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One Christmas, I gave Tiffany a string of pearls for Christmas. (She makes them look good, by the way.) Pearl necklaces aren’t cheap, which is why I can appreciate what Jesus said in Matthew 7.6: “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 then turn and tear you to pieces.” If for some reason Tiffany ever threw the necklace into a pig pen, I’d dive in right into the mud and muck to retrieve it. After all, why waste expensive jewelry on tomorrow morning’s bacon? But then again, why would anyone throw pearls into a pigpen in the first place? What, in other words, is Jesus talking about here?
In his excellent book, Jesus according to Scripture, Darrell Bock offers this interpretation:
“In the Old Testament, a dog was often a figure of reproach (1 Sam. 17:43; 24:14; Prov. 26:11; also in 2 Peter 2:22). Pigs were ceremonially unclean animals. So the point is that one does not give what is precious (holy things or pearls) to those who will not respond appreciatively. As with other parts of Jesus’ teaching, the point is not an absolute prohibition, because then the disciple could not share the gospel with those who are not responsive. Rather, the point is that the disciple is not obligated to share with those who are hard-hearted. These people are like pigs that trample what is precious and like dogs that turn and attack the one seeking to feed them. Using discernment is the point here. The sentiment recalls Prov. 23:9: ‘Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.’ A contrast in attitude is suggested in Prov. 9:8: ‘A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.’ The discerning follower of Jesus can tell when a scoffer is present, and so remains quiet.”
I think Bock is onto something here, which I can affirm from personal experience. Several years ago, at a church in Costa Mesa, I taught a Sunday school class. One day, a nice British gentleman joined the class. After a while, I noticed that whenever he asked questions, he would preface them by contrasting the King James Version (which he used) with the New International Version (which I used). No problem; I think such contrasts can be illuminating. But it turned out that he believed the KJV was the only translation Christians could use. All other translations—NIV included—were corrupt, heretical, and illegitimate. At first, I patiently argued with him. But after a while, I realized that (a) he didn’t know what he was talking about, (b) he wasn’t open to being corrected where he was obviously wrong, and (c) he was slowly destroying the class.
Had I been an older, more discerning pastor, I would have sniffed this guy out early on and quickly invited him to leave the class. But, being young and stupid, I threw pearls at swine for months. By the time he left, the mud and muck were everywhere, and it took some time to clean up my class.
Jesus commands us to share the gospel with all kinds of people (Matthew 28.16–20). But doing so requires discernment, for some are interested, and others are hostile. Don’t waste your time on hostile people.