Do not give to dogs anything that is holy.
And do not cast your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them under their feet
and then proceed to tear you to pieces.”
~ Matthew 7:6
This verse came up in a conversation lately…a conversation about the place of Christians in a very un-Christian culture. When, we may ask, do we shake the dust of this world off our feet? When do say “Enough!” and retreat from the forums that snap and harass us? When do we give up on people or networks or communities?
Enter this verse. According to some very well-established commentators like Matthew Henry, this verse is speaking about how some people in the culture are so far gone into the ways of evil as to be classifiable as “dogs” and “swine,” and that we are in fact wasting our efforts and squandering the Gospel by continuing to offer it to them.
This wasn’t sitting right with me. How about you? First of all, there’s the obvious dilemma: How do you know who is true “swine” and who will turn into the next Paul? How in the world can we, mortals that we are, judge such a thing? Especially given the fact that Matthew 7 opens with the warning “Judge not, lest you be judged by the same measure.” And follows it with “Remove the plank from you own eye before you try to remove the speck from you brother’s.” Then this verse comes. And do you know what follows? “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.”
As I read these verses in context and tried to figure out why I was daring to argue with Matthew Henry, it hit me: This famous “pearls before swine” verse is not about “them” at all. It’s about us. And it can be summed up in these two questions:
Why would we give holy things to dogs?
Why would we cast something as precious as pearls into the pigsty?
This passage isn’t calling out the world for being unworthy, nor is it telling us we need to be aware of the unworthiness. We all know what to expect in a pigsty, after all. But keep in mind that this passage did begin with “judge not.” We don’t know when one of those hate-filled people around us is going to become the next Paul thanks to our faithfulness. We don’t know, we can’t know…and we also don’t need to know.
What we do need to know is how to treat the good news that Christ brings. Look at those verses again, in light of those questions. What if, instead of saying, “Man, look at the filth of the world! Don’t sully yourself with that,” it’s saying, “Why are you treating what is holy and precious so cheaply?”
Do we truly understand the value of the gift we’ve been given?
Think about it. What do you give to the dogs or pigs? Leftovers. Garbage. What’s spoiled or unusable. They get the feed that isn’t quite up to human standards. They get it because they enjoy it, and it’s what they’re created to eat–we’re not doing them a disservice by feeding pigs with slops.
But can you imagine, seriously, tossing an heirloom into the pig pen? Can you imagine giving your dog your Bible as a chew toy? Of course not! But when do we do that without realizing it, when it comes to the people around us?
Maybe it’s when we greet grief or pain, anxiety or mental illness with catchphrases instead of genuine listening, loving hearts.
Maybe it’s when we assume that people who have a political opinion we don’t like can’t really be children of God too.
Maybe it’s when we help spread fear and distrust and hatred and claim that we’re doing it in the name of Jesus.
Maybe it’s when we use words of blessing but mean them as a curse.
This is not treating the sacred as sacred. This is not treating the treasure as something to be cherished. This is valuing ourselves and our wants and our comforts above the Kingdom we’re called to serve.
We have to discern the difference between what we should hold most dear and what leftovers we can toss out to the animals. So what do we place the most value on, and what do we hold too loosely? Do we hold our earthly things to our chest and then “toss out” the Gospel message because it costs us nothing? Are we treating it like leftover scraps that we don’t need anymore? Or do we “toss out” those earthly things to anyone who needs them, holding close and demonstrating the value of the spiritual by treating it with the utmost respect? That doesn’t mean that we don’t share it–it means that we make it clear what we’re sharing is precious and important.
It’s far too easy to read those verses and mount up on our high horses, where we can look down on those dogs and pigs. When, though, did Christ ever call us to do that? No. He calls us to wash the feet of the people who have been in that pigsty. He calls us to serve and love them. He also calls us to recognize that the most valuable thing we will ever encounter is not gold or jewels, a nice house or a fast car, a great insurance plan or a job with upward mobility.
The most valuable thing we will ever encounter is the love of God, poured out for us on Calvary.
Do we value that so highly that we share it as treasure…or as leftovers?
Wow, Roseanna… this is why your books carry such a depth of understanding of Kingdom truths. You search beyond the surface to the depths both of Scripture and of the human heart. Thank you for this post. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for decades, but never heard this verse explained so well.
Loved how you put this in context. Good words to ponder.
I love you, friend and sister in Christ. Thank you for these words.
I read a different commentary that said it’s saying there are people openly hostile to the gospel and we don’t want to waste God‘s resources. I’ll send the link; I think he did a good job explaining. https://www.bibleref.com/Matthew/7/Matthew-7-6.html
When you’ve sold all you have to get that pearl, you’re less likely to discard it. Rather, you may want to show it off and explain to others how they should value it and want one for themselves 🤷🏻♀️