“Asking & Discerning” (Matthew 7:6-11 sermon)

I loved our Children’s Ministry Bible presentation last week, and I especially appreciated how Dr. Amanda mentioned that she is teaching our kids the importance of CONTEXT in scripture. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that in Bible interpretation. When you want to understand the true meaning of a verse, look at its context — the verses before and after it — and it will often give you the insight you need.

That is especially true with :6 of our passage for today: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

At first glance this may seem like a very odd verse, and you might wonder: what kind of spiritual point could Jesus possibly be making with this? But as we will see, the context helps us understand what it means — and then THIS verse sheds some light on the context of following verses in a way that perhaps you have never thought about before.


I. Exercise Spiritual Discernment

What in the world is Jesus talking about here? Well first, if you look at the context, He had just been talking about judging, right? If you were here last week you know we looked at :1-5, and how Jesus commanded us not to judge — which we saw, does NOT mean that we are never to say that anything is ever right or wrong when scripture is clear about it, but rather that we are not to judge hypocritically, or based on incomplete information, or on things the Bible is not clear about.

Jesus then clarifies this meaning by what He says in this next verse, :6. He shows us here that we ARE indeed to exercise judgment in the best sense of the word — that we are to distinguish; to be discerning. He says: “Do not give what is holy, to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.” What does this mean?

Well first off, Jesus is not talking about what you feed your pets! He is teaching us spiritual truths in word pictures here. He’s saying you wouldn’t give holy food — maybe the meat from the Temple sacrifices — to a dog. And when they speak of “dogs” in the Bible, don’t think of your little “Fluffy” who sits in your lap in the recliner with ribbons in her hair! The dogs of Jesus’ day were wild, street dogs. Mark Twain, touring the Middle East just after the Civil War, wrote of the dogs of Constantinople:

“These dogs are the scavengers of the city … They eat any thing and every thing that comes in their way, from melon rinds and spoiled grapes up through all the grades and species of dirt and refuse to their own dead friends and relatives — and yet they are always lean, always hungry, always despondent.” He said they were “in possession of the streets.”

So with that picture in mind, you would not take “holy food” — meat that was just sacrificed at the Temple, or the bread that had stood in the Presence of the Lord in the Temple — and toss it to those wild dogs. It would be a sacrilege.

Then Jesus says, And don’t throw your pearls before swine. This is another picture. Our son David is very frugal with his money but some time ago he saved up and bought Ashley a pearl necklace. And she loves it and really appreciates it. But you wouldn’t take that necklace, bought with his sacrifice, and give it to a pig in the pig pen. It would be a waste; that pig wouldn’t appreciate that necklace any more than it would an old corn cob or a stick.

And that’s the real point here. Again, let me say: Jesus isn’t talking about animals. He is speaking symbolically; He’s speaking spiritually. He’s saying:
— Don’t give holy things to people who don’t appreciate them.
— Don’t toss precious things before those who will waste them.

When we see this in light of what Jesus had just said in verses 1-5 about judging, it gives context and helps us understand what we were saying last week, that by saying in Matthew 7:1 “Don’t judge,” Jesus is NOT saying that we are not to distinguish between good and bad, right or wrong, or that we are not to use discernment in making decisions, or to distinguish between different kinds of people.

This verse PROVES that point: because when Jesus says: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; don’t throw your pearls before swine,” He is telling us you DO need to use judgment and discernment. You need to be “discriminating” (in the best sense of the word; that you distinguish between good and bad/right and wrong). Make good judgment calls. Don’t give precious treasures to people who don’t appreciate them. He is commanding us to exercise spiritual discernment.

This spiritual discernment is something that Jesus Himself lived out. He didn’t treat everyone alike. He didn’t waste spiritual treasures on people who had no taste for them. With those who were spiritually hungry, He shared God’s word. But for example when He was on trial before His crucifixion, they brought Him before Herod, who was an evil man. Luke 23:8 says that Herod wanted to see Jesus “do something” — perform some sign to entertain him. But the Bible says Jesus “answered him nothing.” Herod and his soldiers dressed Him up and mocked Him. And Jesus did literally “NOTHING” for them — He wasn’t going to share His holy power and truth with people who were only going to mock it; see, He wasn’t going to give what was holy to dogs; He wasn’t going to throw His pearls before swine.

