Life Upside Down
Trampling Holy Pearls
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.
As I have said before, it is very easy to take little snippets of the Sermon on the Mount out of their context and completely miss what Jesus is trying to teach us. What is this about dogs, hogs, holy things, and pearls about? Well, let’s look at our context again. The Sermon on the Mount addresses many different topics as it relates to the heart of the believer. For instance: In Matthew 5 Jesus talks about divorce. Jesus confronts the teaching of the Pharisees that says you can divorce for any reason . . . as long as you get the paperwork done. Jesus clearly tells us that unrighteous divorce leads to adulterous relationships. You see, the self-righteous mindset of the Pharisees teachings led people into sin. Their teaching twisted what God’s Law said to suit their own desires. Jesus says that the Scribes and Pharisees have taught you this, but this is what a heart that loves God looks like.
Another example is found in Matthew 6 where Jesus warns us about praying with empty phrases that are heaped up to God with many words. Then Jesus gives us the “Lord’s Prayer.” This is a pattern prayer given to us as a model or framework for praying. Many today have it memorized this pattern prayer and recite it repeatedly without any heart or meaning in what they are praying. It becomes a rote repetition with no meaning. When this is done, we rip the Lord’s prayer right out of the context of His sermon that warns us about empty prayers. Again, it is about the heart and motivation of prayer. To be seen by others or heard by God.
Jesus talked about our treasures and where our heart is when it comes to the things of this world. How that where our heart is . . . there we find our treasure and where our treasure is, there we find our master. We even find that anxiousness is the result of what our trust is in. Do we trust God with our lives? Again, it is a matter of the heart and where we place our trust.
Last week, we talked about judging one another. Some of us want to take this snippet of Jesus’ Sermon out of context and say we are never going to say anything to anyone ever again about sin in their lives. When in reality, Jesus is saying just the opposite. We should help to remove the splinters of sin from the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but first we need to examine our own heart and our motivations; need to remove the beam that restricts our vision. In other words, we are to judge, but use righteous judgment and not use condemning judgmentalism. Jesus is not teaching us to cease using righteous judgment. Just don’t allow the beam of self-righteous judgment to block our vision. This is just a small sampling of all we have talked about so far in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.
This context must be kept in mind in order to understand the meaning of what Jesus says here in Matthew 7:6. You see, the Scribes were the ones who copied the law and they spent much time interpreting God’s Law. The Pharisees were the ones who made sure people knew how to keep the Law according to all the traditions that were handed down through the years. But through time it became a matter of doing the Law according to all the man-made traditions. In many cases, they twisted the Law’s meaning in order to fulfill their own selfish purposes. This was actually the greatest degree of disrespect that could have been shown for God’s Law. From God’s perspective, they were just throwing the Law in the mud and trampling on it. They were taking what was to be holy to the Lord and giving it to people who were vicious toward it. Let’s talk about these illustrations Jesus uses in Matthew 7:6.
Dogs and Hogs
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.”
In our culture, we lose the impact of what Jesus is saying about dogs. We refer to our dogs as “man’s best friend.” We love how they act, we feed them, we give them treats, we bathe them, we take them to the doctor for regular check ups, etc. We think pretty highly of our dogs. We have a dog named Calie and she is very much a part of our family. Even when we are gone, Calie has another trusted family that loves her dearly at the Bogue residence. But my point is simply that . . . we love our dogs for the most part.
This was not the case in Israel during the days of Jesus and even for the most part today, dogs are hated or at the very least shunned. They were not kept as household pets. Some might use them for help with sheep, or possible a small dog to help keep rodents down, but even that was rare. For the most part, dogs roamed in packs and were mean, dirty, and diseased animals that would kill small animals. There are two words used for dogs in the New Testament. κυνάριον kunarion is a little dog. Matthew 15 talks about the little dog being allowed to eat the crumbs from below a table. The other word for dogs in the New Testament is κύων kuon which refers to a larger dog that you would never allow near any table or children. This is the word Jesus uses. It is a wild, mean, junkyard dog that you do not want near you.
Moses and Malachi illustration
This kind of dog is used in the Bible to characterize certain people. People who oppose God and seem to come after us as believers like a vicious wild dog.
Psalm 22:16, 20
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet-- . . . 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!
Paul refers to those who oppose the ministry of the Gospel as dogs.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
So, the use of the term “dogs’ is not anything good in our passage. The other illustration Jesus uses is pigs. For the Jewish person, pigs were forbidden. They were unclean according to the Law and before God pronounced all animals as clean in Peter’s vision in Acts 10, they were not eaten as food. Pigs eats anything. It doesn’t matter if it is good food, spoiled food, or whatever, pigs seem to eat it. Often, they are a picture of those who do not discriminate between good and evil. There is only one other place that dogs and pigs are used together illustrating people in a bad way. In 2 Peter 2:22, Peter talks about people who have heard the saving message of salvation, seem to receive it, but turn back to their former way of life.
2 Peter 2:22
22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire."
So, based on what we know from other passages of Scripture, I would suggest that the word “dogs” refers to people who are hardened in their sin and are hostile toward anyone who would seek to deliver them from it. When God’s grace is shown to them, they growl and bite at the one showing it to them. Similarly, the “pig” illustrates someone who does not care whether something is good or evil, whether it is holy or not. They do not care about the spiritual value of things. These two animals put together in this illustration indicate the serious nature of what Jesus is trying to tell us. But before we come to any conclusion about what Jesus is trying to tell us, let’s talk about the other two illustrations.
The Holy and Pearls
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.”
