Matthew: The Justice of the Kingdom, Part 2: Dog and Swine

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 7, 1997

Matthew 7:6

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 7.  Last week we said that Matthew 7:1-5, was one of the most familiar, but one of the most misunderstood passages in the Sermon on the Mount.  Well, today in Matthew 7:6, we come to what is just a plain difficult passage.  It is a passage that we often scratch our heads at and I am sure there are some who shake their heads at it.  We will begin reading however in verse 1.  Because what the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 6, is directly related and counterbalances what He has said in verse 1-5.   So let’s hear the word of the living God beginning in Matthew 7, verse 1.

       “Do not judge 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. “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

       Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word.  May He add His blessing to it.  Let’s look to Him in prayer.

       Our Father we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your word.  The Lord Jesus has spoken a hard word in our hearing.  And we need the spirit to understand not only its meaning, but its particular application to our own hearts and lives.  Apply it so by the Spirit.  Make this word fruitful to us, and we will give you all the praise and all the glory.  For we ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

       In Matthew 7, verse 6, the Lord Jesus balances the message that He had given in verses 1-5.  In verses 1-5, of Matthew 7, the Lord Jesus had warned us against censoriousness.  A critical spirit that is quick to judge, which sets up its own personal standard for judgment and is harsh in the way that it measures and evaluates a brother or a sister in the Lord.  In Matthew chapter 7, verse 6, however, the Lord Jesus says, though I have called not to be censorious, I have not called you to be without discernment.  Though you must not be overly critical, neither must you fail to distinguish between that which is good, and that which is evil.  That which is obstinately against My gospel, and that which is open to My gospel.  The Lord Jesus calls us both to be not hypercritical, and to be discerning.  The Lord Jesus in this passage is calling us to spiritual discernment.  And there are many lessons we could learn from what He teaches here.  But I would like to set at least two great truths before you from this one brief verse and passage today.

 I.  Christians must discriminate.
      And the first truth is this, and I want to say this as provocatively as I can.  The Lord Jesus teaches here that Christians must discriminate.  Now, discriminate is a word that carries with it a lot of connotations in our context in our day and age.  We live in a day and age where discrimination is the last and only sin.  You can do anything you want as long as you don’t discriminate. 

      The Lord Jesus is saying, Christian, you must discriminate.  He is calling for spiritual discrimination.  He is calling for what we might call a holy discrimination.  In other words, He is saying, Christian, you must distinguish between those who are obstinate in their rejection of the Gospel, and those who are open to the Gospel.  Christian, you must discern the type of person who is permanently and consistently opposed to the message of the Gospel of the kingdom.  And those who are open, He is calling on us to differentiate.  And that goes against the grain of everything in our society right now.  But it is the call of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Notice His word, do not give what it is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.  Lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces.  Having just taught that we are not to be censorious, Jesus adds that we must acknowledge that there are real differences between people.  The saints are not to set themselves up as arbitrary judges.  But neither are we to be simpletons either.  We are to recognize that there are spiritual differences in the hearts of people. 

      I want to go through the metaphors that the Lord Jesus used.  Because He speaks about dogs, and pigs, and pearls, and what is holy.  And you need to understand what He means by each of those words or phrases in order to appreciate His emphasis in the passage. 

      Now, as a dog lover, one might find these words a little harsh on the part of the Lord Jesus.  But when the Lord Jesus speaks in this passage of dogs, He is not talking about those beloved domestic and hunting pets of ours.  He is actually speaking of those large savage, half wild dogs which prowl the streets of Jerusalem scavenging through rubbish and other things to find food.  They were not domestic pets, they were actually dangerous creatures.  And of course, the word dog also in the Lord Jesus’ day, was a standard Jewish and ethnic and religious slur against Gentiles.  Jewish folk would have referred to Gentiles as dogs.  They were Pagan, non-Jewish, unbelieving people, and so the Jewish folk of Jesus’ day referred to Gentiles as dogs.  The Lord Jesus is of course, not throwing out an epithet here.  He is not throwing out a curse word.  He is not slandering a particular group.  He is using this term, dog, in a spiritual sense.  Just as those scavenging wild dogs in the street so Jerusalem and in the cities and towns surrounding it, might turn and attack you should you interfere with their scavenging, so the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of people who violently and consistently oppose the Gospel and even threaten it messengers.  And He says, do not give what is holy to dogs.  He knows that they might turn and tear us to pieces. 