So what Jesus is telling us in this verse is that we as His people need to exercise discernment. We should be witnesses to those who are open to listening to us; but there are times when you can tell people are not open to it; that they are only mocking what you are saying — and you realize you don’t need to say any more. You’re wasting your time. You’d be “throwing your pearls before swine.”

The Apostle Paul modeled this a couple of times in the Book of Acts. In Acts 13 Paul & Silas were preaching in Antioch, and :45 says the Jews were just contradicting them, and started blaspheming — and Paul and Silas said, “since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”

See, basically they were saying, “We’re not gonna stay here and keep on throwing our pearls before swine.” We’re not going to waste the precious things of God with those who will not appreciate them any more than a street dog would appreciate the holy bread taken from the Presence of God at the Temple. As Jesus told His apostles when they went out on their preaching mission, there comes a time when you have to shake the dust off your sandals, and move on. Take it where it will be heard. Don’t waste precious things on those who do not appreciate them.

There are a lot of applications for this: in our witnessing — and also in the choices we make with our ministry resources. When I was up in Pittsburgh in June to meet with our Baptist church planters there, we were asking them what kind of help and ministries they needed. They mentioned some different things we could do, but one of them said he did NOT want churches to come up and have a block party and make a big meal and give food and a lot of stuff away; he said the people in his area have had SO much given to them, that now they think they deserve it. I won’t give you his exact quote because frankly it was a little crude, but basically he said, don’t waste your time and resources on that here. They won’t appreciate it. And that is just what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 7:6. Use discernment. Don’t just indiscriminately throw the things of God before those who do not want it or do not appreciate it. Use good judgment; use discernment.

This is a good word for us as we seek to give in light of all the many needs in our world today. We need to be judicious and discerning in the way we give. Don’t just toss your money anywhere. Our resources are limited. Use discernment, and give where it will be used wisely, and will best advance the Kingdom of God:

— Don’t just hand God’s money to people on the street, when you have no idea what they are going to do with it. You may well be “throwing your pearls before swine.” Give to something like Burke United Christian Ministries, where they screen and counsel the people who come, and make sure they aren’t getting help from multiple sources. (And I believe BUCM is in dire need of more food right now!)
— Don’t give your hurricane relief money to some organization that contacts you over the phone, and you don’t know anything about; give through our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which is recognized nationwide for their good work – and who share the gospel as they help disaster victims. I read a report the other day that our SBC DR teams have had hundreds of opportunities to share the gospel, and that dozens of people had been saved through their ministry.
— Don’t just give money to some charity that spends most of their funds on television ads. If you want to give in a wise way, give to our Pittsburgh Mission: Pastor Adam Sewell at The Well is ministering to the homeless on Mt. Washington, and he needs supplies for food and coffee cards, and personal hygiene items — but the great thing is, he has a church right there to channel these people to, that is ministering to their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs.

So Jesus is saying, “be discerning.” Don’t just throw your money, or even your witness, in places where it is going to be wasted. “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; don’t throw your pearls before swine.” Use judgment in the best sense of the word. Be wise. Exercise spiritual discernment.


II. Ask Your Heavenly Father

So when we see :6 in context, then IT also helps us to see the next verses in a new light. Most of us have heard these before: “Ask and it will be given to you”, etc. But now think of these verses in their context: Jesus had just said, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; do not throw your pearls before swine — but what? — “ASK and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus isn’t just completely changing the subject here like some people might think; these verses are related, and it has to do with how we are going to go about getting the things that we need.

See, sometimes when we need something, we go about it the wrong way. We appeal to the wrong source — and sometime we compromise to get it, in a way that is basically “throwing our pearls before swine” just like Jesus was talking about in :6.

For example, sometimes when God’s people have a need, we look to the government or to ungodly politicians or unscrupulous people to get it. I think it is very interesting that both these terms, “dogs” and “swine”, were used by the Jews as terms of disparagement for the lost Gentiles — the Greeks and the Romans. So Jesus’ audience knew that He was saying: don’t seek from these lost Gentiles what you need.

