DUNCAN/The justice of the kingdom, Part 2: Dog and swine
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 7:6. In this text the Lord Jesus says that though he has called us not to be hypercritical, he has not called us to be without discernment. Though we must not be overly critical, neither must we fail to distinguish between that which is good, and that which is evil. That which is obstinately against His gospel, and that which is open to His gospel. The Lord Jesus calls us both to be not hypercritical, and to be discerning. The Lord Jesus in this passage is calling us to spiritual discernment. And there are many lessons we could learn from what He teaches here. But I would like to set at least two great truths before you from this one brief verse and passage. First, that Christians must discriminate. And second, Christians must take care to guard the gospel in witness and life.
I. Christians Must Discriminate.
The Lord Jesus teaches here that Christians must discriminate. He says in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Now, “discriminate” is a word that carries with it a lot of connotations in our context in our day and age. We live in a day and age where discrimination is the last and only sin. You can do anything you want as long as you don’t discriminate. The Lord Jesus is calling for spiritual discrimination. He is calling for what we might call a holy discrimination. In other words, He is saying that we must distinguish between those who are obstinate in their rejection of the Gospel, and those who are open to the Gospel.
I want to go through the metaphors that the Lord Jesus used because He speaks about dogs, and pigs, and pearls, and what is holy. Now, as a dog lover, one might find these words a little harsh on the part of the Lord Jesus. But when the Lord Jesus speaks in this passage of dogs, He is not talking about those beloved domestic and hunting pets of ours. He is speaking of those large, savage half-wild dogs which prowl the streets of Jerusalem scavenging through rubbish and other things to find food. As far as pigs go, you know that pigs are unclean animals. Not simply in their sanitary habits, but they are unclean animals in the sense of the Old Testament code of Leviticus. The people of God in the Old Testament were forbidden to eat the meat of swine, of pigs. And so, when Jesus speaks of pigs, He is speaking about an animal that would have been contemptible in all the eyes of His Jewish hearers. Furthermore, were you to cast pearls before pigs, the pigs might mistake those pearls for peas or perhaps nuts, attempt to eat them, and then find out that they were inedible and then spew them back onto the ground and then trample them in the mud. Jesus is clearly teaching that not all people are the same in terms of their response to the gospel. There are Christians and there are non-Christians. There are two types of people in the world. Those who embrace Christ, and those who reject Him. There is not a third party. But even within that category of people who have not embraced Christ, the Lord Jesus in this passage indicates that there are some people who are obstinately and permanently opposed to the Gospel. He is reminding us as Christians that we must not act as if all people respond to the Gospel in the same way.
II. Christians Must Take Care to Guard the Gospel in Witness and Life.
Christians must take care to guard the preciousness of the gospel in our witness and in our lives. We must realize that the gospel will divide men. It will make spiritual differences apparent. As the gospel is set forth, as it is sent out, there will be some who reject it, there will be some who accept it, and there will be others who say, “Let me hear more.” The point of this passage is that the same message can be given to two different people and result in two entirely different responses. And those responses are based on a difference in the heart of the person hearing, not in the message. The message is the same. When the gospel is given to those who are empty-hearted, and hard-headed, they will respond by insulting the gospel, or ignoring the gospel. And the Lord Jesus makes it clear, that we are not to waste our spiritual council on those. Now that is a hard word. It is almost hard to believe. It is hard to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ could say something so blunt, so terrifying as that, but that He does. He teaches us that we must not subject the gospel to the abuse and the derision and the indifference of those who are obstinately opposed to it.
Now let me just say very quickly what that does not mean. He does not mean that we are not to reach out to unbelievers. The Lord Jesus reached out to unbelievers, and we know that all unbelievers are darkened in their hearts. But thank God we also know that God changes the hearts of men and women so often when the Word is preached. We know that God has His own. And we can’t tell the difference sometimes between those who are in the process of being convicted by the Spirit and those who are not. But nevertheless, we are to preach the Word. He is saying, that there will be times, sad times, but times indeed, when we will have to take care not to put the gospel in the position of being rejected by a hard-hearted sinner. And the Lord Jesus and His disciples themselves give us examples in their teaching and in their lives of this truth and practice.
We must, of course, be careful not to change the gospel, in order to make it more palatable for those who are rejecting it. We do not change that gospel so that more will respond to it. We preach the true gospel, and we pray that all will come. But we refuse to change our method or our message simply for the sake of making the gospel more attractive or palatable or popular or successful. The Lord Jesus’ words are hard, but they are words that are good for our souls. These words ask us to consider how our hearts are before the Lord. Are we tender towards Him? Or are we indifferent? They remind us that as we speak and as we live, there will be some who reject the truth, but there will be others who embrace that truth. May we rejoice with those who embrace this truth.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.