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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
March 7, 1999
Our Holy Treasure
Many people are confused by what the Bible says. One of the reasons for this is that there are often so many differing opinions about what it says. The main reason for so many different interpretations is that too often people are not careful to understand what they are reading in its context. They do not pay attention to what is said before and after any particular passage or what is taught on that same subject in other places of Scripture. We have seen several examples of this already in our study of the Sermon on the Mount.
Many people are confused by Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 5:31,32 because they overlook the context that Jesus was specifically speaking against the teachings of the Scribes who taught that Divorce was okay as long as the paper work was done. Jesus corrected them and made emphasized that their practice of unrighteous divorce lead to a proliferation of adultery. The exception clause in verse 32 is not a command or a reason to divorce, but instead the one case of divorce that would not result in adultery.
We find people that many people will recite the "Lord’s Prayer" found in Matt. 6:9-13. It is a great passage of the Bible to memorize and to recite, but when a person thinks they are praying to God simply because they are quoting it, then they are ignoring the context of the passage. Therefore they do not correctly understand or apply what Jesus says about prayer. Jesus says it is a model for prayer, and in the verses previous Jesus specifically commands us not to pray repetitiously without meaning.
Our Scripture text for this morning is also often misunderstood because it is separated from its context. It is also often misunderstood because even after we understand it in its context we can have a hard time putting it into practice.
In Matthew 7:6 our Lord tells us, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
SETTING THE CONTEXT
The first thing we need to remember in order to understand this verse is the context. As we have said all through our study of this sermon by Jesus, He is setting out the nature of true righteousness as opposed to the self righteousness of the hypocritical religious leaders. In this particular section of the sermon, Jesus is giving prohibitions (negative commands) about certain things the self righteous religious leaders were doing.
In 6:19-34 Jesus tells us not to lay up for ourselves treasure on earth. The Scribes and Pharisees thought they could serve God and seek after the things of this world – mammon, but they were wrong. If our goal is to lay up treasures on this earth, then we demonstrate that the things of this world, not the things of heaven, are most important to us. Those things which the Apostle John describes as the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" will be our masters. We will serve mammon which can be destroyed, corroded or stolen and we will be anxious about them as a result.
Jesus tells us to instead lay up treasures in heaven where they can not be destroyed. By doing so we demonstrate that what is most important to us are the things of heaven. We will be serving God and we can rest peacefully in His promise to provide for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is a wonderful life without anxiety and with eternal reward.
Last week we examined 7:1-5 and came to understand Jesus’ injunction to not be the self righteous, critical inspectors like the hypocritical religious leaders were in Jesus’ time. They looked at everyone else in comparison with themselves and the rules and regulations of their traditions. They made self righteous proclamations about how sinful other people were because the person had violated some aspect of the tradition. At the same time they were self deceived about the greater sin of prideful self righteousness hanging around their own necks. This was the sin Jesus denounces in Luke 11:42 saying, "Woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every king of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." They majored on minors and lost the point. Jesus tells us to major on what is important first, then go back and work on the more minor issues.
We are to judge one another in the sense of pointing out the sins that creep into our lives, but that judgement is to be done by speaking the truth in love, not from self righteous condemnation (Gal. 6:1,2). When we see a brother or sister in sin we are to first examine ourselves and recognize our own sinfulness and susceptibility to fall into sin. Then we are to go to that brother and sister in humility and help them out of their sin in the same way we would want them to help us out of our sin. That is Jesus’ point in v. 5 of taking the log out of your own eye first so that you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Our usual problem is that we love ourselves and our sin too much to really want to practice this ourselves or have it practiced on us. We see someone in sin, instead of getting involved in helping that person get out of that sin, we back off for fear that our own sin will be exposed. Then we justify our inaction by saying that we are just following Jesus’ directive in 7:1 to "not judge lest we be judged." Folks, if we are going to follow Jesus, then we have to follow the whole command and not just the parts we want. The whole command is to deal with the sin in our lives. We are to confess it, ask forgiveness and strive against it, and then go with all humility to help our brother out of their sin.
We must keep this context in mind if we are to understand what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 7:6.
