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Exercising Spiritual Judgment and Discrimination when Proclaiming the Word
“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.” (Matthew 7:6 NKJV)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
IN Matthew 7:6 above, our Lord brings to an end what He has to say concerning the difficult and involved subject of punishment. The Authorized Version puts this verse in a special paragraph on its own; but I suggest that that is not right. It is not a statement on its own with no connection with what precedes it. It is rather the conclusion of that matter, the final statement in that connection.
It is an extraordinary statement and one which generally comes with a great shock of surprise to people. Here our Lord has been telling us in the most solemn manner not to judge, and that we should cast the beam out of our own eye before we begin to think about the mote that is in our brother’s eye; He has been warning us that with what judgment we judge, we shall be judged. Then suddenly He says, ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’ It seems incongruous; it seems to come as an entire contradiction of all that we have been considering. And yet, if our exposition of the first five verses has been right, it is not surprising at all; indeed, it follows as an almost inevitable corollary. Our Lord tells us that we must not judge in the sense of condemning; but He reminds us here that that is not the total statement with regard to this matter. In order to have a right balance and a complete statement on the subject, this further observation is essential.
If our Lord had finished His teaching with those first five verses, it would undoubtedly have led to a false position. Men and women would be so careful to avoid the terrible danger of judging in that wrong sense that they would exercise no discrimination, no judgment whatsoever. There would be no such thing as discipline in the Church, and the whole of the Christian life would be chaotic. There would be no such thing as exposing heresy and pronouncing judgment with regard to it. Because everybody would be so afraid of judging the heretic, they would turn a blind eye to the heresy; and error would come into the Church more than it has done. So our Lord goes on to make this further statement here, and we cannot fail, once more, to be impressed by the wonderful balance of scriptural teaching, its amazing perfection. That is why I am never tired of pointing out that a detailed, microscopic study of any one section of Scripture is generally much more profitable than a telescopic view of the whole Bible; because if you make a thorough study of any one section, you will find that you will meet all the great doctrines sooner or later. We have done so in considering this Sermon on the Mount. It shows the importance of looking at the details, of paying attention to everything, for as we do so, we discover this wonderful balance which is to be found in Scripture. We go to extremes and become unbalanced because we are guilty of isolating statements instead of taking them in their context. It is because they forget this addition to our Lord’s teaching on judging that so many people show a lack of discrimination and are ready to praise and recommend anything that is put before them which vaguely claims the name Christian. They say that we must not judge. That is regarded as a friendly and charitable spirit, and so men and women fall unchecked into grievous errors and their immortal souls are thrown into jeopardy. But all that is avoided if we just take the Scripture as it is, and remember that in it this perfect balance is always to be found.
Take this statement which seems, when looked at superficially, to be so surprising in view of what our Lord has just been saying. How do we reconcile these two things? The simple answer is that, while our Lord exhorts us not to be hypercritical, He never tells us not to be discriminating. There is an absolute difference between these two things. What we are to avoid is the tendency to be censorious, to condemn people, to set ourselves up as the final judge and to make a pronouncement on persons. But that, of course, is very different from exercising a spirit of discrimination, to which Scripture is ever exhorting us. How can we ‘prove’ and ‘test the spirits’, how can we, as we are exhorted to do later, ‘beware of false prophets’, if we do not exercise our judgment and our discrimination? In other words, we are to recognize the error, but we are to do so, not in order to condemn, but in order to help. And it is just there that we find the connecting link between this statement and what has preceded it. Our Lord has been dealing with the question of helping our brother to get rid of the mote that is in his eye. If we wish to do that in the right way, and He has already told us the right way, then, of course, we must have a spirit of discrimination. We must be able to recognize motes and beams and to discriminate between person and person.
Our Lord now proceeds to instruct us with regard to the whole question of dealing with people, handling them, and discriminating between person and person. And He does it in these words: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’ What does He mean by this? Obviously He is referring to the truth, which is holy, and which can be likened to pearls. What is this holy thing, this pearl to which He is referring? It is clearly the Christian message, the message of the kingdom, the very thing about which He is speaking Himself in this incomparable Sermon. What, then, does He mean? Are we here exhorted not to present the Christian truth to unbelievers? What kind of persons can those be who are described as being dogs and swine? What extraordinary terminology to use! The dog was not regarded in Palestine as we are accustomed to do in this country; it was the scavenger of the village, its very name a term of opprobrium; not the domestic pet to which we are accustomed, but a fierce and dangerous, half-wild animal. While the swine in the Jewish mind stood for all that was unclean and outside the pale.
