Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:6b “. . .lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and
Dogs and hogs were to the Jews ceremonially unclean and repulsive. Dogs, not domesticated as pets, ran wild in packs, serving as self-appointed scavengers to clean city streets. They ate garbage and thus inspired disgust. Swine were deemed so repulsive that many Jews would not say the word “pig.” These two species of animals provided Jesus a good backdrop on which to picture not only the precious being defiled, but also the backlash which can be brought on by desecration.
Dogs can be fierce. “Let sleeping dogs lie” is wise counsel. I once accidentally stepped on a sleeping dog, and received a bloody face in return.
Pigs are dangerous. Our family knew a Tennessee man who went out one day to feed his hogs. He died with a heart attack and fell in the pen. The hogs ate half his corpse before anyone came to check on him. To lavish pearls on swine is not a wise practical joke. Pearls, looking like feed, would rouse the pigs, but soon the swine would deem them gravel, trample them underfoot, and begin looking elsewhere for food. Enraged at being fooled, they could easily turn on the giver.
The picture is graphic. Desecration recoils. It comes back to haunt the ones who devalue the holy or cast the pearls. The punishment may be seeing a loved one slip farther from God, or may entail loss of confidence and trust from family and friends. Jesus, loving us, does not want us to expose ourself to unnecessary grief.
In the delicate matter of dealing with sin in others, avoid both extremes: overkill and silence. Many are driven away by overkill, by the tactless way they are corrected. Even the best-tasting meat loses its appeal if served with nasty hands. In traveling overseas, I have seen Ruth refuse food due to the dirty hands of a server. We carry the bread of life; let us not spoil it for others by the way we handle it.
Be careful in approaching hardened sinners. “Heavy rains run off hard-baked earth. It must first be softened by a gentle drizzle” (Maclaren). Let our own tears be a gentle rain which seeks to soften hard hearts. Our Master, with tender compassion, wept over Jerusalem (LK 19:41). Jesus was a friend of sinners (MT 11:19).
Most unbelievers will reject our appeals, but be sure the blame is always theirs. “If the offence is in us, God have mercy upon us” (Lloyd-Jones). We must preach, teach, and witness in gentle love. The message, not the spirit, must be the deciding factor. The meaning of the words, not the tone of voice, must be the issue.
Also avoid the extreme of silence. In our open-minded, tolerant day, we are much more likely to be overly cautious than overly zealous. Though more disposed to be silent than to speak, we can not choose to be quiet. People do have splinters in their eyes, and do need our loving attention and help.
We may feel we have a log in our eyes and are not good enough to perform this task for others, but we cannot hide behind this as an excuse for not helping them. We cannot be relieved of our duty to reprove.
A sense of sin in ourselves does not release us from the obligation to become fit. “A man’s offence will never be his defence” (Henry). Some believers refuse to take the Lord’s Supper because they feel unworthy. This is a backward approach. We are to become fit in order to take the Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:27ff).
Some will not give an offering to God because they harbor in their heart ill will toward a brother. This is all wrong. We are to get right in order to give (MT 5:24). Our duty is to correct what is wrong, reform, and reposition ourselves aright.
Once our own log is removed, and we see clearly, we must help others with their splinter, for though small, it is still bad to have in the eye. When I was six, our family rode the ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty. As we were about to enter the Statue, something blew into Mother’s eye. Since the object was very painful, and we could not get it out, we decided to return to the city in case she needed medical attention. A substance essentially too small to see kept me from getting to enter the Statue of Liberty. A splinter in the eye is no minor matter, and needs to be handled.
Confronting another is a most difficult task of friendship, yet also one of the most helpful and most needed. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (PR 27:6).
We must try to help others. The only way we can know if a person is open to the Gospel is to try it out on them. Sadducees, Pharisees, and religious leaders said no to Jesus, while publicans, harlots, sinners, and a thief on the cross said yes. Yet even then, not all the former said no, nor did all the latter say yes. One’s reaction to the Gospel is an individual matter. We can’t know the outcome till we try.
If we refuse to make the attempt, we bring on ourselves uselessness and its accompanying disaster. What happens to salt that loses its saltiness? It is cast out (MT 5:13). What happens to the light that does not shine? Its lampstand is taken away (RV 2:5). What happens to the unused talent? It is taken away (MT 25:28).
A final thought–to reprove others effectively, we must be willing to be reproved ourselves. We need to desire a listening heart. “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (PR 25:12 NAS).
Each of us should be willing to be corrected by others. We are to submit ourselves one to another (EP 5:21). “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured” (PR 13:18).
Hitler, desiring no contradiction or second guessing, surrounded himself with yes men. He wanted his own ideas and opinions supported. Roosevelt sought disagreement. Wanting his ideas checked and critically analyzed, he surrounded himself with advisors he deemed wiser than himself. “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (PR 15:32).
Young people, your best friends are not your cronies who agree with you on everything, but rather your parents, teachers, and advisors who seek to show you the errors of your way, and the wisest path to follow. “It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools” (EC 7:5). Young people, the song of fools may sound more pleasant, but is not nearly as profitable.
Parents, listen to our children. They help us with blind spots. Everyone, listen to criticism. Analyze it. There may be an element of truth in it. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (PR 27:17 NAS). Keep as the object of life, to improve, not to feel good. The Psalmist said, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil” (PS 141:5a).