So what should we do, instead? Jesus tells us: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; don’t throw your pearls before swine — ASK and it will be given to you; SEEK and you shall find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you.” And then in :9-11 He uses the illustration of the Father:

“Or what man is there among you, who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ASK HIM”!

See, Jesus contrasts the compromise of :6 with the asking of :7-11. He’s saying, don’t grovel before worldly, compromised people, to get what you need. You go to GOD. You ask HIM. He is your Father in heaven — and remember how we talked about that this theme of God as “Father” is repeated no less than 14 times throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is really emphasizing is this sermon that God is our Heavenly Father. And here He says, HE is the One you should seek for your needs. Don’t compromise with the world; don’t “throw your pearls before swine”; seek GOD. He is your Father; look to HIM instead.

We see some examples of this in the Old Testament:

— When Israel was threatened by Babylon, they didn’t repent of their sins (which was the root of their problem) and call out to God to save them; instead they sent over to Egypt and formed an alliance with them, and asked their army to help them. Egypt was an idolatrous nation; they worshiped the sun, and frogs, and all kinds of ungodly things. And God’s people were going to go to THEM for help? So God said to them, Don’t lean on that broken reed, Egypt, for help. He was telling them, in effect, “Don’t throw your pearls before swine — ASK ME! I’m supposed to be your God. Look to ME for help!”

— Then afterwards when Israel had been in captivity in Babylon for some years, Ezra was about to leave with a group of God’s people to go back to Jerusalem, but it was long trip, and there were some dangers on the road ahead. But Ezra said in Chapter 8 that he didn’t want to ask the King of Babylon for troops and horsemen to protect him, because he had told the king that GOD was with them. So he said, we aren’t going to seek protection from this lost King; instead we are going to fast and pray and seek protection from THE KING! And they did; and God did bring them safely back to Jerusalem. But you see, Ezra didn’t want to seek from a lost king here on earth, what he should have been looking to God in heaven for instead.

This is just what Jesus is saying here: Don’t look to ungodly sources to give you the help that GOD wants to give you. “Don’t throw your pearls before swine … ASK and it will given to you!” GOD is your Father, and He will meet your needs.

These principles are very applicable today. For example, I read this week where some churches are lobbying for government funds for their churches. They say things like: “We’ve got a Christian school; let’s get the government to give us tax money.” Listen: we’ve got to be very careful about looking to Washington for our help. If they “help”, it comes with strings attached, doesn’t it? Strings that may compel us to compromise what God has told us in His word. So Jesus says “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; don’t throw your pearls before swine” — don’t seek Washington for your provision, instead, “ASK, SEEK, KNOCK” from your Heavenly Father who will give what is good to those who ask.

This applies in other areas of our church as well. I so appreciate the ministry of Bro. Keith, who every year takes our students on mission. One year it will be a state or local mission, and every other year, he takes them on an international mission trip. This is a great ministry that Keith has; it gets our students a taste of missions and ministry, and it is undoubtedly one of the reasons why we have so many young people in college today who are looking to go into some kind of ministry. So this next summer he is taking the youth to Hamburg, Germany. I love that; my first mission trip was to Germany. I know how impactful that can be. But it’s gonna cost about $2500 each; these students and their families will be needing funds, and Keith and I have talked about having lunches after church on Sunday mornings again this winter & spring, which was very successful a couple of years ago. But one thing we will NOT do — and this is one of our church’s convictions — is go out into the lost community and raise funds. III John talks about how the first century Christian missionaries “went out for the sake of the Name, seeking nothing from the Gentiles.” In other words, they did not get their support from the lost world they were trying to reach. Instead, John says, “WE ought to support such men.” This is a good application of this scripture we are looking at today: “don’t throw your pearls before swine.” Don’t seek your provision from the lost world, but from your Heavenly Father. “ASK!”

In every area of our lives and ministries we need to learn to “ask” for what we need from our Father in Heaven every day. This again goes back to the importance of our daily prayer time. Among other things, in our morning prayer time we need to lay our requests before the Lord. Now, as we discussed in our MasterLife class last Sunday night, and as we have mentioned in here several times as we’ve talked about how to pray, bringing our requests is not the only thing that we are to do in prayer: we should follow that Model Prayer outline, and praise God first, then pray for His kingdom requests, and His will — and THEN “give us this day”, where we ask for our requests. But there IS a place for that; He DOES want us to “ask.”

