"Dogs and Hogs"
(Delivered Sunday, April 3, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we continue our study of the Lord's Sermon on The Mount. And as we do, we come to a verse that - to the minds of many - seems very much out of place. There is much in the Sermon on the Mount that is beautiful and universally appealing. But then, when they come to this verse, many find its words to be shocking and ugly. They sound so "judgmental".
And yet, on closer examination, these words are very much in place in Jesus' Sermon. They are clearly in keeping with His teaching elsewhere in the scripture. And what's more, they are very much what we needed to hear from our Lord in order to keep our obedience to His instructions in proper balance.
Let me share these words with you in their context; and I believe you'll see that this is so. First, Jesus warns us against being "judgmental". In Matthew 7:1-5, He says,
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why to you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck fro your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
Jesus is not teaching us here to cease from using good judgment when it comes to the behavior of others. Rather, He is teaching us not to be "judgmental" in a sinful way. First, Jesus warns us against setting up our own standards of measurement by which we might judge other people, and then condemn them on the basis of our judgment. And then, He warns us against ignoring our own faults while hypocritically presuming to take care of the faults of others.
That kind of "judging" is sinful. But out of a desire to avoid this sin, there's always the danger that we might go too far the other way. We might become morally "wishy-washy"; and refuse to make legitimate distinctions between those who are in truth and those who are in error, or between those who walk in righteousness and those who do evil. Out of a desire to avoid being judgmental, we may fall into the trap of treating all people as if they were the same in the eyes of God - when the Bible clearly teaches us that, from the standpoint of the gospel, they are not.
And so, to keep us in balance, Jesus then goes on to give this command to His disciples:
"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces" (v. 6).
Verse 6, teaches us that, just as it is true that not everyone is qualified to be a reprover of someone else's sin, not everyone who sins is wise or safe to reprove. Verses six keeps the instruction of verses 1-5 in balance. You could put it this way; verses 1-5 teach us not to be "judgmental" in the way we deal with others, but verse 6 warns us not to become "judgment-less" in the process.
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Let's look at this little verse in greater detail. And let's begin by noticing something very wonderful and exciting that it affirms. It's easy to become so shocked by the seeming negative tone of this verse, that we fail to see the positive. And the positive thing it affirms is . . .
1. THE GREAT VALUE OF THE THINGS WE HAVE IN CHRIST.
Jesus uses two metaphors to describe what it is that has been entrusted to us. The first is "what is holy". In the original language, the phrase uses a definite article; making it mean "the holy (thing)".
What is this "holy" thing? My suspicion is that a Jewish person who first heard these words would have thought immediately of the holy offering given in sacrifice to God upon the altar. In the Old Testament, these offerings were to be handled very carefully and reverently. The altar on which these things were offered was called "most holy" (Exodus 29:37; 40:10). The utensils used to offer them on the altar were called "most holy" (Exodus 30:28-29). And certainly, the offerings themselves were called "most holy" (Lev. 2:3. 10; 6:17, 25; 7:1; 14:13; 27:8). For this reason, if the offering was to be eaten, it was to be eaten only by the priests (Lev. 6:29) and in a holy place (Lev. 7:6; 10:12. 17. 24:9). If any of it was left over by the third day of its being offered, it was to be completely burned on the altar with fire (Lev. 7:16-18). Nothing was to be allowed to last past the third day lest it be treated in a common way; because it was "most holy".
To the Jewish person who heard Jesus, the meat offered to God upon the altar in the temple would have been thought of as "the holy" thing. And to take "what is holy" in this sense, and throw it to the dogs as if it were a common thing, would be an act of unspeakable inappropriateness. It would display a sinful lack of discernment - a failure to discriminate between what is holy and what is common. Only those things that were utterly unfit for the man or woman of God would be thrown to the dogs (Exodus 22:31) - but certainly not the holy thing that was offering on the altar!
And so, when Jesus speaks of "what is holy", He is clearly speaking of something greater than simply how the meat on the altar is to be honored. This "holy thing" is serving as a metaphor for something that was a very sacred and honored thing to be entrusted with. But what exactly is this "holy thing" meant to illustrate to us? One answer is that it should be seen in the context of verses 1-5. In that case, it would symbolize the sincere effort to rebuke a sin in a brother - doing the very holy work of helping a brother with the 'speck' in his own eye - once the 'board' is removed from our own, of course.
