Pearls before swine
The most precious of jewels and the filthiest of animals are combined into a single memorable phrase:
“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)
There are people who, at some point, prove themselves unworthy recipients of our “pearls”. To continue to engage them is foolishness and counter-productive.
There are two things to note about this. The first is that Jesus is speaking against any masochistic desire in His disciples to provoke their own persecution. He has already warned us that we will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-12). But we are not to invite it. When hearers of the gospel turn nasty there can be a perverse pleasure in baring our necks and martyring ourselves. But being persecuted is not the point. The point is spreading the gospel which is as precious as pearls. And so Jesus counsels later in Matthew:
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” (Matthew 10:14)
There comes a time when we close our mouths, stop preaching and move on. And so we should pray for wisdom, asking the Father that we would know when to “let our light shine” and when to stop casting pearls and start “shaking the dust off our feet.”
That is the obvious implication of Christ’s teaching. But there’s a surprising point to note also. Consider for a moment who are the “swine”. In the context, there is only one enemy which Jesus warns against – the religious. Jesus has been preaching against the hypocrites throughout the sermon and particularly through Matthew chapter 6. It is the judgemental and hypocritical religious who will be threatened by the gospel of Jesus. The grace of Christ demolishes their self-righteousness and pride and, in the context of the sermon, they will be the ones to “turn again and rend” the disciples.
The Apostle Paul found this truth playing out again and again. Whenever he came to a new place, he would go to the synagogue first (Acts 17:2). There he would declare the good news that the Messiah for Whom they had waited had come and His name was Jesus. All was fulfilled, the shadows have given way to reality, rejoice!
Yet, almost universally, he would find them turning on him to tear him to pieces, sometimes literally. Therefore he would often make speeches like this one in Acts 18:
“Paul… testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:5-6)
The pearl was the gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ. But the swine who tore him to pieces were not the immoral and irreligious. They were the most moral, the most religious. They were the very people of the Messiah. Obviously not all of them. Paul himself was Jewish and he was “clean.” Yet through rejecting the Christ, these so-called keepers of the faith have become unclean. And Paul will go to the Gentiles.
Ironically the synagogue would have considered the Gentiles to be the dogs – they were the unclean ones. But Paul stops arguing with them and simply takes the pearls of eternal life and casts them before those who will receive. And the moralists are left in the pig-sty of their Christless piety.
Clean and unclean is not a matter of birth-rite, not a matter of nationality or religious fervour. Whether we are clean or unclean hinges on one question: will we receive Jesus?