      As far as pigs go, you know that pigs are unclean animals.  Not simply in their particular sanitary habits, but they are unclean animals in the sense of the Old Testament code of Leviticus.  The people of God in the Old Testament were forbidden to eat the meat of swine, of pigs.  And so, when Jesus speaks of pigs, He is speaking about an animal that would have been contemptible in all the eyes of His Jewish hearers.  Furthermore, were you to cast pearls before pigs, the pigs might mistake those pearls for peas or perhaps nuts, attempt to eat them, and then find out that they were inedible and then spew them back onto the ground and then trample them in the mud.  Now, any good Jewish merchant of Jesus’ day, would have known that a pearl was of tremendous value.  They are of tremendous value today, they were especially so then.  There were only a couple of places in the world where you could obtain pearls in the Lord Jesus’ time.  In fact, in another parable of the Lord Jesus where He speaks about the pearl of great price, He speaks about a successful merchant who sells all that he has in order to acquire a pearl of great price.  So to tell good wise Jewish merchants of this illustration of throwing pearls before pigs who could not appreciate the value of those pears would have struck home in a very clear way. They would have been horrified by the thought of giving pearls to an animal that would disdain them. 

      So also, the Lord Jesus is speaking of persons who are seemingly incapable of appreciating the Gospel.  They are people who trample on the Gospel.  They take no thought of the Gospel.  They have no appreciation for the Gospel.  They sense none of its value.  And the Lord Jesus says, do not throw your pearls before swine. 

      What does He mean then by the phrase, what is holy?  And what does He mean by the word pearls?  He is referring primarily to the gospel message.  He is speaking to His disciples about their preaching of the gospel to those who obstinately oppose it.  Or who undervalue it. Or who are apathetic towards it.  And so He warns them not to give what it holy.  That gospel message, the message of the kingdom to those who refuse it permanently and obstinately and violently.  He also, of course, could be referring to wise spiritual counsel or reproof.  He has been talking in the first five verses about how we go about correcting one another.  And suddenly He says, now you need to bear in mind that there are some people who are beyond correcting.  So don’t waste your time trying to correct them.  He may well be speaking in addition about that brotherly reproof and correction about which He had just been speaking in the previous five verses. 

      Whatever the case is, Jesus is clearly teaching that not all people are the same in terms of their response to the gospel.  There are Christians and there are nonChristians.  And that is the first great division and we can never ever pretend like that is not a real division.  It is a real division.  There are two types of people in the world.   Those who embrace Christ, and those who reject Him.  And there is not a third party.  But even within that category of people who have not embraced Christ, the Lord Jesus in this passage indicates that there are some people who are obstinately and permanently opposed to the Gospel.  They are not open to hearing, they are not open to seeking, they are not interested in talking, the are not interested in studying, they are not interested in searching.  They are obstinately and violently opposed to the Gospel.  And He is reminding us as Christians that we must not act as if all people respond to the Gospel  in the same way.  They do not and we must not act as if all people will respond the gospel in the same way.  Now, there are many things that we could deduce from that great assertion that the Lord Jesus has given us here when He calls us to spiritual discernment or where He calls us to spiritual discrimination.  But let me suggest two or three things. 