Now; I certainly believe that's included in the idea of "the holy". But I believe our Lord's intention is much broader than just that. I notice that, in the original language of the New Testament, the very same phrase used here - "the holy" - is one that's used to describe our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter once rebuked the the Jewish people in the temple by telling them that they had delivered up Jesus to be crucified; saying, ". . . You have denied the Holy One [literally, "the Holy"] and the Just . . ." (Acts 3:14). And so, I would suggest that when Jesus speaks here of "the holy thing", He's making a general reference to anything that has to do with Him who is our Savior and our great sacrifice for sin - whether it be the truth of His gospel, or the teachings concerning Him from the Scriptures, or the things God does to lead us to worshiping Him and serving Him, or even the desire to lovingly remove a speck from a brother's eye in Christ's name. It is ALL to be treated as a very sacred and honored thing to be entrusted with. It is all to be, as it were, engraved with the title, "HOLINESS TO THE LORD" (Zech. 14:20).
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And Jesus uses another metaphor to describe what has been entrusted to us. He speaks of this trust as "pearls".
Pearls in the Bible are symbolic of something of very great and precious value. Jesus once told a parable using a pearl. He said, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46). I believe that this 'parable of the pearl' is meant to illustrate that those who truly belong to His kingdom seek out the truths of His kingdom; and who value those truths greatly as that which will lead them to eternal blessings.
Before speaking this parable to them, Jesus' disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables to the people of the world. Those parables, it seemed, only confused those who didn't believe in Him. And He said to them,
"Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says [here quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10]; 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.' But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matthew 13:11-17).
Did you notice what was given to the disciples? It had been given to them "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." Such knowledge is not a product of human study. It's ultimately a privileged gift of God's grace. And so, I believe that the "pearl of great price" in Jesus' parable is meant to be understood in the light of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" that it has been our privilege to be granted to know. And in that light, isn't it interesting that one of the features of the New Jerusalem that we're shown in the book of The Revelation is that the twelve gates to the city - gates through which one must pass to enter in - are made of twelve enormous pearls (Rev. 21:12, 21)?
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Now admittedly, this verse doesn't clearly say what these things that Jesus speaks of are. We're left to try to understand His meaning by looking elsewhere in the scriptures. And personally, I suspect that He intended for the meaning of these things to be broad. But given what we've seen so far, I'd like to suggest to you that "the holy thing" is to be understood as the sacred trust of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is our great "offering" - "most holy" before the Lord. And the precious "pearls" that have been entrusted to us are to be understood as symbolic of the precious "mysteries" of the kingdom that have been revealed to us in the teaching of our Lord and of His apostles, as they are contained for us in the pages of scripture.
That's my best effort to interpret these things. And whether you agree with my interpretation in every detail or not; what I DO hope to impress on you, dear brother or sister in Christ, is just how wonderfully precious the things are that have been given to you by Christ! You have been made a steward on this earth of some things that exceed all the earth in value! You have not been redeemed, as the Bible tells us, "with corruptible things, like silver and gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19); and you carry the precious message of this redemption with you wherever you go. You bear with you the truths of (as the Bible says of itself) "the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). You have been entrusted with that which is "given by inspiration of God and profitable" (v. 16).
And so, don't ever let yourself treat these things lightly, dear brother or sister! Don't ever despise these things that have been entrusted to you by Christ! Don't ever forget how Jesus, your Lord and Master, refers to the things you have been given - speaking of them as that "which is holy", and as "your pearls"! Handle them with the utmost sense of their eternal value - because it is truly a sacred trust that has been given to you!
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That's what Jesus tells us about the great value of the things we have been given. And this leads us to, next, consider what Jesus says about . . .
2. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO SCORN THE THINGS OF CHRIST.
He uses two metaphors to describe them as well. First, He refers to them as "dogs".
There are two Greek words translated "dogs" in the New Testament. One (kunarion) refers to a household pet - such as the "little dogs" that are permitted to eat the children's bread crumbs that fall from the table (Matthew 15:26). But that's not the word Jesus uses in this morning's verse. The kind of dog He speaks of here (kuġn) would not be the kind you would let anywhere near the table of little children! This speaks of the kind of wild, mean, "junk-yard" kind of dog that ran around in packs and growled when you approached it.