And these are the two terms our Lord uses in teaching us how to discriminate between people and people. We have to recognize that there is a class of person who, with respect to the truth, can be described as a ‘dog’ or as belonging to the ‘swine’. ‘Does He mean’, asks someone, ‘that this is to be the attitude of Christian people to unbelievers, to those who are outside the kingdom?’ Clearly it cannot mean that, for the good reason that you could never convert the unconverted if you are not to present truth to them. Our Lord Himself went out preaching to such people. He sent out His disciples and apostles to preach to them, He sent the Holy Spirit upon the early Church in order that she might testify and preach the truth to them. So it clearly cannot mean that.
What, then, does it mean? The best way to approach the problem is to look at it first of all in the light of our Lord’s own practice. What did He Himself do? How did He Himself implement this particular teaching? The answer of Scripture is that He very clearly differentiated between person and person and type and type. If you read the four Gospels you will see that He does not handle any two people in exactly the same way. Fundamentally it is the same, but on the surface it is different. Take His way of handling Nathanael, and Nicodemus, and the woman of Samaria. At once you see certain differences. Look at the entire difference in His manner and method when He was confronting the Pharisees and when He was confronting the publicans and sinners. See the difference in His attitude towards the self-righteous, proud Pharisee and the woman caught in sin. But perhaps one of the best illustrations of all is the one that we encounter in Luke 23. When examined by Pilate, our Lord answered; but when He was questioned by Herod, who should have known better, and who just had a morbid, unhealthy curiosity and was looking for signs and wonders, He answered him nothing. He just would not speak to him (see verses 3 and 9). Thus you see that our Lord, when dealing with people in terms of the same truth, dealt with them in different ways and accommodated His way of teaching to the person. He did not vary the truth, but He varied the particular method of presentation, and that is what you will find as you read the four Gospels.
Then when you come on to the practice of the apostles, you will find that they do precisely the same as their Lord, and carry out the injunction that is given here. Take, for instance, that statement in Acts 13:46, where Paul was preaching at Antioch in Pisidia and meeting the jealousy and envy and opposition of the Jews. We read that Paul and Barnabas were bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’ Paul is not going to preach to them any longer; he is not going to continue presenting this holy thing to them. But then you find exactly the same thing in his conduct at Corinth. This is what we read in Acts 18:6: ‘And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.’ Here, you see, are people to whom the truth has been presented; but they did the very thing our Lord prophesied. As dogs and swine, they turned again and they opposed, they blasphemed, and they stamped the truth under their feet. The reaction of the apostle is to turn away from them; he no longer presents the gospel to them. He turns his back upon the Jews who thus reject and show their inability to appreciate the truth, and he turns to the Gentiles and becomes the great apostle to the Gentiles.
There, it seems to me, is the right way to approach this statement which at first sight is somewhat perplexing. But we cannot leave it at that. Let us pursue the exposition a little more in detail, because we must remember that this statement is made to us. It is not something that was relevant only to that particular time, or to some future kingdom. We have seen that it is meant, like the whole of the Sermon, for Christians now, and it is therefore an exhortation to us. We are told: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’ How do we interpret this? What does it mean to us?
First and foremost it means that we must recognize the different types of persons, and we must learn to discriminate between them. There is nothing so pathetic or so unscriptural as a mechanical way of testifying to others. There are some Christians who are guilty of that. They witness and testify, but they do it in a thoroughly mechanical way. They never really consider the person with whom they are dealing; they never try to assess the person, or to discover exactly what his position is. They fail completely to implement this exhortation. They present the truth in exactly the same way to all and sundry. Quite apart from the fact that their testifying is generally quite useless, and that the only thing they achieve is a great feeling of self-righteousness, it is utterly unscriptural.
