“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you.”
~Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)
In a world where everyone seems to have an opinion—one that, by instinct, each thinks is right—there are bound to be many who will be disappointed by the world’s nonchalant reception of such views. This is universal human experience.
The predilection to be the bearer of good news is more a temptation to the Christian than they might ordinarily foresee. When we have the key to the Kingdom at our grasp, and we are taught to evangelise, exhort, encourage and admonish, we more readily extend ‘our wisdom’ to a world that, to our surprise, often makes short shrift of such beneficent offerings.
This proverb that Jesus offers up to the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount is seriously misunderstood. It is no adage for self-righteousness. Connecting this verse with the previous five deploring the judgment of others (Matthew 7:1-5) and the following five regarding the finding of God’s kingdom (Matthew 7:7-11), we might make more sense of its literal meaning, given that Matthew has sought to arrange his account of the gospel this way.
Even the placement of Jesus’ Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 perhaps has relevance. Reading these mini-sections together provides further topical insight.
The Exercise of Christian Discernment
Discerning God’s will is our chief interest. Many times this is simply following the Word of the Lord, as well as perceiving the flow of the Spirit within the motion of life.
Discerning God’s will is, therefore, the practice of conforming our thoughts, words, and deeds to the notion of godliness.
In the local context of Matthew 7:6, consequently, wisdom is called for in engaging with our world in ways that the world finds of value; that which, also, aligns with the truth. That is a knife-edge opportunity, right there. Such opportunities come around so infrequently we can expect to learn more from our failures than from our successes.
Not many things we will say or do will find warm reception unless we can find a niche within solidly motivated Christian humility—the act of being first by placing ourselves last (Mark 9:35). We might speak up only when such views are genuinely invited.
The Exercise of Christian Humility
Proverbs such as this—one not unlike Proverbs 23:9: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, who will only despise the wisdom of your words”—are the sternest and most direct reminders of the need for adroit Christian humility.
Who might we be, always far less than the Saviour, to offer up our pearls for the spiritual indigestion of the proud? Even Jesus’ wisdom was spat out by the self-righteous of his day. This is no doubt a large part of the reason Jesus focused on the poorly; acknowledged sinners—their ears were ripe for the hearing; their eyes able to see truth.
Being right is no qualification in itself to foist our opinion over others.
Every good word has its time, its situation, and its audience. Ours is to discern the proper time and opportunity for every thought, word, and deed. That is discerning God’s will; that, too, is where humility is personified.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.