The Challenge Of Defending Our Faith–Pigs & Pearls
The New Testament is full of admonishments for Christ’s followers to share the good news of the gospel with the world and to be ready to defend their faith to unbelievers. But there’s another warning in Matthew 7:6 for Christ’s followers to not cast their pearls before swine who would trample underfoot the word of God.
And it’s that warning that I think it would be good for us to talk about.
In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus gives instructions in how we should go about correcting our brothers and sisters who are in error. Immediately following that teaching Jesus tells us in 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.
There are some who make the argument that our pearls are anything that we have of great value (our time or energy, for example) and I certainly wouldn’t argue that point much. But in context of Matthew 7:1-6 it seems to me that Jesus is specifically talking about His teachings. The context seems to say that we should correct our own lives, then correct our brothers’ shortcomings….unless they’re just going to trample God’s word underfoot and then turn to attack us as well.
Regardless of what you interpret the “pearls” to be, it’s clear that they’re something of great value to us, and it would be safe to conclude that the pearls signify something spiritual as well. Jesus relates the parable of the pearl of great price to us in Matthew 13:45-46 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. The valuable pearl is used to signify that the kingdom of Heaven, which we should forsake all of our earthly treasures to obtain.
If we agree that our “pearls” are the word of God, that thing that we hold so valuable to us, we need to also recognize that we’ve been entrusted to share those pearls with the world.
Jude 1:3-4—Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 4:1-2—I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
1 Peter 3:13-15—Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness ‘sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,….
But do we sometimes tend to think that the best defense (1 Peter 3) is a good offense? Do we go full on with the rebuking, but not so much with the patience (1 Timothy 4)? Do we see “contending for the faith” as a command to head into the boxing ring of faith to duke it out with everyone who doesn’t agree with us (Jude 1)?
Maybe you haven’t. But I know that I have. And it was wrong.
But in obeying the commands given to us to share the gospel, how do we also heed the warning given in Matthew 7:6 to be wary of those swine who would trample God’s word underfoot and then turn and attack us?
I think there are three things that we need to acknowledge in order to heed the warnings of Matthew 7:6.
1) We need to recognize that this warning is real.
Christ didn’t merely suggest that there are vague, unidentified dangerous people in the world. He explicitly told us who the dangerous people were, that they would hurt us, and that we should avoid them. In fact, he used the analogy of “swine” to show just how much we should avoid them. The Jewish audience Jesus was speaking to were familiar with the command of Deuteronomy 14:8, which told the Israelites to not only abstain from eating pork but to not even touch the carcass of a pig. There is nothing mild about the warning given in Matthew 7:6 and we need to realize that it’s not just a suggestion, but a command from Jesus in how we are to handle His word.
2) We need to acknowledge that it’s not acceptable to ignore one command given to us in order to obey another.
It seems to me that since it’s so hard to discern who exactly the swine are that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:6 that we have a tendency to just ignore the passage completely. We don’t want to run afoul of passages like Jude 1:3-4, 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 1 Peter 3:13-15 so we choose to just keep throwing our pearls before everyone, without any determination of how “swine-y” they might be.
But let’s not forget that Jesus described His teachings as pearls, entrusted to us to be treasured above all else. And that He’s told us how to handle those pearls.
We can’t just blatantly choose to ignore a command from our Lord and at the same time claim that His word is as precious as pearls to us. If His word really is as precious as pearls to us, we’ll take care to heed all of it’s teachings.
3) We need to recognize who the swine are.
So this is obviously the tricky part. Or at least it seems that way to me. How do we distinguish the swine that would trample the word underfoot and the world who we’re commanded to share it with?
Well I think it’d be best to let the Bible be it’s own best commentary. And in Matthew 7:6 Jesus tells us who the swine are. Jesus identifies the swine as those people who attack the word of God when it is presented to them. They abuse it, defile it and destroy it. And when they’re done, they turn and attack the one who gave it to them.
Have you ever met someone so filled filled with hate, scorn and disgust for God’s word that they would not only ignore or disregard it, but would attack it?