In the general context, the Scribes were those who copied the law and acted as the lawyers concerning the law. The Pharisees were those that prided themselves on keeping all the law according to the traditions handed down to them. These people were those that were supposed to understand the value of the law, its holy nature and how it should be followed. They had many traditions that gave respect to how a copy of the Laws was to be physically handled, but they twisted the meaning of the Law and used it for their own purposes. This was actually the greatest degree of disrespect that could be shown. Frankly, it would be better for a man to take a Bible and throw it in the mud than to place it in a place of honor and pervert what it says.
In the immediate context, verse 6 is the contrasting balance to verses 1-5. Those who say that in the name of humility and love we are never to oppose sin or correct sinners have their view shattered in this verse. Here we find that Jesus is asking us to make a judgement about what is holy and what is not; Who is a dog and who is not; What is a pearl and what is not, and who is a swine and who is not. The follower of Christ is not to exercise hypocritical self righteous judgement against others, but at the same time he is to make judgements and not heedlessly expose sacred things to a person who subject them to abuse. The disciple must be judicious, not judicial. Evil condemnation is to be avoided, but discrimination is necessary.
DOGS AND HOGS
Jesus uses two illustrations here to make His point. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine. In our culture we lose a lot of the impact of these sayings. We think of dogs as those wonderful animals we keep as pets. We say that dog is man’s best friend. We spend lots of money to feed them, to clean them and give them medical care. Diane even knows a lady that is a veterinary cardiologist. She gives medical treatment to dog hearts. Now, I had a dog when I was a kid and I loved that little mixed up mutt. I know that some of you may consider your dog part of your family. However, it is still beyond me that someone would even consider having their dog hooked up to an EKG and having heart surgery. But you get the picture, in our society which spends more annually on cat and dog food that missions, to hear, "do not give what is holy to dogs," our tendency is to respond, "Why not, I give them everything else."
In ancient Israel, and even to a large degree even today in the Middle East, dogs are despised. They were and are rarely kept as household pets, and except for those used in helping to herd sheep, they were dirty, greedy, snarling, often vicious and diseased scavengers that would roam in packs and eat carcasses. It would have been completely unthinkable for a Jew to have taken a piece of meat from an animal that had just sacrificed and consecrated to God and tossed it to these vile creatures. Depending on the particular type of offering, part of the sacrificial animal was burned up, part was given to the priest, part was taken home to be eaten by the family that made the sacrifice, and part was left on the altar. This last piece was holy in a very special way. That is the picture Jesus is making. To take this very special piece of holy meat that is part of the worship of God is taken and given it to one of these vile creatures. It would be near the height of desecration.
The picture of the pearls and swine is similar. According to the Levitical code, hogs are unclean animals and are not to be eaten. They, more than any other creature, came to symbolize uncleanness. Because a good Israelite would not have domesticated a pig, most hogs that they would have encountered would have been the wild ones that foraged for themselves – often on the edge of town in the garbage dump. They were greedy, vicious and filthy. They had long tusks and sharp hooves and they could tear an unarmed man to pieces.
Pearls are seen throughout the Scriptures as being a very precious and valuable commodity. They are the only gem mentioned in the gospels. Jesus used the pearl in Matthew 13:45,46 to depict the inestimable value of the kingdom of heaven. Now imagine these precious treasures being thrown out to the swine. Hogs do not recognize the value of what is there. They simply trample them into the mud. And in being that close to them, you were in danger of being attacked by them.
THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE
What is Jesus telling us? Simply this, God has given to us a very precious and holy treasure in His revelation of Himself in the gospel message and in His word. We need to recognize the value of what God has done for us and entrusted to us. Salvation is not cheap. It is free in the sense that we can not earn it, but it is by no means cheap. As 1 Peter 1:18,19 tells us, we were not "redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." Our salvation was purchased at the cost of the Lord Jesus Christ suffering and dying on the cross in our place as payment for our sins. Sometimes I fear we do not take that cost seriously enough. We may tend to reason that since Jesus, being God, did not stay in the grave but rose again on the third day, that His death must not have been so bad. Maybe it was not that great a price to pay. But it was! We must never diminish that cost. His suffering on our behalf was great.
