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When to Stop Evangelizing

November 7, 2021 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Sermon on the Mount

Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 7:6

 

Introduction

(Read vv. 1–6) If you have been studying the Bible for long, you can usually identify the basic meaning of a text pretty quickly. You may not understand every detail, but at least you recognize what is generally going on and what God is saying to you.

For example, last Sunday we studied vv. 1–5. Most mature Christians can read it and know immediately that Jesus is confronting judgmentalism and urging us to worry about our own problems before trying to fix other people’s problems. The basic point is plain.

However, v. 6 is a different story. In 2007, my pastor preached through Matthew, and I distinctly remember the Sunday he got to this verse. I had never thought seriously about it, and when our pastor read it that Sunday, I had no idea what it was saying.

Even after he explained it, I was scratching my head, trying to wrap my mind around how to apply it. And I distinctly remember having multiple conversations afterwards with friends who were also struggling to apply this verse.

So, this is a hard saying. And the application is challenges our normal assumptions. However, these are the words of Jesus, and they’re important and authoritative; therefore, we need to understand what Jesus is saying and think deeply about how to apply it. Therefore, let’s jump into the text. I’d like to start with some…

I.  Definitions

Notice that this is in the form of a proverb. Jesus is not talking about literal dogs, hogs, and pearls; rather, he is using proverbial language to make a spiritual point. Therefore…

Holy and pearls are metaphors for the gospel. A good question to ask when trying to interpret a biblical metaphor is, does the Bible use a similar illustration somewhere else? In this instance, the answer is yes.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells everything that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold everything that he had and bought it” (Matt 13:44–46).

Jesus compares the gospel of the kingdom to a treasure and a precious pearl. And it makes good sense in our text that Jesus is again thinking of the gospel as a precious treasure.

A few people have proposed other meanings, but none of them make good sense. Therefore, NT scholars are almost unanimous in believing that our text is talking about the gospel and about gospel proclamation.

Therefore, Jesus declares that the gospel is holy, probably thinking of meat that had been sacrificed on the altar. And it is precious like pearls, which the ancient world considered especially precious. As a result, …

Dogs and pigs are people who knowingly scorn the gospel. It’s interesting that there is only one other place in the Bible where dogs and hogs are used together as illustrations, and this verse is clearly talking about people who scorn the gospel. “It has happened to them (false teachers) according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:22).

The context is that these teachers knew the gospel and had once professed to believe it, but now they rejected it and were encouraging others to do the same. They were hostile to the gospel ministry. As a result, Peter compares them to dogs and hogs. That’s strong language, but opposing the gospel is serious business. And I believe it will help us understand our text and its application for us if we consider how Jesus and the apostles consistently responded to these types of people.

Matthew 10:11–14: The context is that Jesus is sending his disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Notice how he tells them to respond to those who reject the message (read). Shaking the dust off is a symbol of rejection, that they wouldn’t preach to them anymore.

Matthew 15:12–14: That’s very different from how we normally think. If someone is offended by our message, we want to do all that we can to smooth it over, but Jesus says in v. 14, “Let them alone.”

Acts 13:44–51: We’ll see that Paul imitated Jesus’ pattern in Pisidean Antioch (read). Notice that the Jews not only rejected the gospel, but they also aggressively resisted Paul’s ministry. Therefore, Paul said that he was not going to evangelize them anymore and instead focus his energy on the Gentiles. Then before he left town, he “shook off the dust of his feet” as Jesus told his disciples to do in Matthew 10.

And he did the same thing in Acts 18:5–6. I’d like to highlight 4 patterns in the people whom Jesus and Paul rejected.

They are Jews, not Gentiles. I bring this up, because the Bible refers to Gentiles as dogs a couple times, so we might think that Matthew 7:6 is talking about Gentiles. But every NT example of Jesus and the apostles shaking off the dust concerns Jews. That is not to say that Gentiles cannot also be rejected, but it does mean that dogs is not exclusively a Gentile reference.

They know the truth. This is very important. Jesus never teaches that we withhold the gospel from people solely because they are evil. No, this step is reserved for people who knowingly reject the truth.

They refuse to believe. This is also important because there is a big difference between someone who is wrestling through the Bible’s truth claims and someone who refuses to hear and is settled in unbelief. Jesus was patient with Nicodemus’s questions; he was not patient with scorners.

Most oppose evangelism. This is not necessarily true in Matthew 10, and there is a similar example in Acts 28. But Jesus and Paul mostly rejected people who not only refused to believe, but also openly mocked the gospel and opposed its spread.

