Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:5c “. . .and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy
“The result of clearing our own vision is beautifully put as being, not ability to see, but ability to cure, our fellows” (Maclaren). The motes in people’s eyes do need to be removed, but not by a surgeon with a log in his eye. The best way to learn how to extract sin from others is to extract it from ourselves first. “It is only the experience of the pain of casting out a darling evil, and the consciousness of God’s pitying mercy as given to us, that makes the eye keen enough, and hand steady and gentle enough, to pull out the mote” (Maclaren). As we know the joy that results from being rid of a sin in us, we want to help others have the same joy.
Battling our own sin gives us tact. “That man is most merciful to his neighbor who is least merciful to himself” (Duckworth). Massillon, a French preacher, was asked where he learned his profound knowledge of human passions, and his skills in helping people solve their religious difficulties. “From my own heart,” he replied. In striving for personal holiness he had vanquished, one by one, the bosom sins which trouble people–false excuses, conflicts with temptation, failure to keep resolutions. He knew them from experience, and dealt with them in others as one who understood and cared. King Louis XIV once told him, “I have heard several great orators, and been very pleased with them; but every time I have heard you I have been very much displeased with myself.” This ability to deal effectively with people’s sins comes through faithful self-treatment (see Smith, in Bib. Ill.).
Matt. 7:6a “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your
pearls before swine,. . .”
Some interpret this to mean we should not try to reprove unworthy listeners, but this contradicts the Great Commission itself, and undermines the mission mandate of the church. We are to “preach the Gospel to every creature” (MK 16:15).
The key to understanding this verse is to keep it in its context. The lesson is, reproving without discretion is desecration. Reproving others is a “holy” thing, a precious pearl, a means whereby we help people come to the foot of the cross. “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20b NAS). Confronting others is a holy imitation of divine activity. When Adam and Eve sinned, it was God who came to confront them, asking where they were, and what they had done (GN 3:9,13). Handling the splinters of others is a treasure to guard, a holy of holies to protect.
To reprove wrongly is desecration. In the vivid image of our text, the problem is not the dogs and hogs. They are what God made them. The problem is the person flinging holy things and pearls. Anyone who casts holy meat to dogs and valuable pearls to pigs does not value what he’s throwing. No one would dare take meat offered on the altar to God and pitch it to a dog, or foolishly throw precious gems to pigs. To do otherwise would show gross disrespect and violate propriety.
To recapture some of our text’s intended horror, imagine how you would feel toward me if after the Lord’s Supper I took the leftover juice cups outside for dogs to lick, and set the bread trays out for hogs to eat off of. You would be horrified, not at the dogs and hogs, but at me. This is the point Jesus is making here.
We are guilty of desecration when we usurp God’s prerogative, when we reprove based on judging hearts and motives rather than only words and deeds. We also profane the holy if we deal with others harshly. In Christian conduct few things are riskier than trying to rightly fulfill the requirement to reprove others.
Be careful when dealing with people’s splinters. Exercise discretion, lest we do more harm than good. Wisely weigh situations and opportunities. Be sensitive to the attitude and receptivity of the hearer. Be careful about how much, what, and when to share. “A word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (PR 15:23b).
Overkill can be disastrous. When handling sin in others, we tend to become impatient too quickly, especially when an unbeliever affronts us with obstinate cynicism, intellectual snobbery, love of sin, or self-sufficiency. At such times, it is easy to become testy, but we must remember they are blind to their real need. They are lost, wandering aimlessly away from God, and we must stop being angry at lost people for acting like lost people. They are on the wrong road. All markers and road signs along their path are worthless in helping them find the right trail.
I can tell you the day when I for the first time truly understood the sadness and terribleness of someone being lost. At a conference in St. Louis, Ruth and I once took our five-year-old son to a large gym for child care. When we returned to retrieve him, he was gone. A worker remembered giving a boy permission to go down the hall to the restroom, but he had not returned. Ruth and I panicked. As we combed hallways searching for John, seconds seemed like eternities. We walked faster and faster, calling his name louder and louder. I can still remember hearing my own breathing and feeling my heart pounding in my chest. Staff members finally made us sit in the church office while they continued the search. Only one thing in the whole world mattered. Find the lost boy. We were not angry, we were horrified, concerned, obsessed, that the lost be found. Fortunately, John was found. Seeking the restroom, he went down the hall one door too far, and instead of entering a bathroom, walked through a stairwell door that locked behind him.
Handle the lost with care. They are so confused that God, the most blessed reality our minds can rest on, is a painful thought to them. C. S. Lewis said when he was an atheist his most frightening thought was the possibility God existed. He said he fought God every step of the way, until at about age thirty, “I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Lewis was amazed at a love which let him in, though he was “brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape” (from his book “Surprised by Joy”).
My great-grandfather once got lost in a forest in northeast Arkansas. He became so terrorized that he developed a temporary insanity which caused him to think the searchers yelling out his name were actually wolves howling. He ran from them with all his might and literally had to be manhandled to the ground. Years later, when I was a pastor in Gosnell, Arkansas, a man one day asked me if I had a grandfather named Robert. When I said he was my great-grandfather, the man asked if I had ever heard a story about his being lost in the woods. When I said yes, the man replied, “I was the first one to catch him and wrestle him down.”
Great-grandpa thought those men were his enemies, but they were friends. He deemed their voices ferocious, but they were precious. He thought their hands would be harsh, but they were gentle. Our lost acquaintances are often in a similar situation. They deem us enemies, ferocious and harsh. We must convince them otherwise by running after them as friends, voicing precious words, and handling them gently. After 32 years of preaching, one thing I know–if we don’t love the lost, we can’t help them, for they won’t let us. We are to imitate Christ. Always remember He said He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (LK 19:10).