      The first thing that we must learn from this passage, is that believers must realize that there will be some people who are permanently hateful of the Gospel.  And there will be other people who are permanently apathetic or unappreciative about the Gospel.   But either of those cases, are cases of hearts which are hardened against God.  A person who is violently opposed to the Gospel, may be more obvious than a person who is apathetic towards the Gospel.  But there are types of apathy, which are just as hard as open violence.  I, myself remember a cousin of mine, a different cousin, that I had the privilege of going through high school with.  He was one of the nicest people in the high school.  Everyone liked him.  He was a churchgoer.  He was not openly and grossly immoral.  But, he was apathetic towards spiritual things.  Obstinately apathetic towards spiritual things, and I often thought, what a surprise it was going to be for many to see the ruling of God on the last day.  He was a nice person, but he was apathetic about the most important thing in life, our saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must remember that there will be some who are permanently apathetic and unappreciative of the Gospel.  And that makes a distinction between them and those that God will receive in the end. 

      We must also, secondly, remember that we must take a different approach when correcting a brother as opposed to when we are witnessing to obstinate unbelievers.  With the former, with a brother, we must be indeterminably patient.  We must be willing to go on and on and on in our patient forgiveness and forbearance and in our hope for reform and change and restoration.  But with the one who is obstinately opposed to the Gospel, the Lord Jesus here tells us that we are not to waste our time.  That is a frightening judgment my friends.  It is a frightening judgment indeed that the Lord Jesus sets it forth here.  Furthermore, we must also recognize that there is a final and irreconcilable difference between the true believer and the false believer.  Between the true believer and the unbeliever.  We live in the South.  Everybody is nice in the South.  Everybody is salt of the earth in the South.  Everybody is good people in the South.  But in the end, there will be a divide, between those who embrace Christ, and those who have rejected them.  And being good people or nice or salt of the earth will never transcend that particular barrier.  If a person refuses to embrace Christ by faith, opposition to God will reduce that person to subhumanity.  Isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus can use the terrifying words to refer to human beings as dogs and pigs.  Now the Lord Jesus isn’t engaging in name calling there.  He is engaging in an estimation of the moral character of human beings and it is a dreadful judgment, but it a true judgment. Now, what are we to do, practically and specifically with that kind of instruction?  What do we do with that?  

II.    Christians must take care to guard the gospel in witness and life. 
      Well, in my second point I would like to address that.  Because the second truth that we learn in this passage is that Christians must take care to guard the preciousness of the Gospel in our witness and in our lives. Christians must take care to guard the preciousness of the gospel in our witness and in our lives.  The Lord not only calls us to holy discrimination, He calls us to holy care. 

      Notice again the words, do not give what is holy to dogs.  Do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces.  We must realize that the gospel will divide men.  It will make spiritual differences apparent.  As the gospel is set forth, as it is sent out, there will be some who reject it, there will be some who accept it, and there will be others who say, let me hear more. 

      But clear distinctions in the hearts of men will be shown as the gospel is shared.  Some will respond, but others will be obstinate in their rejection of it and so the Lord Jesus says, be careful when you find the person who is set, who is obstinately refusing or attacking the gospel, you must not waste your time on spiritual council.  On those who are stubborn, on those who are impracticable, on those who are obdurate, or hardheaded.  Notice the words of Proverbs speak to this.  In Proverbs 9, verse 7, we are told, he who corrects a scoffer, gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.  In Proverbs 9:8, we read, do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you, but instead reprove a wise man and he will love you. 

      The point of those passages is that the same message can be given to two different people and result in two entirely different responses.  And those responses are based on a difference in the heart of the person hearing, not in the message.  The message is the same.  The intention is the same.  The desire to correct is the same.  But to those who are obstinate, those who are as the Old Testament says, a fool, those who are fools will not respond with anything but insults.  When the gospel is given to those who are empty-hearted, and hardheaded, they will respond by insulting the gospel, or ignoring the gospel.  And the Lord Jesus makes it clear, that we are not to waste our spiritual council on those.  Now that is a hard word.  It is almost hard to believe.   It is hard to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ could say something so, so blunt, so terrifying as that, but that He does.   He teaches us that we must not subject the gospel to the abuse and the derision and the indifference of those who are obstinately opposed to it.  

