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Casting Your Pearl Before Swine

by Gary Young

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they haply trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you."
Matthew 7: 6

The Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus' most famous discourses, contains a great deal of important and educational teaching on the way in which we as Christians should deal with our brethren and with people in the world. On occasion, when the Gospel is being proclaimed, we will find that our time is massively consumed by seemingly pointless and endless disputations which deflect our attention from the preaching of the Gospel to more receptive souls. Are we under obligation to continue such disputations as long as the disputant is willing to continue, or does there come a time when the Christian should "make a break" and end the discussion? It is precisely this situation which Jesus describes in this verse, Matthew 7: 6, and accordingly this lesson is intended to present the application of this Scriptural principle to these type of situations.

The verse under consideration follows on from Jesus' teaching on judging in Matthew 7: 1-5, and should be understood in that context. Having stated that one should not make self-righteous and hypocritical judgements about one's brother, Jesus now goes on to point out that, on some occasions, we must make some judgements. In the previous lesson, we saw that there are indeed occasions where are righteous judgement can and must be made, such as in situations involving the application of church discipline and similar situations. The situation which Jesus now goes on to describe is, in fact, a similar sort of occasion, when a preacher must decide if his time might better be used elsewhere than in the continuation of a fruitless conversation with someone entrenched in error or foolishness. In these kind of circumstances, a judgement must be made whether or not to prolong the encounter or to turn away toward someone who may be more receptive. While we cannot make judgements based upon our own opinions, we can and should "judge righteous judgement" (John 7: 24).

In expounding this principle, the Lord made use of an image which would have been familiar to His Jewish hearers and would have helped them to see the principle He wanted to show them. The verse under consideration describes the sacrificial gifts which were placed on the altar of the Temple under the Old Testament dispensation. As Jesus stated, these gifts were not to be cast out and given to dogs after they had been offered to God: in fact, these gifts were to be eaten by the priests who served at the Temple (Lev. 6: 24-30; 7: 15-21). It was only the unclean that was to be thrown out to the dogs (Exod. 22: 31) - to treat the holy offerings on the altar in this way would be an abomination. Similarly, Jesus uses the example of casting pearls before swine to illustrate the same thing: naturally the pig is utterly unable to appreciate the value of the pearls, so it tramples them underfoot and then turns and rends the person who gave it the pearls. In both cases the principle is the same: that which is holy should be given to those who will appreciate and use it, not to those to whom it is of no value and who cannot appreciate it.

How then do we interpret this teaching? What is it that is holy that we might give to the "dogs" if we do not heed this teaching? This teaching can in fact be readily applied to the pointless contention with various characters which can occasionally happen in the course of the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel is undoubtedly the most Holy and most precious thing which we could impart to anyone, and it is clearly what Jesus is describing in this verse. The Gospel, the truth of God itself, is the "Holy thing" which is not to be given to the dogs, and it is the "pearl" which is not to be cast before swine (cf. Matt. 13: 45-46). Clearly then, Jesus portrays a time at which it is permissible, or even required, not to preach the Gospel to someone! When then could such an occasion occur? When is it required to turn away from someone who will not listen to the truth?

There is no doubt that Jesus stated that we are required to preach the Gospel to all (Matt. 28: 18-20): that is not the question at issue here. Everyone has the inalienable right to hear the Gospel at least once, and the church should strive to the utmost to ensure that this right is fulfilled. But, as the proverb goes, "Everybody has more right to hear the Gospel once than anyone has to hear it twice". There comes a time when someone who has heard the Gospel again and again has had his chance and blown it: no blame attaches to the preacher who turns from such a person having expended all his skill in attempting to portray the truth, only to have it spurned and even blasphemed. When someone to whom the Gospel has been preached for a considerable time continually rejects it, and perhaps even engages the Gospel preacher in extended discussions and disputations even though he has no intention of ever changing his life, it is undoubtedly the case that he has gone well beyond his right to hear the Gospel once or even a few times. Such a person is in fact wasting the time and resources of the church, and deflecting them from those who might perhaps be more receptive. It would indeed be tragic if a soul was lost because of time wasted in disputing with such a person.

Jesus spoke of the different types of hearts to which the Gospel can be preached in the parable of the sower (or of the soils) in Matthew 13: 3-9, explained in Matthew 13: 18-23. He outlined several different types of reception which the Gospel might receive, from the wayside which does not receive the Gospel at all down to the good soil which brings forth fruit in abundance. The wayside soil, He noted, does not understand the Gospel: Paul makes it clear that this type of person does not understand it because he is willingly ignorant (Rom. 1: 18-22). This is not to say, of course, that this is preordained or in any way unchangeable, but it does tell us that there will indeed be a substantial group of people who willingly reject the Gospel message. We, of course, cannot tell the type of soil until after the Gospel has been preached to them, so we must present the truth to all. To these "wayside" people we must then preach the truth in the hope that we might change them from their ways, but what happens when they persistently and willingly reject the truth when it is presented to them?

