“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
– Matt 7.6
This verse was comical to me as a child. I took it literally, wondering why someone would give their pearls to pigs and imagined a pig rolling around in its sty with pearls around its neck. Or, occasionally, I imagined a strand of pearls hanging out of its mouth as it ate from its trough.
One day I was taught the meaning of this passage. It was explained to me that our pearls are the Gospel, the truths and wisdom that we receive from God – just like the series of teachings into which this little gem of a verse is tucked known as the Sermon on the Mount – and the swine are those who are unwilling to receive and hear it. That made sense.
As I got older, however, growing up in an evangelical, gospel-minded church, I struggled with the application of this verse. If we are supposed to be “in the world and not of the world”, if we are commanded to “make disciples of every nation”, how do we keep from throwing our pearls – the Gospel and God’s truths – before swine? How can Jesus, in the same sermon say, “You are the light of the world,” “the salt of the Earth” and “A city on a hill” established to flavor the entire world if we are to keep our truths and wisdom to ourselves?
As scientific research, theory and understanding developed and set itself squarely against the church, Christians, in general, chose to ignore the conversation. Instead of studying and proving God, speaking intelligently to issues, the Church remained silent and occasionally chose to lash out without any training or understanding of the subject on which she was speaking. These tides are slowly changing with Christian academics engaging the world on their level, via popular research methods, and the debate – primarily of creation – will doubtfully be solved until we stand face to face with the creator, as both stances require faith and are scientifically unprovable.
But how do we make disciples of all nations while maintaining respect for the Gospel and Truth of God such that we do not dishonor it by giving it to pigs and dogs: those who will not accept it?
I think that the answer can be found in the context of the passage. Immediately preceding this verse is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, “Judge not lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt 7.1-2). This is where Jesus teaches on accountability – that we must take the log out of our own eye before helping our brother with his speck. We cannot judge against a sin in which we are bound. We must first discipline ourselves before helping our brother conquer his sin.
The following verse is also well known, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find…” (Matt 7.7ff). Everyone who comes to God and asks for salvation through the work of Jesus Christ will be saved. And the whole passage is finalized with the Golden Rule (Matt 7.12).
People cannot choose to receive or reject the Gospel without hearing it. Therefore, sharing the Gospel – the message of the hope of salvation through the death and life of Jesus Christ – is not casting pearls before swine. However, once someone has made his decision to reject Christ and oppose the Church, it is at this point that we do not build relationship deeply. We love such a one, pray for his soul and share the Gospel whenever we get the chance, but we do not cast our pearls before him – lest he turn and trample us under food. This clearly is speaking to one who would be hostile to the Truth.
Christians must walk a fine line of building community and accountability within the body and loving and winning the lost world around them. How do we balance our time? Paul tells us that our first responsibility is to the Church and our brothers: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6.10). And our reputation of love for one another should be attractive to the dying world around us. Thus our efforts towards the outside world should be primarily aimed at their Spiritual darkness and deadness, calling them to repentance.
I once knew a man who lived his life with the conviction, “I’ll tell the Gospel to everyone and those who want believe will be my friends”. This, dear Christian, is the right mindset. We ought to share the Gospel boldly and without discrimination, to whomever will listen. And those who believe are those in whom we invest, to whom we cast our pearls. Our pearls are our long-term investment of life and energy. We offer hope to the lost! But when one has chosen a lifestyle of sin and opposition to the Truth of God, we do not push beyond the salvific message. Everything else is lost and trampled under food, and we must beware else we be torn to pieces by such a one.
This is why Jesus healed those who had faith. He honored God and the Truth while He remembered the spiritual state of those around Him.
But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.
– Matt 9.22