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In Matthew 7 Jesus said some words that the church (I think) has misused and misunderstood and misapplied over the course of its history.
This is what He said.
Are you ready?
Here you go …
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
One day not too long ago I was mindlessly skimming through my Facebook feed when I abruptly stopped to read those very words that Jesus said in Matthew 7. I saw the words buried within a long comment that someone left on one of my friends status updates, which was a post he made about Jesus and the Gospel and the Bible.
Basically, the guy I’m friends with said that Jesus is the Only Way to Heaven. He posted that as his “status” and (with that) an argument broke out as some people felt the need to disagree with him.
One person posted and said that my friend was closed-minded and stupid. I think he likened him to Donald Trump, which was kind of funny even though I don’t really know what it had to do with anything.
And then my friend responded and said, “well, this is what the Bible teaches.”
And then someone else chimed in and said that my friend was right.
Another guy said my friend was wrong and that the Bible is bogus.
Another guy (this one was my favorite because it’s totally something I would do) posted that picture of Michael Jackson eating popcorn with those meme letters reading, “I’m just here for the comments”.
This one …
Then some other guy jumped in on the fun and told my friend not to worry about people disagreeing with him and that he should take Jesus’ words to heart and “not throw pearls before pigs.”
Because my friend’s Facebook post, apparently, is a “pearl” of wisdom and the guy who didn’t agree with him and thought the Bible was ridiculous is a …
… “pig” ?
God’s Word (and theological Facebook posts) – pearls?
People who disagree – pigs?
This is how the church traditionally understands these words of Jesus and these are the kinds of situations in which Christians typically apply them – that the Good News of the Bible and the Gospel Message of Jesus is a precious pearl and that when we cast it before pigs and people who don’t agree with it, it only presses their hot buttons and causes a fight or argument because …
THEY just don’t understand.
Or THEY aren’t intellectual enough.
Or THEY aren’t enlightened enough.
Or THEY don’t have enough faith.
Or THEY aren’t able put 2 and 2 together and see that the Bible REALLY is true and that Jesus REALLY is the Only Way.
Instead of wasting our time on THOSE pigs, we should throw the pearls of God’s Word towards people who will really appreciate it and understand it.
They won’t trample it.
They won’t throw it aside.
It won’t anger them.
They’ll pick it up.
They’ll treasure it.
They’ll love it.
They’ll listen to it.
They’ll apply it.
They’ll take it to heart.
The Bible is the pearl.
The people who disagree are pigs.
(No wonder some people hate church people so much. Just saying.)
Interesting, I guess, but I don’t think that’s even remotely close to what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7. In fact, I think it’s a massive misuse of His words and kind of a lazy way to apply them to everyday life.
Because Jesus spoke these words in the middle of a sermon (The Sermon on the Mount, which can be found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7) where He was talking about something completely different than the Bible being a pearl and people who don’t agree with it or like it or care about it being pigs.
In fact, in order to really understand what Jesus was talking about we need a little context because His statement about pearls and pigs wasn’t just a random line that He pulled out of thin air and tossed into the ears of His listeners. It’s not like He was just talking about His fantasy baseball team and then randomly said …
“Oh, by the way. Only toss the pearls of my Word before people who will appreciate it. Not those pigs.”
He was already talking about something (a few things, actually) and this statement about pearls and pigs is the capstone or the finishing piece on a much bigger statement that He was making.
Context is everything, guys. I’m learning that more and more and more when I read and study my Bible. I’m kind of at this place in my life where I’m no longer satisfied with a surface-y read of the Bible. Like, I’m no longer satisfied with just opening up my Bible, reading it, and assuming I know what it means.
I’ve done that since I was in 5th grade. I remember when I got my first Bible, I devoured it. It was a white Bible filled with pictures of the Precious Moments characters. I read it and read it and read it and read it. And then I highlighted it with yellow and blue and pink and orange. I found it fascinating. I loved the stories and I loved the parables and I loved the characters.
