantly pray that His will be done in the lives of all we come across. But when we encounter those who refuse to listen to the gospel, and repudiate it and profane it treating the Gospel of glory like dirt; we must not continue on at that moment offering them what they do not want. We withhold what is holy and wait for a time when their hearts are softer and their ears are more open. John Hannah, a Scholar from DTS once said that we live out the great commission by loving our neighbor and waiting for the hand of God to strike their life; we love, we wait, and when God sees fit to soften their heart we are their with the message of His glorious Hope.

 

 

 


[1] Quarles, 295.

[1] Dockery and Garland, Seeking the Kingdom. 106.

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