It is indeed possible for a person to become so hardened to the truth that they are virtually beyond recall: it is probably this type of person to which Jesus refers in the passage on the "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" in Matthew 12: 31-32. The people described in this text had just seen a miracle performed before their very eyes, yet they were so blind to the truth that they ascribed the miracle to the work of the Devil (Matt. 12: 22-24). While this passage is admittedly under some dispute, it is nonetheless true that these people were so bitterly opposed to the truth that Jesus was preaching that they could not accept the Gospel. Even after seeing an amazing miracle in front of their eyes they would still Surely Jesus would not have expected us to continue to preach the truth to such people when there are others who are more receptive? It would certainly seem that this was a principle that Paul put into effect in Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13: 46: when the Jews would not accept the truth but continually opposed and blasphemed, Paul turned to the Gentiles who were more receptive and willing to change their lives.

Thus we can see that God does not expect us to continue to preach the Gospel to those who oppose and blaspheme when there are more receptive souls present. How then do we determine the types of people away from whom we may rightfully turn? Inevitably, such a decision must be based on the good judgement of the preacher at the time: there are no hard and fast rules which determine our behaviour in such situations.

Generally speaking, the type of person from whom we should turn in the way Jesus described in Matthew 7: 6 are the types of people whom Paul encountered at Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13: those who persistently and consistently blaspheme and oppose the truth. Many possible motives exist for this kind of opposition to the truth, and we will encounter examples of all types as we convey the message of the Gospel to a lost world. On some occasions it will unfortunately be necessary to apply the principle of "pearls before swine" as enunciated by the Lord to people from all these categories.

Firstly, such people are to be found in the world, who have enthusiastically embraced the teachings of atheism. These people have convinced themselves that there is no God: they are willingly ignorant of the truth (Rom. 1: 21-25) in order that they might serve their own lusts. People who have simply accepted this as "received truth" may well be convinced of the error they are in, but occasionally we will come across people who have so accepted the false claims of evolution and atheism that they cannot accept the truth even when it is clearly preached to them. These people attack the truth and blaspheme it because the Gospel condemns the life they want to lead: we should be clear that this desire lies at the heart of atheistic and evolutionary teaching. Many, led on by this desire, harden their hearts to the truth completely. There will come a time when, after much effort, the preacher of the Gospel has fully discharged his duty to such a person, and may rightfully turn from him and direct his attention elsewhere.

Another type of person who can be very entrenched in their error is the one who is so bound up in denominational teachings of error that he will not accept the truth even when the plain message of the Gospel is shown to him again and again. These people are in fact much like the Jews whom Paul confronted in Antioch of Pisidia, who were opposing and blaspheming the truth even when Paul explained it clearly. To these people, the fact that Paul's presentation was logical, factual and Scriptural meant nothing. The Scripture is clear that it is perfectly possible for people to willingly believe a lie and convince themselves of its truth despite all evidence to the contrary (II Thess. 2: 10-12). The Pharisees were like this: even when confronted with a miracle, their hearts were so hardened by their willing belief in untruth that they still refused to believe. We must make a sincere effort to convince such people, but sometimes it is clear that they are so entrenched in their falsehood that they will reject the truth no matter how plainly it is presented.

Even within the Lord's church there are regrettably those who are entrenched in falsehood and who seem to thrive on disputation with faithful brethren. At times it is possible that we are doing good, but there are also times when it seems we are only "beating our head against a brick wall", and even offering a false teacher the opportunity to publicise his views. Do we have to continue such an encounter when it is obvious that nothing will come of it? The principle of Matthew 7:6 would seem to indicate otherwise. Indeed, we are told "a man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject" (Titus 3: 10). We assuredly do not have to keep up a correspondence with every peddler of falsehood that comes our way. When we have properly admonished such a person, we should turn from them to the lost masses who are waiting to hear the Gospel. These persons are simply tying up the time of Gospel preachers which could be much more profitably spent. We must never forget our duty to admonish the erring, but we must also be able to recognise the time when it is better to turn to those who will listen.

It is never pleasant to "give up" on someone in any circumstance. Similarly it should make us sad when we realise that the effort we spend in preaching the truth would be better placed elsewhere. Nonetheless, this teaching of Jesus makes it clear that at times we must make such judgements and turn away from someone who is treating the precious truth of the Gospel as a swine would some pearls. Such people have more than expended their right to hear the truth of God: by trampling God's truth underfoot, they "judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life" (Acts 13: 46). At such times we must, with a heavy heart, turn to those who will hear.

This then is the principle which was enunciated by the Lord in Matthew 7: 6. We must never forget that the precious truth which we preach is essential to the salvation of all: there is only a limited time and the population of the earth is truly vast and increasing every day. To expend the precious time that we have in "casting our pearls before swine" is both wasteful and counterproductive. The devil would like to tie us up continually disputing with false teachers, because when we are doing this we are not carrying the Gospel to those who might receive it gladly. Let us, by the application of Christ's teaching in the passage under consideration, ensure that we reach as many as we can with the saving truth of God's precious message.


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