He was falsely accused, spit upon, beaten, bruised, flogged until the flesh was coming off his back, and the blood streamed down His head from the crown of thrown. Then, on Golgotha’s hill, His worst suffering came at that moment when He bore the full weight of the sin of mankind, and in a horror that no theologian can explain, the Father forsook Him, and He died. We can never diminish the price that was paid for our salvation. Jesus became the Holy sacrifice that purchased our redemption. The message of redemption and the offer of salvation are precious.
We also need to take the warning given seriously. Jesus tells us that the swine will trample the precious truth given to them under their feet, then they will turn on us and seek to tear us to pieces. Peter says something similar in his warning about false prophets in 2 Peter 2. Turn there and look at verses 1-3. "but false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in the greed they will exploit you with false words." They will malign the truth. They are like pigs trampling pearls under their feet. They will exploit you. They are like hogs that will turn and tear you. Peter goes on to describe them in vs 12 as unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed."
We need to be careful, discerning, and discriminating in what we do in telling others about the gospel and the truths of God’s word. This is not an easy thing to carry out because in trying to be discerning of who is a dog or a hog we can easily fall into the danger of self righteous judgement of others. In the tension we want to say, "who am I to decide who is a dog or a hog." Then we race to all the passages that tell us to tell others about Christ. We are left somewhat confused about how to follow this instruction from our Lord. As I said earlier, this is the other reason that this is a difficult passage. It is hard to carry it out even after you understand it.
Let be open and frank here. I do not know how to always tell who is a dog or who is a hog, but I do know that both Jesus and the apostles were careful of what they said to those they were talking to. I believe that discernment comes with maturity as we learn more of the mind of the Spirit and are conforming more into the image of Christ. What I want to do for the remainder of our time together is to look at some of the ways that Jesus and the Apostles dealt with different people and from that gain some principles to follow.
REVEALING AND CONCEALING
First, consider that Jesus purposely concealed from some while revealing to others. Turn to Matthew 13. Here Jesus begins to speak in parables. In verse 10 the disciples ask Him why He changed His method of instruction. Jesus answers in verse 11, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. This was the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning those whose hearts had become dull and they had closed their eyes. They were not interested in seeking after God. They had their religion and they were not interested in the truth.
Jesus proclaimed the truth in such a way that those who wanted to understand would be prompted to seek after it. Notice how the disciples would then come to him and ask questions in order to gain understanding. They wanted to learn more. We find throughout the gospel accounts that those who were not really interested in the truth would only ask questions in an effort to entrap Jesus. They were not interested in learning from Him.
We find this general principle throughout Scripture. God reveals Himself to those that will seek after Him. He conceals Himself from others. The search for God begins with faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." And God does reward those who seek by revealing Himself to them.
When we are telling people about Christ and the truths of Scripture, we need to be careful that we tell people in such a way as to prompt them to ask more questions. This is one way to find out if they are really seeking after God or not. We need to prompt people, not pressure them. This is one reason I very rarely do what is often called an Altar call and ask people to come up front in order to "accept Christ." Instead I invite them to talk with me or someone else, and if they are really seeking, then they will come and ask more questions. I wonder how much ridicule the name of Christ has undergone because of those who made some sort of profession of faith in the heat of an emotional moment, but their lives show that they really were not and are not seekers after God. They really only seek for themselves. Is that not giving what is Holy to dogs?
When I deal with someone personally, I try to do the same thing. I want to find out what the person is really interested in. One of the dangers of much of the evangelism in America is that it is based on marketing techniques. Find out what the person wants, develop the product and sell it to them. We are not here to "sell" Christ. We do not "market" Jesus. We proclaim Him.
The principle Jesus has given us is to reveal the full gospel message to those that are seeking after God, but conceal it from those that are not. One way to find out what a person is really seeking is to start with the negative aspects of the gospel. Man is sinful and under the just condemnation of God. That is how Paul starts his presentation of the gospel in the book of Romans. Then go on to tell how what God did to redeem man through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and how man can be justified before God through faith in Jesus Christ. Then, if the person is still interested in professing faith in Christ, take him or her to 1 Peter 1:16 and tell them that to receive Christ means there will be a change in their life and their sinful habits will have to be put away. Take them to Matthew 5:11,12 or John 16:33 and tell them that to follow Christ means peace with God, but persecution by the world. If they are still interested, then they are seeking after God. Don’t "sell" Christ. He is not a commodity to be marketed. That brings great risk in giving what is holy to dogs.
