The Expository Files

Pearls and Pigs

Matthew 7:6

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He did that. His faithful disciples also assume the role of servant. They serve God, one another, and those who are lost, and those who are in need and distress. In this materialistic society where self-centeredness is the rule of the day, the Christian is taught to be gracious and compassionate.

Christians have God-given obligations to preach and teach the truth and to help those in need. We are told to be good neighbors, and this is illustrated in the parable of "The Good Samaritan" by a willingness to become involved. We must not take these responsibilities lightly (Romans 1:14; Galatians 6:10).

But, as is usually the case, there is another side to our responsibilities as servants. Sometimes Christians, in their eagerness to be compassionate and Christ-like, fail to recognize that God put limitations on this aspect of our discipleship. It is not always good stewardship to expend the time and energy to teach the truth or to render assistance to those apparently in need of such. In fact, sometimes to do so is poor stewardship and betrays our Lord's trust in us. While we do not want this fact to be used as an excuse to ignore our responsibilities to act, neither do we want to waste the things the Lord has entrusted to us, including our lives and ourselves.

The Principle: Casting Pearls Before Swine

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6).

Of course, these words of Jesus are allegorical. I doubt that any were literally casting pearls before swine. The meaning is pretty simple to figure out; "Do not persist in offering what is sacred or of value to those who have no appreciation for it, because your gift will not only become contaminated and be despised, your generous efforts could also be rebuffed and perhaps even openly attacked."

The "dogs" and "swine" here stand for the unappreciative and worldly; unappreciative and uncaring men and women who belittle the value of what is offered to them. "That which is holy" would be the meat offered in sacrifice to God. A dog could care less whether it came from the altar or the garbage. The swine have no appreciation for either the beauty nor the value of the pearls under their feet.

Your life, time, energy, opportunities and abilities are God's pearls. They're His! You and I are merely His stewards overseeing His possessions (1 Corinthians 6:19,20; 4:1,2; 1 Peter 4:8-11). We must show discernment as to what use we make of God's possessions. It is possible to waste them either by using them when we should not as well as not using them when we should.

Examples of the Principle Applied

"Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain to be by Himself alone." (John 6:15).

Jesus was very popular at this stage of His ministry. The main reason for this is that He had just miraculously fed five thousand plus people. The purpose was twofold; the people were hungry, and Jesus wanted to illustrate the more important spiritual bread, the bread of life, that He was offering them in His teachings.

But the people did not want the bread of life. They wanted more of the physical bread to eat. They began following Him for the wrong reason (vs. 26-27). Jesus offered them spiritual bread, but they did not want that (vs. 40-41). When Jesus refuses to duplicate the earlier miracle, continuing instead to redirect their attention toward the words of life, the people finally lose interest and leave (vs. 66). They were unappreciative of the pearls Jesus was offering them. Jesus simply refused to allow His efforts to be wasted on those who had little interest in His purpose and mission.

On another occasion, those who continued to ignore the implications of His earlier miracles, demanded He provide yet more. They were testing Him and were not really interested in what these signs signified about Jesus' identity. Jesus simply refused their request (Matthew 16:1-4). He was not here to perform for them or to satisfy their curiosity (Luke 23:8,9).

Jesus made it quite clear that His disciples were to move on when a city indicated its lack of interest in the gospel offered it by preachers and teachers (Matthew 10:11-14). Paul continued this practice (Acts 13:44-52; 18:5-7).

What is the disciple to do when someone is in physical need because of a refusal to support himself? Jesus tells us not to cast our pearls before swine, and the application of this would be not to give such a person assistance (2 Thessalonians 3:10,11).

Need For Discernment

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16).

How do we know when to say "yes" or "no"? We need to have wisdom and discernment. But some may use this as an excuse not to act when they really should. Most certainly that is so. Remember, we will all answer to God who knows our hearts. I will stand before Him having made some mistakes in judgment because I cannot read hearts. He knows that. But do not let me stand before Him having selfishly or lazily shirked my duty. He will hold me accountable.

But it may not be as difficult to determine when to offer the pearls of God and when not to do so. Jesus said that even those in the world are capable of making such judgments (Luke 16:8; cf. vss. 8-13). In fact, He says that they sometimes do a better job of it than "the sons of light."

Jesus told us how we can "know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20). We are urged to ask God for wisdom in these and other matters (James 1:5-8). We must realize that sometimes the right thing to do is to say "no" (Philippians 1:8-11). A good steward learns when those times are.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 7.4; April 2000