There is no higher privilege in life than to be a witness for Jesus Christ. I understand that in these days men who would become commercial travellers generally have to attend a course of training in the psychology of salesmanship. It is felt to be necessary and important, if they are to sell their particular commodity, that they should know something about people. They must know how to approach people. We are all so different, and the same thing must be presented to different people in correspondingly different ways. Although the commodity is the same, they have discovered that it is important that the salesman should know something about people and the psychology of salesmanship. It is not for us to pronounce judgment as to whether such a course is necessary, but we can use it to emphasize the fact that the New Testament has always taught the necessity for preparation. Not that we need a course in psychology! No; but we need to know our New Testament. If we know our New Testament we know that people are all different; and if we really are concerned about winning souls, and not simply anxious to bear our own witness and testimony, then we shall realize the importance of discriminating and understanding. We must not say, ‘Well; I am like this, and this is my temperament, and this is my way of doing things.’ No; with the apostle Paul we must become ‘all things to all men’ that we may by all means save some. To the Jew he became as a Jew, to the Gentile as a Gentile, to them that were under the law as under the law, to this end.
That is the first point, and we must surely agree that we often fall into this trap with regard to witnessing. It tends to be mechanical, and it may even be that we are almost pleased when somebody does behave with us in the manner of the dog and the swine, for then we feel we have been persecuted for Christ’s sake, when in reality it is not that at all, but simply that we have not known our Scriptures and have not witnessed in the right way.
The second principle is that we must not only learn to distinguish between one type and another; we must also become expert in knowing what to give to each type. You do not handle a Pilate and a Herod in exactly the same way; you answer the questions of a Pilate, but you say nothing to a Herod. We must see people as they are and be sensitive to them. We have taken the beam out of our own eye, we have got rid of everything that is censorious, and we really are concerned about helping the other. In that spirit, we try to find precisely the right thing for that person. It is curious to note how readily we become slaves to words. I have known people who, when they preach on the text about becoming ‘fishers of men’, are always careful to say that we must know which bait to use; but when they come to a text like this they seem to be oblivious of the fact that the same principle applies, and is equally true, here. We must know what is appropriate for each person in each particular situation. That is one reason why it is difficult for a raw convert to be a good witness. We can understand more clearly in the light of this teaching why Paul says that no novice must be given a prominent position in the Church. How far we have departed in our practice from the New Testament! Our tendency is to lay hands on the raw convert and immediately put him into some prominent position. But Scripture tells us not to push a man into prominence at once. Why? Partly for this reason, that the novice may not be an expert in the things we are considering.
Our third principle is that we should be very careful as to the way in which we present the truth. Apart from the truth itself the method of presentation must vary from person to person. We must learn to assess people. There are some to whom certain things are offensive though they are not offensive to others. We must be careful not to put truth in a way that is likely to be offensive to any type of person. For instance, to go to every unbeliever and say, ‘Are you saved?’ is not the scriptural method. There is a type who, if you say that to him, will take offence at it, and will not be led on to the truth. The effect of such a question on him will be to produce this response that our Lord is describing, the reaction of the dog and the swine, the trampling and the rending, the blasphemy and the cursing. And we must always be careful not to give anyone cause to blaspheme or to curse. There are those, of course, who will do that however perfect our method. Then we are not responsible and we can say with Paul, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads.’ But, if the offence is in us, God have mercy upon us. A man who is preaching the truth can be guilty of preaching the truth in an unworthy manner. You and I must never be the cause of antagonism; we must always preach the truth in love, and if we cause offence, it should always be ‘the offence of the cross’, not anything offensive in the preacher. Our Lord was teaching that.
There is one final principle under this heading. It is that we must learn to know which particular aspect of the truth is appropriate in particular cases. This means that in the case of an unbeliever we should never present to him anything but the doctrine of justification by faith only. We should never discuss any other doctrine with an unbeliever. He will often be anxious to discuss other doctrines, but we must not allow it. The account given in John 4 of our Lord’s interview with the woman of Samaria is a perfect illustration of this point. She wanted to discuss various matters, such as the Being of God, how and where to worship, and the differences which separated the Jews and the Samaritans. But our Lord would not allow it. He kept bringing her back to herself, to her sinful life, to her need of salvation. And we must do the same thing. To discuss election and predestination, and the great doctrines of the Church, and the present need of the Church, with a man who is an unbeliever is obviously quite wrong. The man who is not born again cannot understand these other doctrines and therefore you must not consider them with him. It is for us to decide what to discuss with him.