I have met people like that. If you haven’t, that’s good and I hope that you never do. But until you’ve experienced the anger of what I can only describe as “militant” sinners, you probably won’t understand what they’re like. What I mean by militant sinners are those people that not only sin, but those people who march, demonstrate, protest and demand that you not only let them sin, but that you accept their sin. These people are so wrapped up in their own pride that they refuse to accept any notion of absolute right and wrong, a standard of moral purity or the idea that they’ll one day be held accountable to God for their actions. And those people will degrade, attack and demean the word of God and then turn on His disciples with violence.
These people are real. The threat is real. And we need to heed Jesus’ warning about them.
It might be helpful to identify who the swine are not….
- The “swine” ARE NOT those people who simply ignore God’s word. The swine in Matthew 7:6 didn’t ignore God’s word, they attacked and destroyed it.
- The swine ARE NOT those people who simply disagree with you. There are many people in this world who may disagree with me on matters of faith, but I’d never consider them the “swine” of Matthew 7:6. In fact, I think they’re just the opposite. Someone who looks into God’s word and after careful study comes to a different conclusion than I do isn’t trampling underfoot the word of God, they’re trying their best to treat it as the precious pearl that it is.
- Even those people who listen to the teachings of the Bible and reject them aren’t the “swine”, in my opinion. People can reject the word of God for many reasons, but until they begin to attack the word and the Lord’s disciples, they are not the swine of Matthew 7:6.
Who the swine are will change over time. Maybe even conversation to conversation.
We need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of just dismissing people as “swine”. In fact, it seems to me that if we say that the word of God can’t EVER prick the heart of a particular person, no matter how bad they might seem, we’re putting limitations on the word that just don’t exist.
When people attack the word of God and then turn to attack us as well, Jesus warns us that we’re in danger and should not cast our pearls before them. But when those same people are willing to listen to God’s word, when they’re willing to consider it or ignore it or even reject it–without attacking the word or the messenger–then those people are no longer acting like the swine of Matthew 7:6 and the warning and instruction given there doesn’t apply to them anymore.
Trying to rebuke, reprove and exhort those who would attack us and attack God’s word is dangerous. If it weren’t dangerous, we wouldn’t have received a warning from Jesus to avoid those people. And it can certainly be a challenge to our faith.
But that doesn’t mean that we give up on those people. In fact, it’s those people that we should be praying for the most, that something in their lives and hearts would change so that they’d be willing to accept God’s word.
The (fair) question is then asked, “What about going and preaching to lost souls in the Middle East, where it’s physically dangerous for Christians to preach?” I think that answer is simple….. If I go to the Middle East and preach the gospel and convert lost souls to Christ, and along the way am injured or killed by others who hear me-I didn’t cast my pearls before swine. I cast my pearls on good and fertile ground and suffered persecution because of it. Jesus isn’t telling us in Matthew 7:6 to avoid any situation that could ever result in danger or persecution. He’s telling us that we should be wary of taking what is most precious to us and engaging those people who we know will violently reject us. That, to me, is the plain language of the text and in no way contradicts the other teachings of the New Testament.
In fact, this is the same warning that Jesus heeded himself in Matthew 16:1-4. In the previous chapter Jesus had cast out a demon, miraculously healed the sick and then fed over 4,000 people with just seven loaves and a few fish. In Matthew 16 the Pharisees and Sadducees challenged Jesus to perform more miracles, in an effort to find fault with him. Jesus knew that they were only testing him and that the miracles he performed wouldn’t change their hearts. And Jesus refused to perform more miracles for them. I think this is a perfect example of not casting pearls before swine. The pearls (miracles) would have been disregarded, attacked, and the Pharisees and Sadducees only had interest in attacking Christ himself.
The warning of Matthew 7:6 is a real one, and a command that we must follow as we strive to teach others. Jesus gave us an example of how to implement the teaching Himself and we’d do well to heed it.
Matthew 7:6 is a very misunderstood passage…. Jesus isn’t telling us to pass judgment on anyone as unworthy of the gospel, or incapable of being saved. And He’s not telling us to stop spreading His word. He’s giving us a fair warning of the dangers of this world, similar to what he gave his disciples in Matthew 10:16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We need to take the word of God to a lost world around us. But we need to use discernment along the way.