      Now let me just say very quickly what that does not mean.  The Lord Jesus does not mean by saying ‘do not give what is holy to the dogs, or cast your pearls before swine,’ He does not mean that we are not to reach out to unbelievers.  The Lord Jesus reached out to unbelievers and we know that all unbelievers are darkened in their hearts.  But thank God we also know that God changes the hearts of men and women so often when the Word is preached and we know that God has His own.  And we can’t tell the difference sometimes between those who are in the process of being convicted by the Spirit and those who are not.  But nevertheless, we are to preach the Word.  The Lord Jesus spent much time with sinners, with unbelievers, telling them the truth and so He is not telling us here that we are not to reach out to unbelievers, nor is the Lord Jesus telling us that we shouldn’t have anything to do with those who are notoriously wicked. 

      He is not saying, “Now, there are some sins that people do, that you should have nothing more to do with them, if they are doing those sins.  They need to clean up their lives before they hear the Gospel.”  That is not what the Lord Jesus is saying.  The Lord Jesus spent time with people who were notoriously sinful in the sight of their own community.  And so, He is not telling us that we shouldn’t reach out to those people.  Nor, is the Lord Jesus telling us that we can be impatient in our evangelism and witness.  He is not saying, share the gospel with the person one time, five minutes, if they don’t respond it, never speak to them again.  He is not saying that.  He is not saying that there will never be a case where it may be months, or even years before the Gospel takes root in the life of a person that you are pouring your life into, for the sake of Christ.

      But He is saying, that there will be times, sad times, but times indeed, when we will have to take care not to put the gospel in the position of being rejected by a hard hearted sinner.  And the Lord Jesus and His disciples themselves give us examples in their teaching and in their lives of this truth and practice.  You may want to turn with me, for instance, to Matthew chapter 10.  You will remember that in that passage, the Lord Jesus explicitly sent His disciples out and He tells them in verses 14 and 15 this: “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off of your feet.  Truly I say to you, that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment for that city.”  The Lord Jesus is saying, look, you preach the gospel in that city, and if it is rejected, you don’t hang around to preach it again, you simply shake the dust off of your feet in judgment against that city, because it has rejected the gospel and you move on to the next town.  There are only so many of us.  There is only so much time and the fields are white for harvest and you can’t stay around.  And judgment will come for those in that city who have rejected me. 

      Notice also in Acts chapter 13, and you may want to look at that passage,  in Acts chapter 13, beginning in verse 44 and running down through verse 51, the apostle Paul and Barnabas in their mission team have gone into a city and the Gentiles of that city respond to the gospel, but the Jewish folk of that city, respond against the Gospel.  In fact, they try and drum up a persecution against Paul and his team and so Paul tells them, in verse 46, “it was necessary that the Word of God be spoken to you, but since you repudiated and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles.”  And then we are told in verses 50 and 51, that Paul and Barnabas shake the dust off of their feet and they move on to the next city because of the wickedness of those who have spurned the Gospel.  We see in practice this horrible, horrible frightening thing that when a heart is hardened against the Gospel, there is no guarantee that that heart will have the right and the privilege of hearing the Gospel preached again. 

      One of the most terrifying passages about this in the New Testament is found in the Gospel of Luke.  I would ask you to turn with me there.  In Luke chapter 23, our Lord Himself gives us an example of how this principle works.  You remember in Luke 23, there is recorded among other things, Jesus’ trial before the Gentile, the Roman Pilate and Jesus’ trial before Herod Antipas.  In Luke 23, verse 3, we are given a sampling of Pilate’s questioning of Jesus.  Now Pilate was a Gentile.  He had not been reared on the Old Testament.  He had not been reared on the glories of the Jewish religion.  He had not had, as so many other leaders in Palestine had had, opportunity after opportunity to hear the words of the prophets and of the books of Moses to be read and expounded.  He was a Gentile.  He was a Roman.  And when He questions the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 23, verse 3, isn’t it interesting that we read, “Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are the king of the Jews?’  And He answered him and He said, ‘It is as you say.’”  Now that is only one exchange between Pilate and Jesus, but notice Jesus is willing to answer Pilate.  Pilate is ignorant.  Pilate knows nothing.  Pilate has no background of the Gospel.  He knows nothing about it.  And the Lord Jesus Christ is willing to answer his questions.  Pilate, we gather, was no softhearted man, but at least he wasn’t openly deriding what the Lord Jesus said.  He was really wanting to hear some answers to certain questions.  In the end, he was hardened, we know.  But he was wanting to know some answer to certain questions.  And the Lord Jesus kindly gives him answers. 

