I love obscure passages in Scripture because they always force me to dive deeper into the potential meaning of the text in order to understand what is actually being said.
A great example of this is Matthew 7:6.
Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.
Can we all just say “WHAT??!???” together.
I mean, pigs & pearls…holy & unholy…what is Jesus talking about? It seems like such a random statement and certainly an over-the-top analogy that it should cause us to: take a step back, read the entire context, and then ask for help in figuring out what he could possibly be saying. So let’s do that.
First, we must establish the context.
This metaphor is being used within Jesus’ teaching on how to judge properly. Since judgment carries such negative connotations in our society today maybe it is easier for us to deal with this teaching when understood as being about correct discernment. By the way, the word judgment in Scripture is not a negative concept! Actually, judgment and salvation are typically talked about as two sides of the same coin in the Bible.
However, this is not a teaching on eternal judgment, but on correct discernment when handling situations of sin in the lives of God’s people. How do we know this?
- Jesus is speaking directly to a group of Jews (God’s people) about judgments being made within their legal system. The Greek word here krino is specific to legal judgments, not just general opinions, which, in the context of the Jewish people, would have included judgments about moral failures. Such as those that the Pharisees typically tried to force Jesus to make publicly (see John 8:1-11).
- Jesus uses 2 analogies that deal directly with discernment—or knowing how to best handle situations that require the judgment of sin. You can tell that his teaching is temporal in nature (meaning not referencing eternal judgment but current situations) because both analogies include present tense actions as a part of them. Example: the log/speck analogy instructs us to first remove the log, and then help remove the speck, meaning it’s an action that is a present reality, not eternal.
Next, we can begin to establish the purpose of the passage now that we know its context.
Jesus is talking about the ability to discern whether another believer is or is not interested in striving for holiness. He compares holiness to a pearl (a jewel of great value) and those who are not interested in it to pigs (animals that were considered unclean).
In this teaching on correctly discerning how to handle sin in the life of a fellow believer, Jesus is making 2 major points that end up being 2 sides of the same coin. His first point is that we should first take the log out of our own eye before helping remove the speck in another believer’s eye, so that we are not hypocritical in our judgment of sin. His second is that we should not stand for another kind of hypocrisy – where someone does not allow others to hold them to the very standard they claim to uphold.
Jesus is saying that if in helping someone on the path toward holiness thru correct discernment you find that person is not interested in having their speck removed (becoming holy), then do not allow that person to trample the holiness of God by treating it like a pig would garbage. Regardless of what others choose to do, we must never allow anyone to think that its acceptable to treat God’s holiness as anything less than something of great value, like a pearl worth attaining.
For not only will that kind of person trample the pearls of God (holiness, truth, grace, etc.), but they will in turn attack someone else for even suggesting there is a standard of holiness they are to strive for. They may even get mad that it’s even being pointed out that there may be a speck in their eye even if it’s done it in a completely non-hypocritical way.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 on correct judgment, or discernment, in dealing with sin within the people of God flies right in the face of our current cultural narrative.
The current narrative in our culture includes a pretentious misappropriation of this exact teaching of Jesus on judgment as evidenced in the simple phrase “judge not.”
When most people say “judge not” what they are really saying is that no standard of judgment should be placed upon any person by anyone else. Essentially they’re saying that people should be allowed to live whatever lifestyle they please, even if it contradicts Jesus’ own teachings.
However, that sort of attitude is exactly what Jesus is addressing with his pigs and pearls analogy!! Those are the very people he is calling pigs because they are treating his standards (the pearls) like garbage. What most people are doing when they use this phrase is horribly distort Jesus’ teaching on the topic (i.e., attempting to make their interpretation appear true when it actually isn’t).
This sort of pretense is exactly what Jesus is speaking against in this passage.
If we are unwilling to allow others within the body of Christ to point out specks in our eyes, then they are not the ones with the log, we are!! For in that action of denying the speck in our eye, the speck becomes a log that blocks our view of the holiness of God we are called to strive for, which in turn makes us the very hypocrites Jesus is teaching against.
Now you may say that sounds harsh. And I would agree. But I didn’t make it up. Jesus said it.
Jesus in Matthew 7 expresses the reality that he has no time for any form of hypocrisy. Not from those who try to act “holier than thou,” judging other’s comparatively small sins while hiding big sins in their own lives; or those who refuse to strive for holiness and instead attempt to justify their own pretentious desires to conform God’s standard to their own.
This teaching of Jesus, as obscure as it may seem at first, is a hard pill to swallow. Kind of like trying to swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24), right? And that is exactly Jesus’ point to those who would attempt to ignore the standards of God in order to justify their own. When we do that we become the very Pharisees we falsely accuse others of being just because they champion the holiness of God as displayed in Scripture.
Here is the truth of this teaching: If we desire to be Christ followers, we must be willing to submit ourselves to the correct (and hopefully wise) judgment of those within the body of Christ whom we have given authority in our lives to help us stay accountable.
And when we do not submit to such accountability, we act like pigs treating Jesus like garbage. We act like those who are unclean. Like “Gentiles.” Like unbelievers.
If we attempt to live without the accountability of other believers in our lives then we are simply not living a Christ-centered life.
And should those who ignore the teachings of Christ be called Christians at all? Well that’s for Jesus to decide. It is his name we are claiming after all…