But this applies not only to unbelievers; it applies also to believers. Paul tells the church at Corinth that he cannot give them strong meat; he had it, but he could not give it to them because they were still babes. He says that he had to feed them with milk because they were not yet fit for meat. ‘We speak wisdom’, he says, ‘among them that are perfect.’ To give this perfect wisdom of God to a babe in spiritual understanding is obviously ridiculous, so we are called upon to exercise this discrimination in all directions. If we really are to be witnesses and presenters of the truth we must pay some attention to these things.
We should now draw some general deductions from all these considerations. If you consider the implications of this verse you wilt find that they are of grave importance. Do you notice the first obvious implication on the surface? There is not a single statement in Scripture that gives a more awful picture of the devastating effect of sin upon man as this verse. The effect of sin and evil upon man as the result of the Fall is to make us, with respect to the truth of God, dogs and swine. That is the effect of sin upon man’s nature; it gives him an antagonism to truth. ‘The carnal mind’, says the apostle Paul, ‘is enmity against God’, the nature of the dog and the swine. Sin makes man hate God and, also, ‘hateful (or full of hate), and hating one another,’ says Paul in Titus 3. Yes, God-haters and ‘not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’. ‘Enemies and aliens,’ outside the kingdom, at enmity with God. What a terrible thing sin is! You can see the same reactions in the world today. Present the truth to certain people and they snarl at it. Talk about the blood of Christ, and they laugh and make jokes about it, and spit upon it. That is what sin does to man; that is what it does to his nature; that is how it affects his attitude towards the truth. It is something that gets into the very depths and vitals of man’s being, and turns him into something that is not only hateful, but utterly opposed to God, and purity, to cleanness, and holiness, and truth.
I emphasize this became I feel that we are all guilty at this point. When we are dealing with others we often do not realize their true condition. We tend to become impatient with people when they do not become Christians immediately. We do not see that they are so much under the dominion of sin and of Satan, they are so much the dupes of the devil, they are so twisted, and perverted, and polluted---that is the word---inwardly by sin, that they really are in a spiritual sense in this condition of dog and swine. They do not appreciate that which is holy; they do not attach any value to spiritual pearls; even God Himself is hateful to them. If we do not start by realizing that, we shall never be able to help them. And as we realize the truth about them we shall begin to understand why our Lord had a great compassion for the people, and a great sorrow in His heart as He looked upon them in pity. We shall never really help anybody until we have the same spirit and mind in us, and realize that in a sense they cannot help it. They need a new nature, they must be born again. The Sermon on the Mount just legal teaching for some Jews in the future? Out, out, upon the suggestion! Here is a doctrine that leads directly to the grace of God; nothing but the rebirth can ever enable any man to appreciate and receive the truth. Dead in trespasses and sins, we must be quickened by the Holy Spirit before we can ever give a true response to divine instruction. You see the number of profound doctrines that are hidden away in this one text.
Then there is a second matter; the nature of the truth. We have dealt with it to some degree, so we need only touch upon it now. Truth is very varied, truth is very full. It is not all exactly the same; there are different varieties, such as milk and strong meat. There is truth in the Scripture which is appropriate to the very beginner; but, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, we must also ‘go on unto perfection’. He seems to say, ‘We do not want to go back again and lay a foundation of first principles; we ought to have finished with that. If you but exercise yourselves I can take you on to this great Melchisedec doctrine; but I cannot do it now because you are slow to hear and to learn.’ That shows us that there is this great composite character to the truth. The question we must ask ourselves is, am I growing in my knowledge? Am I hungering and thirsting after this higher doctrine, this wisdom that Paul has for them that are perfect? Do I feel that I am proceeding, as it were, from the Epistle to the Galatians to the Epistle to the Ephesians? Am I going on to these profounder truths? They are only for the children of God.
There are certain secrets in the Bible which only God’s children can appreciate. Read the introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians, just the first nine or ten verses, and there you will find doctrine that only the children of God can understand; indeed, only those children who are exercising their spiritual senses and growing in grace. People in spiritual ignorance may argue about the doctrines of God’s calling and election, and questions like that, without having any understanding of them. But if we are growing in grace, these doctrines will become more and more precious. They are secrets which are given only to those who can receive them---'he that hath ears to hear, let him hear’. If you find that some of these great and mighty expositions of truth which you have in the Epistles say nothing to you, examine yourself; and ask yourself why you are not growing, and why you cannot take in these truths. There is a great distinction to be drawn between first principles and more advanced principles. There are people who spend their lifetime in the realm of apologetics and who never go on to deeper spiritual truths. They remain as babes in the Christian life. ‘Let us go on unto perfection’ and try to develop an appetite for these deeper aspects of truth.