In sum, this biblical context is important for understanding our text. Jesus is talking about evangelistic ministry, and he is telling us how to respond when people scorn the gospel. So, what does he tell us to do?

II.  The Command

I’d like to begin by pointing out the absurdity of the illustration. What I means is that both illustrations prohibit something that Jesus’ Jewish audience would never do in real life.

First, ancient peoples didn’t love their dogs like we do or keep them as pets. Dogs were wild, disgusting scavengers who ate trash. They were dirty pests.

In contrast, “what is holy” is almost certainly a reference to meat that had been sacrificed to God. This meat was sacred. It could only come from clean animals that were slaughtered according to strict rules.

Much of it was reserved for God to be burned on the altar, some was reserved for the priests and Levites, and the rest had to be eaten by clean people within a narrow period of time. It was sacred; therefore, the Jews would never dream of giving such precious meat to scavenger dogs.

Second, he prohibits “throwing your pearls before swine.” The Jews didn’t see pigs as any better than dogs. Pigs taste good, but they are dirty animals. They eat anything, and they love to wallow in their own mess. And most importantly, the Law declared them unclean.

In contrast, pearls are precious and valuable. Ladies, think of how careful you are with real pearls or with any other precious jewels. Then imagine if your husband gave you a pearl necklace or a diamond ring and then you walked outside and chucked it in the hog lot. It’s crazy. There’s no way you would do that. With this in mind, what is…

The Significance of the Command: Notice 2 things…

Knowingly scorning the gospel is a grave sin. These illustrations sound silly until you start identifying the dogs and the hogs (i.e, the gospel scorners) in your life, especially if it’s someone you love—a son, a daughter, a parent, or a sibling. Whenever you bring up the gospel, he or she has no interest, and they even get mad that you are bringing it up.

You desperately want these loves ones to be saved. Therefore, it’s hard to hear Jesus call them dogs and pigs. Now, he doesn’t mean that they are literally dogs and hogs, but he is driving home an important point. Knowingly rejecting the gospel is a grave sin.

Now we don’t generally think this way because we often view evangelism as if God is a used car salesman, desperate to make a sale to anyone. Or we think of people as next to God and of God as some desperate, insecure lover. So, we do all that we can not to offend, and we beg and beg people to believe.

But God demands worship. And the gospel is not just a gift; it is also a command to repent. When someone refuses this command, he is defying the living God. Yes, Jesus loves these people, and you should too. Paul longed for the salvation of the Jews. But he also stopped preaching to many of them. We must recognize how rebellious and evil it is to reject the gospel. Therefore…

We should not continually plead with the scorner to receive Christ. This statement is so contrary to our natural thinking that it’s hard to stomach. But it’s clearly what Jesus is saying, and it’s clearly what Jesus and the apostles practiced. When someone despised the gospel, they did not keep shoving it in their face, pleading with them to receive it. No, they called out their rebellion, and then they turned their attention elsewhere.

If we are going to take God’s Word seriously, then we must follow Jesus’ command and Jesus’ example. But why? Jesus follows with 2 reasons.

III.  The Reason

It’s helpful at this point to point out that this verse is in the form of what NT scholars call a chiasm, meaning that the first and last statement are parallel and the second and second to last, etc. In this verse, the first statement concerns dogs, and it makes sense that the dogs would do the tearing in the last statement. The hogs are the ones trampling the pearls under their feet. With this in mind, the first reason Jesus gives as to why we must not continue to plead with the scorner is that…

The scorner despises the gospel. Again, imagine throwing pearls into a hog lot. You have just given the pig something that is very precious. However, the pig has no sense of their value. He doesn’t put them in a safe place or stand in awe of their beauty. He doesn’t appreciate their value. Therefore, he “tramples them under his feet” as if they are common rocks. He does not give the pearls the honor they deserve.

Jesus’ point is that the scorner doesn’t see the incredible value of the gospel. We’ve all heard their claims. “Religion is just a crutch for weak people, a fable, a myth, or even a cruel tale of cosmic child abuse.”

And Jesus says that when you continue to cast pearls to hogs all you are doing is giving them more opportunities to trample and mock this most precious of messages. Therefore, all you accomplish is that you subject the gospel to dishonor and scorn.

And Jesus says this is unacceptable. The gospel cost Jesus his life. It is the greatest story and the most sacred message ever prepared. It must be treated with honor and respect. Therefore, if someone despises it, they do not deserve to continue receiving the offer.

For example, imagine if for some reason you had a baby that you needed to give up for adoption. This baby is precious to you, but you can’t keep it. You walk over to your neighbors and offer this precious treasure to them. They laugh at you, and they mock the baby.