Can you imagine this? A 5th grade kid sitting in his bedroom late at night reading and studying his Bible like some kind of scholar?
HA! I was even a nerd back then!
Seriously, this is what I did.
And when I read it, I read everything literally.
I read everything through my modern 1994 eyes.
I read everything through my English lenses.
As if Jesus was some dude who lived in 1994, spoke English, had an AOL screen name.
(As did everyone else who had a hand in writing the Bible, of course).
I read it like that through high school, through Bible college, through my Master’s program, and 1 year into my doctorate.
Then something changed. You can read more about that change HERE, but (long story short), I began to realize that there had to be more to this book that I’ve devoted my life to studying.
There HAS to be.
Because the Bible was written by tons of people who lived in different periods of time, under different rulers, within different governments, with different problems, different personalities, different backgrounds, and different amounts of faith and understanding and education. Sometimes they wrote historical documents and other times they wrote poems and allegories and recorded dreams and visions and ideas about the future.
And so to read the Bible as some kind of static document and to read the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 as we would read the latest Harry Potter book or John Grisham novel is to do it and it’s writers a great, great injustice.
And let’s not forget that Jesus was a JEW.
Yes, a JEW.
He wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t a Protestant. He wasn’t a Priest. He wasn’t anything like that. Rather, He was a Jewish Rabbi who was respected by many in His day and hated by even more and (so) to read His words and think about His words apart from that Jewish-ness is to completely misunderstand and therefore misapply His words and ideas and teachings and commands.
SO (with all of that in mind), first we need to realize what the “Sermon on the Mount” was.
In Matthew 5:1 we’re told that …
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them.”
He taught them about how they were salt and light to the world.
He taught them the beatitudes, the attitudes they should have as they live as followers of Him.
(Check out last week’s post HERE to see my thoughts on Beatitude #4)
He taught them about marriage and revenge and giving to the poor.
He taught them about prayer.
He taught them about fasting.
… In other words, He taught them about how they should live their lives as members of God’s Kingdom who are living here on earth.
And then this phrase about pigs and pearls comes towards the end of the sermon (the very beginning of chapter 7) and just before He spoke those words He was talking about 2 very specific things, 2 things that will give us much more context.
ONE: He was encouraging the crowd of people not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34).
You’ve read the passage before, I’m sure, where Jesus tells the people that they shouldn’t worry about their lives because just as God clothes the flowers of the field and makes sure that the birds of the air have a place to land and eat, so He will also take care for you and for me.
“Therefore”, He says …
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Don’t worry about food.
Don’t worry about clothes.
Don’t worry about money.
Don’t worry about bills.
Don’t worry about where you’re going to live.
He was teaching the crowd of people to live their lives as a non-reactionary people. In other words, instead of opening the cabinets and seeing no food or opening the TD Banking App and seeing the funds nearing the end, or listening to the doctor read those terrible words off of his chart … instead of coming across these (and other) circumstances and reacting with …
… Jesus encouraged His listeners to refuse such reactions by staying focused on the One thing in their lives that was constant: God and His promises to care for them.
TWO: He continued by telling those same listeners that they shouldn’t judge other people.
I think it’s SO so interesting that He puts His point about JUDGING directly after His point about WORRYING. Why? Because judging is a form of worrying, isn’t it? When we judge other people we have this feeling inside that we …
HAVE to say something to them.
HAVE to look down on them.
HAVE to shake our head at them.
… Because we can’t stand what they’re doing, we can’t stand that we can’t control them. And so we obsess over them and their life and what they’re doing and how they shoudn’t be doing it anymore.
It’s worry, in a subtle, but powerful form.
Control – maybe that’s what’s at the center of BOTH worrying and judging? Right? Because I worry about things that I can’t control like health and bills and my spouse who hates me and my kids who can’t stand me and my future and the my sick loved one AND I also judge people who I can’t control, people who I can’t change.
She’ll always be like that.
He’s the worst, he’ll never change.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and he’s living proof.