Lastly, there is a question which we might ask here. And I deliberately put it in the form of a question because I admit quite frankly that I am not quite clear in my own mind what the answer should be. Is there, I wonder, a query, a question, perhaps a warning, in this verse regarding the indiscriminate distribution of the Scriptures? I am simply raising a question for you to consider and for you to discuss with others. If I am told that I have to discriminate in speaking to people about these things, if I have to differentiate between type and type and person and person, and about the particular truth I give to each, is it a good thing to put the whole Bible within the reach of people who can be described as spiritual dogs and swine? May it not sometimes lead to blasphemy and cursing and to behaviour and conduct of swinish character? Is it always right, I wonder, to put certain texts of Scripture on placards, especially those referring to the blood of Christ? I have often, myself, heard those very things leading to blasphemy. I simply put the questions. Think of the eunuch in Acts 8 going back from Jerusalem. He had his Scriptures and was actually reading them, when Philip approached him and said: ‘Understandest thou what thou readest?’ And he replied, ‘How can I, except some man should guide me?’ Exposition is generally necessary, and you cannot do away with the human instrument as a general rule.
‘But,’ we protest, ‘look at the wonderful effect of the distribution of the Scriptures.’ If we could discover the exact facts, I wonder how many people we should find who have been converted apart from human agency? I know there are wonderful, exceptional cases. I have read stories of people who have been converted in that way. Thank God that kind of thing can happen. But I suggest that it is not the normal method. Does not the fact that we have to be careful in our choice of aspects of truth as we deal with different people raise a query in our minds? Sometimes, of course, we try to avoid the duty of speaking, by giving a Gospel or Scripture portion, but that is not God’s normal way. The way of God has always been the presenting of the truth immediately through personality, man expounding the Scriptures. If you have a conversation with a man and are able to point out the truth to him, he may then ask for a copy of the Scriptures, or you may feel you should give him one. That is right and good. Give him your Scripture. The query I am raising has reference to the indiscriminate placing of the Bible where there is no-one to explain it, and where a man, in the condition described by our Lord in the verse of our text, is facing this great and mighty truth without a human guide.
This probably comes as a surprise to many, but I suggest that we need to think again carefully about some of these matters. We become slaves to custom and to certain habits and practices, and very often we become quite unscriptural as we do so. I thank God that we have this great written Word of God; but I have often felt that it would not be a bad thing to experiment for a while with the idea of not allowing anybody to have a copy of the Scriptures unless he showed signs of spiritual life. That may be going too far, but I have felt sometimes that doing this would impress upon people the precious nature of this Book, its wonderful character, and the privilege of being allowed to possess it and to read it. It might not only be a good thing for the souls of those who are outside; it would certainly give the Church a completely new conception of this priceless treasure that God has put into our hands.1
We are the custodians and the expositors of the Bible; and if we gain nothing else as the result of our study, we must all feel that we have been lazy, that we have not prepared ourselves as we should have done for such a responsible, such a great task. It is not quite as easy as we sometimes seem to think, and if we take the Word of God seriously, we shall see the vital need of study and preparation and prayer. We must, then, consider this question; but above all, let us remember those other aspects of the truth which we have seen so clearly, and never forget the absolute need of regeneration for the reception and understanding of spiritual truth. The mere distribution of Scripture as such is not the key to the solution of the problem today. God still needs men and women like ourselves to expound, to explain the truth, to act as a Philip to those who have the Word but cannot understand it. Let us maintain a true balance and a due sense of proportion in these things, for the good of souls and in order that we may give a balanced, full-orbed representation of the truth of God. (499-510)
1. All this obviously does not imply any criticism of the desire of the Protestant Reformers that the Bible should be in the hands of the people and in a language ‘understanded of the people’. Believing as they did in the universal priesthood of all believers they insisted that the Scriptures should be in the possession of all believers, who had a right to read and to interpret for themselves. They objected to their being the preserve of the priests only. In the same way, clearly, the work of the Bible Society and the other agencies, which do such excellent and invaluable work in feeding the missionaries with Bibles, Testaments and tracts to hand to converts and to those who appear to be interested in the Truth, is not under consideration.
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