How will you respond? Will you keep begging this person to take the baby, or will you conclude that your neighbors are not worthy of your baby? Your baby must receive the honor it deserves.

Jesus is saying that we must value the gospel the same way. Yes, we should aggressively seek to reach sinners for Christ. But we must honor of the gospel and the sacrifice it represents. We must clearly display its glory.

BTW, this is ultimately in the best interest of the sinner. Much of, the American church has become so desperate for influence and impressive statistics, that they have watered down the gospel to get more converts. We peddle “gospel light.” It’s not the gospel, and it’s not saving anyone.

Furthermore, when we act is if the sinner is sovereign instead of God, we aren’t leading him to repentance; we’re feeding his ego. You aren’t loving him by shielding him from the weight of his rebellion. Therefore, for the good of his soul and the honor of the gospel, do not cast your pearls before swine. The 2nd reason we must not continue pleading with the scorner is that…

The scorner may harm the messenger. The point of that last statement is that if you toy with an aggressive, scavenger dog, you are likely to get bit. You may be trying to help it, but he’s not rational, and he may get violent.

The implication is that if you persist with a scorner, there’s a good chance he will turn on you do you harm. And Jesus is saying that there is no point in subjecting yourself to that kind of risk.

Again, this rubs against our normal Christian instinct. Doesn’t Christ want us to share the gospel without fear? Aren’t we supposed to be willing to risk everything for the sake of his name? The answer is yes, absolutely. Jesus and the apostles were willing to sacrifice everything to reach people for Christ.

But the key is that they went after people who were willing to listen. They didn’t just throw themselves to the wolves; they discerned what risks were worth taking and what stands they had to take, and which ones were not worth the fight.

Matthew 10:16–18: This passage follows Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to shake the dust off against those who scorn (read). He’s very clear that danger awaits his disciples, and preaching the gospel will cost them. But again, he doesn’t tell them to throw themselves to the wolves. Instead, he says, “Be shrewd as serpents.”

In our text he is saying, “Risk everything for the one who will hear, but don’t waste your life on someone determined to do you harm.” Be strategic, because your life matters, and you need to steward it wisely.

In sum, this verse is difficult to understand, and it is especially difficult to apply. So, I’d like to pull everything I have said together into 5 conclusions.

Conclusions

We must compel sinners to be saved. “Allthese things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:18–20).

This passage and many others are clear that we need to aggressively share the gospel. Therefore, if we use our text as an excuse to be lazy evangelists, we are not honoring Jesus’ point. And if we are great critics of everyone else’s evangelism, but we never share the gospel, God is not impressed. So, find someone this week who needs Christ, and share the gospel.

We must attack dark, evil places for Christ. This one is important, because we might conclude that Jesus is saying we should shake the dust off against the Muslim world, China, secular Europe, or even CA. But that would not be a right conclusion from Scripture.

For example, God gave Paul a Macedonian call. He told him to preach the gospel, and the Philippian, Thessalonican, and Berean churches all came from that mission. But Paul was beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, and mob drove him out of Thessalonica and Berea. God had many people in these evil places.

Or consider the fact that Corinth was a vile city, and Paul met a lot of resistance. So, God encouraged Paul. “The Lord said to Paul by a vision at night, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many people in this city.’ And he settled there for a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9–11). We all know what God did.

So, yes, there are some dark places in the world, but God is not bound by these evils, and he often does his greatest gospel work in the darkest places. We must attack the darkness, not retreat from it.

We must sow widely and water the good soil. Paul provides a helpful example in Acts 17. He marches into Mars Hill where he is surrounded by intellectual snobs, and I imagine Paul knew that most would not listen. But he preached the gospel anyway and notice what happened.

“Now when they heard ofthe resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We shall hear from youagain concerning this.’ So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32–34). Paul didn’t persist with the scorners; instead, he focused his energy on those who were willing to listen.

It’s often said, “Teach the teachable and reach the reachable.” That’s mainly what Jesus is saying. Invest your energy in the people who want to hear.

We must guard the gospel’s honor. We tend to think that we need to share the gospel every time we are with anyone who is unsaved, but Jesus says that’s not actually so. I talked already about the marks of a scorner. When you have tried, and someone scorns the gospel, Jesus says your priority is the gospel’s honor, and there is no reason to subject yourself to scorn.

I know it’s hard in real life with people you love, but we must prioritize the honor of the gospel over human sentiment. We must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Be saved today. Maybe you have heard the gospel many times, but you like being in charge, and you believe you can deal with God on your own time. God is patient, but all these passages are clear that God is sovereign, not you. Do not presume on his grace or mock his Word. Come to Christ today and be saved. Be reconciled to God.

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