(And let me also add: Sunday, October 16th, Greg Frizzell is going to be with us, and he will be sharing his “Going Deeper With God” conference. Several of the sessions are going to deal with prayer, AND with things in our lives that might be keeping our prayers from being answered. So if you feel like you could use a little help on learning better how to “ask” God in prayer, be sure you are here October 15 & 16th.).

But this principle of not “pandering” to the wrong sources, but asking God, not only applies to our needs, and our politics and our money; it especially applies to our salvation also. It is so sad that people who are earnestly searching for spiritual help and salvation, often subject themselves to all kinds of evil characters who demand all kinds of things from them. And these deceivers are just in it for self-promotion and greed.

Most people know October 31st as “Halloween”, but it is also another very special day: Reformation Day — October 31st, 1517 was the day when the German monk, Martin Luther, nailed his protest about the wrong doctrines and practices of the Catholic church to the door of the Wittenburg Church. He did it partially in response to the abuses of preachers like Johann Tetzel, who was going around proclaiming what the church called “indulgences”: if people would pay these “indulgence” offerings, then they could buy a dead loved one out of so many years of burning in Purgatory. So Tetzel’s message was: “the moment the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.” (Folks, religious charlatans did not originate in the 20th century; they’ve been around!) Luther couldn’t stand this abuse of the people, so he nailed his protest in the form of 95 theses to the Wittenburg Church door, and the Reformation began. (Wednesday night Nov. 1 we are going to celebrate the 500th anniversary of The Reformation as a church by watching the film, “Luther”, which is a very well done, historically accurate movie which tells the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation — so make plans to be here that night. We’ll have popcorn! 🙂

But the spiritual abuse of people who are seeking salvation has not stopped since the days of the Reformation. There are still charlatans around: these “prosperity preachers” who tell you if you will send them money, then they will send you an “anointed prayer cloth” or whatever that will heal you; who gather desperate people to rallies, promising them healing or salvation.

It is of these false prophets too that Jesus says “Do not give what is holy to these dogs; do not throw your pearls before swine.” Don’t look for help and salvation from these religious charlatans who are just going to “turn and tear you to pieces” — who are just going to take your money, and use and abuse you!

So how will you be saved? Jesus says “ASK and it will be given to you; SEEK and you will find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you”! Look to GOD — look to your Father in Heaven to do for you what no one else can do.

If you are desperate to be saved today, I tell you, don’t look to me; don’t look to this church; don’t look to classes and programs; for God’s sake don’t look at these religious deceivers — LOOK TO GOD! He says “Look to ME and be saved, all ye ends of the earth”! (Isaiah 45:22) You have sinned against God, and you are lost, and you can’t do anything to save yourself. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” and He sent Jesus to die on the cross, to pay for your sins, and He rose from the dead, to save whoever would call on Him: “For whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved”! So CALL on Him. ASK Him. SEEK Him today. KNOCK on the door of heaven. ASK your Father in Heaven to do for you what no one else can do for you, and what you cannot do for yourself: Look to HIM and be saved right now!

See, it is no coincidence that in the Book of Luke Jesus repeats the words of verse 11 — but with a little change. He says “If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give THE HOLY SPIRIT to those who ask”! How are you going to be saved? How can your sins be forgiven? How will the Holy Spirit come into your life? Don’t “throw your pearls” before some “swine” spiritual charlatan — ASK GOD to save you, and forgive you, and to send His Holy Spirit to you! ASK your Father in Heaven, and you will be saved!


See, the principle of :6 is true for every area of your life:
— for salvation
— for your spiritual growth
— for your church and ministry
— for the things you need
— for the way you give
— for every area of your life

“Don’t give what is holy to dogs; do not cast your pearls before swine …” Use discernment. DO NOT seek from ungodly people and worldly sources what you should be looking to GOD for. “ASK and it shall be given to you; SEEK and you shall find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you.” Seek what you need from your Father in Heaven, who loves you, and wants to provide everything you need — salvation and everything else — if you will just ASK HIM!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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