      But look down at verse 9, this is one of the most terrifying verses in all of the New Testament.  We read in verse 9, of Herod Antipas.  And he questioned Jesus at some length, but Jesus answered him nothing.  No word of grace from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.  Herod, who had heard over and over and over the truth of the Gospel.  We know that from Mark 6:20.  Herod had heard the Gospel.  Herod had heard the preaching of John.  He had heard the preaching of the disciples.  He knew the message of the kingdom and his heart was hard.  He was curious, but he was a hardhearted man.  And the Lord Jesus Christ refused to open His mouth to him.  Oh, I hope there is no one today, who is so hard hearted, that the Lord Jesus would not open His mouth in grace to change a heart, to turn you to Himself.  And so we find in this a warning, my friends.  We find in this word of the Lord Jesus Christ, do not give what is holy to dogs, do not throw you pearl before swine, we find a word of warning.  We must guard against a number of things.

      First of all, my friends, we must guard against giving comfort to those who are actually without hope.  It is a tempting thing when a person is facing grief and difficulty to give them comfort despite the fact that they have not embraced the Gospel.  It is especially tempting to do that in a hospital and at a funeral.  And we must not give hope where there is no ground for hope, lest we become like the false prophets who cried peace, peace where there is no peace.  And there are many churchmen worldwide who prostitute the Gospel by pronouncing God’s blessings on everyone apart from their saving relation with Him.  We must beware giving comfort where there is no ground for hope and comfort.

      Notice also, my friends, that we must be careful of giving ourselves in relationships to those who obstinately refuse the gospel.  I speak especially to the young folk present, the student, the high school students, and the college students, and university students, the graduate students.  Do not give yourselves in relationships with those who are opposed to the gospel.  With those who have not embraced Christ.  With those who are not your spiritual kin.  In dating relationships, in courtships, in certainly the relationship of being  engaged and the relationship of marriage, we cannot give ourselves to those who are not our kin in the gospel.  It is a recipe for spiritual disaster which will last a lifetime and perhaps an eternity. 

      And we must take care that we do not think that all will respond to the gospel alike.  This is one of the great messages of Jesus’ words in this verse.  Sinclair Ferguson has said, “One of the lessons that we need to learn is to live with the cost of our message being rejected.”  While that is heart breaking, we are taught in scripture that it will happen.  Forewarned is forearmed.  We are not taken by surprise by rejecters of the gospel.  We do not mindlessly continue to offer Christ to people irrespective of their response.  Frightening words, but they are words in conjunction and in corroboration of what the Lord Jesus has said here. 

      We must, of course, be careful not to change the gospel, in order to make it more palatable for those who are rejecting it.  C.H. Spurgeon said a hundred years ago, “Our job is to feed sheep, not to amuse goats.”  It is not our purpose to make the gospel more palatable for men.  Dorothy Sayers told us fifty years ago that “The church’s job is to not to conform Christ to men, but men to Christ.”  We do not change that gospel so that more will respond to it.  We preach the true gospel and we pray that all will come but we refuse to change our method or our message simply for the sake of making the gospel more attractive or palatable or popular or successful. 

      The Lord Jesus’ words are hard, but they are words that are good for our souls, these words ask us to consider how our hearts are before the Lord.  Are we tender towards Him?  Or are we indifferent?  And they remind us that as we speak and as we live, there will be some who reject the truth, but there will be others who embrace that truth, and with them, we may rejoice.  Let us look to the Lord in prayer. 

Our Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment, receive our praise for you are the holy one, and we would be even as You are.  For, we ask it in Jesus’ name,  Amen.

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