A dog of this kind was used as a metaphor for an utterly despicable person (Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 2 Kings 8:3); someone who is utterly reprobate. Revelation speaks of our heavenly home, and says, "But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever love and practices a lie" (Rev. 22:15). This kind of dog was also used to describe those who were viciously opposed to God's call for holy living, and who made themselves the enemies of God's people. The psalms speak of them as if they were gathered together in hostile packs against the godly: "The dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me . . ." (Psalm 22:16); "At evening they return, the growl like a dog, and go all around the city" (Psalm 59:6). Even the apostle Paul used this word to describe those who proved to be dangerous opponents to the ministry of the gospel. He told the Philippian believers, "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!" (Phil. 3:2).
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Another metaphor our Lord uses is that of swine. There are some kinds of dogs in the Bible that were cute and others that were dangerous. But there are no other kinds of pig in the Bible but one.
Pigs were forbidden to the Jewish people as very unclean, and could not be eaten as food (Lev. 11:7; Deut. 14:8). To eat "swine's flesh" was, in scripture, considered an act of great idolatry (Isa. 65:4; 66:22). It's interesting that, when Jesus was about to cast a host of demons out of a man, they requested to be allowed to enter a heard of pigs that were feeding nearby (Matthew 8:30-32). And when the prodigal son of Jesus' parable had hit the absolute rock bottom and was reduced to feeding pigs, he became so hungry that he longed to stick his face in with the other pigs and eat their slop (Luke 15:15-16).
A characteristic of pigs is that they are as undiscriminating as a creature can be. I used to do volunteer work for a food distribution ministry; and they would set some of the most spoiled and rotten food off to the side; and a local farmer would come by and pick it up for his pigs. Pigs will eat anything - good or bad. And I suspect that that's why Jesus used them as a metaphor. They give us a picture of someone who doesn't have the spiritual ability to recognize the value of something that is given to them, and can't discriminate between what is good and what is bad.
This is one of only two places in the Bible in which dogs and pigs are mentioned together. The other mention is found in one of my least favorite verses in the Bible. Peter wrote of those who once hear of the faith, and escape the sinful filth of this world through the knowledge of Christ, but who then wander away from the faith again and return to their former sins. Peter says that it would have been better for such people never to have known the way of righteousness, then having known it to turn away from it. "But it has happened to them according to the true proverb," Peter says: "'A dog returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22). How horrible!
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Now again, given all that has been said, I suggest to you that a dog in our verse this morning is meant to be understood as someone who is utterly hardened in their sin and hostile toward anyone who would seek to call them from it. They represent someone who is viciously opposed to the message of the gospel; and who would, if possible, gather together with others to attack those who proclaim it. When the hand of grace is extended to them by one of God's servants, this kind of "dog" snarls and snaps at it.
And similarly a pig in our verse is meant to be understood as someone who is utterly incapable of differentiating between what is holy and what is common; what is good and what is evil. It speaks of someone who could no more appreciate the precious value of the things of God than a pig could appreciate an expensive and exotic meal prepared by a gourmet chief. They could care less about the real value of something.
Jesus tells us not to put the two things together. Don't give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine. As judgmental as it may seem to some, Jesus is warning us not to be indiscriminate about how we share the precious things of Christ. Much harm comes about when we fail to practice good spiritual discrimination.
And this leads us to His words about . . .
3. THE DANGER OF SHARING THE TREASURES OF CHRIST WITH THOSE WHO SCORN THEM.
Jesus says not to do this for two reasons. The first is, "lest they trample them underfoot . . ." That's a picture of taking the precious things of Christ that are worthy of great honor, and defiling them in a careless and thoughtless manner - and thus bringing even greater condemnation upon themselves. We're to be discriminating in how we share the precious things of Christ, and not allow them to be trampled underfoot by someone who hates them or who can't appreciate the value of them.
And the second thing is, after trampling the precious things of God underfoot, they then "turn and tear you in pieces". Spiritual dogs and hogs don't just defile the precious things of God; they will also try to destroy the one who sought to present them in the first place.
I saw a vivid illustration of this just the other day. There was a man standing on the sidewalk, outside the door of a major bookstore here in town. As people were walking in or walking out, he stood with leaflets to hand to them, and was quoting a scripture passage to them.
Now; I hope you know that I'm very much in favor of sharing the gospel with others. I'm in favor of taking it out to the streets! But I believe it should be done with discernment, and with due respect for the holiness of the things we're trying to tell people. I believe the precious treasures of the gospel should be handled in a very careful way. As I watched this man, I couldn't help feeling that he was distributing the things of God in a very mechanical, half-hazard manner. He didn't care who it was he was talking to; he just shouted scripture to them and thrust gospel leaflets their way.