Think about this for a moment. What might have come into the mind of a Jewish person when Jesus talks about something that is “holy?” Certainly, there are many things that the Jews understood as holy. The Law was holy, the Temple was holy, the instruments used in the temple were consecrated as holy, individuals were anointed as holy to the Lord to serve in the Temple, sacrifices were considered holy, altars were holy, and there are many more things that might come to mind. But all of these relate back to a relationship with God. When something is considered holy, it is consecrated or set apart for God or for service to God. Thus, when Jesus refers to that which is holy, people would have certainly thought about something that was set apart for God especially as it relates to their relationship with God.
What about pearls? What does Jesus mean with the illustration of pearls? What did the people listening to Him think about when He mentions pearls? Pearls were always considered valuable in Scripture. In Matthew 13, Jesus uses the pearl to picture the great worth of being a part of the kingdom heaven. A person sold all that they had to obtain this great pearl of inestimable value, the kingdom of Heaven.
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
I see the pearl in Matthew 13 as the truth of how to be a part of God’s heavenly Kingdom. It seems to me that when the pearl is obtained, it is a picture of when we come to know God in salvation and begin living our lives in His Kingdom. As we learn and grow in our relationship with God through the truths of Scripture, those truths become our pearls for life in the kingdom. We learn to love and live in this covenant relationship with God. Also, as believers we have these pearls of truth to help others who are seeking God’s kingdom.
Certainly, the relationship a Jewish person has with God would be like a pearl of great value. The covenant relationship established with God at Mount Sinai could be described as a pearl of great worth because it was through that covenant that they entered into a relationship with God. I find it interesting that according to Revelation 22, the twelve gates that allow entrance into the New Jerusalem are made of pearl. Could it be that the entrance to our heavenly home is a continual reminder of how we got there? It is by acceptance of these truths of the covenant relationship with God, whether the new or old covenant, that we are able to have a relationship with God and enter the heavenly city.
So, I believe that these two illustrations, the holy and pearls indicate something of great value that is set part as holy and entrusted to us. Why do I say it is entrusted to us? Because Jesus tells us not give or throw this very valuable commodity out to the dogs or the pigs. We evidently control what happens to the holy and the pearl. It is something that is entrusted to us. Thus, it is important what we do with it.
Now, many scholars see this as the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. That we are entrusted with the sacred truths of the Gospel. That we are not to cast the pearls of the Gospel to people who are hardened and vicious toward it, the dogs and the hogs. But I struggle with that understanding of this passage for two reasons. First, we are to give the message of God’s saving grace to everyone we can, whether they are hostile toward it or seemingly unworthy of hearing it. Second, I struggle with this understanding in light of the context.
Keep in mind that Jesus is teaching the people on the hillside of Galilee about living out their faith from a heart that is in love with God, not from a heart of living according to the letter of the Law that they might earn a right standing with God. Jesus tells us that He did not come to abolish the Law because the Law gives us a picture of God’s character and how we live and interact with Him. Rather, Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God is in human form. Thus, the Law and all we know about God through it, is holy and of inestimable value to us. When people treat God’s Law and their relationship with Him as a set of rules to make one’s self right with God, it is as though they are casting what is holy and of inestimable value to dogs and hogs. What is the result?
lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
When people try to live according to the Law, the version of the Law of the Scribes and Pharisee had created, they are casting this most holy and valuable relationship to people who are spiritually hardened and treat the Law as though it has no value. The Scribes and Pharisees were trampling the holy Law with their definitions of the Law and turning to attack people who did not obey their version of it.
Think back with me for a moment. God gave this covenant relationship with His people at Mount Sinai. It is a covenant between God and His people. They loved God and agreed to the covenant of the Law. This is the holy covenant, the priceless pearl, of their relationship with God. It is how they knew and how they understood the very character of God and their relation to Him. Their commitment to God was heart felt. They loved the God who delivered them from Egypt. I see this as the holy and the pearl that Jesus uses in this illustration.
As time went on, the religious leaders began to define what obedience to the Law should look like . . . instead of relying on obedience from the heart out of love for God. For instance, since you are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath, and walking could be considered working, they set a distance you could travel on the Sabbath and still be in obedience to the Law. Because of things like this, over time, the Law became a list of do’s and don’ts. The holiness and pricelessness of a relationship with God from a heart that loves God was turned into methodical practices of self-righteousness. When people practiced the Law in this heartless way, they were casting the most holy and valuable aspect of their relationship with God to spiritually hardened and undiscerning people who trample the beauty of it and attack them for not outwardly obeying their version of it. This is how I understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:6.
When I make application of this to my life, I find some powerful truths that I need to keep and understand. My relationship with Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father is holy and of inestimable value. My relationship with Him should be lived out from not just a new covenant relationship I have with Him, but a heart of love for Him. When I begin living my life according to a set of rules that somehow portrays a pious religiosity, it is as though I am casting what is holy and of great value, my relationship with God, in the mud and those who have no discernment or are spiritually hardened will trample my faith and attack me for it.
We have many in our world who see Christianity as a hypocritical faith. In many cases, the world is right. When we say we have faith, attend church ritually, serve the Lord looking for self-glorification among others, and yet our heart is far from God, we are throwing our pearls in the mud and the dogs and hogs will attack us for being hypocritical.
Jesus wants us to live for Him from a pure heart. A heart the loves God supremely and everything we do comes from that relationship. Then it no longer about being judgmental of those who sin, but rather such an impassioned love that we yearn to see the splinters of sin removed from our brothers and sisters in Christ in restoration. Its no longer about anxiety over the things of life, but such a deep trust in God that we leave the results to Him. Its no longer about whether someone sees us attend church, knows that we give in the offering, or that we serve in some capacity, rather its about the joyous relationship we have with our God. Its no longer about taking oaths, but the character of truth is natural to our being.
We are entrusted with a relationship with God where we put Him on display daily. Don’t cast your pearl, that which is holy in the mud for those who are spiritually hardened to attack us. Let your light shine from a heart that loves God supremely!