I worry because I can’t control ME and I judge because I can’t control THEM. Jesus talks about these 2 things side by side and back to back because worrying is about me and my life and judging is about them and their life.
There’s a progression, here, isn’t there? Do you see it? It’s like Jesus is leading up to the statement about pearls and pigs, but He’s not ready to blurt it out right away.
It’s like He’s saving it because …
FIRST, we need to talk about worry.
FIRST, we need to talk about anxiety.
FIRST, we need to talk about trusting.
And then …
We need to talk about judging.
We need to talk about how you treat other people.
We need to talk relationships.
Before we talk about pigs and pearls and dogs and trampling, FIRST we need to talk about WORRY and SECOND we need to talk about JUDGING, both of which have to do with CONTROL.
So this statement that He makes about pigs and pearls and dogs has nothing to do with “The Gospel” or “The Bible” or “Christianity” or “Jesus Being The Only Way”. The pearl isn’t the Bible or some deep theological concept. If it was, He would have been speaking about the Torah or the Gospel or the Law or the Good News or dep theological principles or whatever instead of talking about worrying and judging and control.
In other words (all of that to say) I think that the guy on Facebook and the Church (as a whole) have misunderstood the passage.
Let’s look at the idea of throwing pearls at pigs and pigs trampling on the pearls and getting angry all in the context of worry and judging and control.
What happens when you worry?
Typically my intentions are pretty good, right? Like, I don’t worry because I want to be miserable or because I want to obsess or anything like that. Rather, I worry because my mind is trying to fix something that may or may not happen down the road.
I want to fix it.
I want to make it better.
I want to make sure that _________ doesn’t happen.
… And so I worry about it. I think about it. I mull it over and over and over and over again.
My intentions are GOOD.
And how about judging?
Again, my motives are typically pretty good. Judging sounds nasty and harsh and evil and bad, but even on my worst day and in my worst moment, I judge not so much to tear someone down, but because I think that somehow and somewhere and in some way they could be living their life a whole lot better than they are now.
And so I shake my head at them.
I wave my finger at them.
And I tell them and everyone who will listen that one day they’ll see the Light and change their ways.
On the other side of the coin, sometimes I judge others and try to fix them because I’m so frustrated with myself and my inability to make my own life better. And so rather than fix my gaze on my problems, I fix my attention on someone else’s and do everything in my power to make them realize how wrong they are.
(Or maybe that’s just me because I’m sure you probably don’t do that).
What happens when I worry? And what happens when I judge?
When I worry, I end up becoming angry or sad or overwhelmed or depressed or find myself in a rage. Why? Because it’s rare that I can fix anything that I worry about. If I could, why would I worry about it in the first place?
And so my worry and my inability to fix whatever it is that I’m worried about causes me some inner turmoil that causes a deep disruption in my soul.
The same thing happens when I judge someone else, right? Not only do I end up frustrated and ticked off because they won’t change, but they end up just as frustrated and just as ticked off because they find my judging and my harping on them to be annoying, irritating, and pointless.
And pointless is what it really is, isn’t it? It’s all pointless – worrying and judging. It never changes anything, it never makes anything better. We’d all be a whole lot better off if we just gave it up to God in the first place …
If we entrusted ourselves to Him.
If we entrusted others to Him, as well.
And so when Jesus talks about pearls and pigs and dogs, He’s not saying that we shouldn’t toss the precious gems of God’s Word to people who won’t appreciate it. It’s a cute description and I guess it’s kind of true, but that explanation doesn’t really fit in the context of what He was saying.
The point, rather, is that worrying about your life and worrying about other people’s lives is just as pointless as tossing expensive pearls before the feet of wild and mud stained pigs and expecting them to do something great with it. Your worries and your judgements aren’t going to land anywhere good, but are just going to get trampled on by your feet and the feet of others and make everyone involved upset and angry and overwhelmed and sad.
Entrust it all (all of YOUR stuff and all of THEIR stuff) to God, that’s a much better option and a much better way to live as a person of Gods Kingdom.
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