KEEP TO THE BASICS
Another principle related to this is to keep to the basics. This is found in John 4 where Jesus deals with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus begins the conversation and prompts her to ask a question – (vs 9) "Why do you a Jew speak to me a Samaritan woman?" He prompts her again by talking about living water, but she seeks to side track the issue – (vs 12) "You can not be greater than Jacob who dug the well." Jesus does not answer her question but continues on his own theme prompting her to ask for that living water (vs 15). Jesus then brings up the basic issue of her sin. The conversation could easily have been side tracked there in a discussion of divorce and remarriage, but Jesus keeps to the basic issue and states the facts outright, but positively. To paraphrase, you have had five husbands and the one your living with now is not your husband, you were correct is saying you have no husband (vs 16-19). The woman obviously feeling very uncomfortable tries to side track the conversation again with a discussion where the best place to worship would be. Jesus cuts through that issue and keeps to the basic point. It is not the place that is important, but that those who worship God do so in spirit and truth (vs 20-25). She then tells Jesus that she is looking forward to the coming of Messiah. It is only then that Jesus reveals Himself to her.
We should not get into a discussion of the deeper truths of Christianity with someone until after they have responded to the basics. This is the pattern Jesus left with us. Even in the case of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19. The man came to Jesus wanting to know what good thing he was yet lacking in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus did not sell him an insurance policy of how to get to heaven in one easy step of faith. Jesus stuck with the basics throughout the conversation – only God was good, this young man was not. Jesus sought to get him to acknowledge his sin and his need for God, but the man’s great wealth blocked him. He loved his possessions more than God and he refused to follow Christ.
We also need to be careful to make sure those we deal with understand and respond to the basics first. People should understand that God is a loving, but holy and just creator and that man is sinful before we go on to concepts such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith. The fine points of doctrine like the nature of the church and its organization, the order of events in the end times, all about angels and demons, etc., have no place in the conversation until the person responds to the basics. Paul did not do that even with believers. In 1 Cor. 3 we find Paul lamenting that he still has to give them milk because they are not mature enough for doctrine that is meat. We risk giving what is holy to dogs if we are not careful to stick to the basics first.
PROCLAIM, DON’T DEBATE
A last point I will make this morning is that we are to proclaim, not debate. We find no account of Jesus debating anyone. Jesus simply proclaimed the truth. Paul’s practice was similar. In Acts 17 when Paul is brought to the Areopagus in Athens and asked to explain Christianity to them. He builds his case starting with the basic that there is an all powerful creator God. Paul then proclaimed God’s call for everyone to repent and that God will judge men through a Man whom He raised from the dead. At this point some began to sneer and put him off. They did not want to hear more, so Paul left and talked further only with those that followed him. Paul does the same thing in his efforts to reach the Jewish population in each city. He would go to the Synagogue and seek to show them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. He would do this until those who refused to believe would resist, contradict and blaspheme (Acts 13:46; 18:6). Paul would then rebuke them, leave, and teach further only those that followed him.
Let me add to this what it says in 1 Peter 3:15. This verse is often used as support for evangelism efforts, but look closely at what it says. Be mindful that context of this passage is suffering for the sake of righteousness – "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." The defense is made to those who ask, not to anyone indiscriminately.
We are not to debate with those in other religions and in cults. We prompt them to seek and ask questions and we stick to the basics. We proclaim the truth to them as long as they are honestly seeking the truth. We stop when their interest is to contradict and malign the truth. At that point we warn them, leave and pray for them.
This is what Jesus told the twelve in Matthew 10 as He was sending them out preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (vs 7) that "whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet" (vs 14). People do not come to Christ because we win a Bible battle with them, they respond to Christ’s claims as the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and prods them to the truth. Lets be careful with our holy treasure and be obedient to Jesus’ command to not give it to dogs and swine.
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