People would walk by and mock what this man was saying, or just shake their heads and laugh at him. And as they responded to him in this way, he responded to them by condemning them to judgment. Frankly, it was very ugly. You could tell that he felt strongly about the things he was trying to share; but you could also tell that he was distributing those things recklessly to people who had no ability whatsoever to discern the value of the gospel. They dishonored these precious things in the way they received them. And I have to be honest - I even suspected he was a little prideful over the fact of having been 'persecuted'.
I'm not saying that street evangelism shouldn't happen. But I am saying that, in doing it, we need to be sure we're obeying Jesus' command to us: "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." We can do great harm to the cause of Christ when we fail to obey this command.
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I wonder if you have ever noticed the differences in the ways that Jesus spoke to either Pilate or to King Herod. When He stood before Pilate, Pilate asked Him what seemed like sincere questions; and Jesus answered them. Pilate even said, "I find no fault in the Man" (Luke 23:4). Pilate - despite his failings - saw Jesus as an innocent Man and sought to free Him.
But Herod was different. Herod wasn't interested in finding out the truth about Jesus at all. He simply wanted to see Him perform some miracles. He was king over the Jewish people, but he clearly had no sense of who it was that was standing before him. And when he questioned our Lord, the Bible tells us that Jesus answered him nothing. Herod even proved his true character in that He dressed the Lord of glory up in mock robes of royalty, treated Him with contempt, and sent Him back to Pilate.
The great preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed it up this way: "You answer the questions of a Pilate, but you say nothing to a Herod."1
Now, I realize that sounds harsh. It's saying that, in the case of all people, we are to practice good discernment; and in the case of some people, we are not to share the precious things of Christ with them. Some people prove themselves - clearly - to be inclined to mock the things of Christ, and to argue in hardened unbelief with the sacred truths of the faith. And this means - as Jesus' command in this verse indicates - that we should not dishonor the things of Christ by giving them the opportunity.
And lest you think this kind of discrimination is an unbiblical idea, let me share with you some of the examples of it from the Scripture. Proverbs 9:7-9 says, "He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning."
Jesus was once informed that the Pharisees were offended at His teaching. Imagine that - offended at the teaching of the Son of God! And yet, Jesus said, "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:14). Jesus' solution was not to try to correct them for being offended, but to leave them alone in their offense.
Paul handled things in a way that was similar to his Master. On one of his missionary journeys, he and his co-workers sought to preach the gospel to the people of Antioch. And as they did, the Jewish people contradicted them and blasphemed - opposing the things that Paul spoke. Paul and Barnabas responded by saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). And when the Jews then sought to stir up the Gentiles and persuaded them to throw Paul and Barnabas out of town, they "shook off the dust from their feet against them" and went to the next town (v. 50; see also Luke 10:8-12).
On another occasion, when Paul was ministering in Corinth at the synagogue, the Jews were also there. "But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (Acts 18:6). He then departed from the synagogue. (But he didn't go far. He went to the house of a man named Justus - "one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue" - v. 7.)
Paul even wrote to Pastor Titus and said, "But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:9-11). When someone shows themselves to be a "dog" or a "hog", we're to leave off, and not keep laying the precious things of Christ before them.
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These examples simply illustrate for us what Jesus is telling us in this verse. We need to be discerning; and beware of those who would trample the precious things of Christ underfoot, and turn and attack us for proclaiming them. We're not to be judgmental; but neither are we to be judgment-less.
But before we end, let's also remember that this warning never permits us to be rude or unloving toward those who reject the message of the gospel. Nor does it excuse us from proclaiming the gospel to others under the phony excuse, "Why should I? They're all a bunch of dogs and pigs anyway!" Some who were the most vicious in their hatred for the gospel at one time were later given the grace by God to believe. And some of them even went on later to become some of the most bold proclaimers of the gospel themselves. The apostle Paul himself is the greatest example of this.
We should keep all this in balance by remembering that, while we're not to throw the precious things of Christ around in an undescerning way, the witness of a godly life lived in front of those who reject our words can nevertheless still be a powerful witness. We may not always be permitted to 'speak' about Christ to some, but we can always 'show' Christ to them by our lives. And it's in the power of the sovereign God to bring conviction to hardened unbelievers through that life.
Jesus has already given us a command that needs to be kept right along with this one:
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).
1D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in The Sermon on The Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), vol. 2, p. 188.
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