Reaching Pigs Without Pearls: Matthew 7:1-6

Focus Passage: Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Read Matthew 7:1-6 in context and/or in other translations on!

One of the oddest things for Jesus to teach comes right after Jesus shares a message about hypocrisy and being intentional about how we should help others. Taken by itself, it may be one of the meanest of Jesus’ teachings – but even while it may not be politically correct, the theme that is shared may surprise you.

After drawing our attention onto how we should focus on personal growth in order to truly be able to help others (this equals fixing issues in our lives before helping others do so), Jesus seems to switch topics by saying, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (v. 6)

I wonder if this idea confused any of those in Jesus’ audience. Is Jesus being literal here, or are dogs, pigs, and pearls metaphors for something else?

If we take the context of this passage and focus on how Jesus has just finished sharing about removing the speck from our brother’s eye, I wonder if Jesus hasn’t actually changed topics, but instead is broadening the focus of His idea to now include other non-family members. If this is the case, then dogs and pigs may symbolically mean people who are unreceptive or hostile to spiritual truth.

Continuing along with that thought, in the Old Testament culture, as well as in the first century, there were clear boundaries between the sacred and the secular – even more so than boundaries that are present between these areas today. Dogs and pigs are not clean animals (based on the Jewish dietary law), therefore they could easily represent those who have aligned themselves against spiritual truth.

If the term pearl is a metaphor as well, then perhaps it might be compared to wisdom. There is the expression “pearl of wisdom” and that may be relevant for our discussion as a way to link these ideas.

With all these metaphors in place, I wonder if Jesus is telling His followers to be cautious about sharing wisdom and spiritual truth with those who are hostile towards it. Those who do not value the things of God are not going to value or appreciate more things sent their way. If we choose to intentionally share spiritual truth with someone who will not value it, or with someone who is opposed to it, we paint a target on ourselves with nothing positive coming from the situation.

Does that mean we write off those who are opposed to Christ and Christianity? Absolutely not!

It does instead mean that we must approach these people differently. These people may be more impressed by our actions and attitudes (specifically our Christ-like love) than with our Christian clichés and our thought-challenging proverbs.

Jesus came into a world that was filled with these metaphoric dogs and pigs. Instead of preaching religious clichés like had been done up to that point, Jesus took a relational approach, and won many people over by simply loving them. Jesus’ example shares how we can reach people who are opposed to God, and it is through our love and character, not through our spiritual teachings.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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A Solid Foundation for Our Faith: John 10:22-42

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As we continue working our way through John’s gospel, we arrive at a place where Jesus is clearly asked whether He is the Messiah or not. While this seems like a great place for Jesus to openly declare that He was in fact the Messiah these Jews had been waiting for, I am fascinated that Jesus takes a different angle when answering this question. In the angle Jesus takes, He subtly challenges the very idea these Jews had about who the Messiah would actually be.

Let’s read about what happened, and how Jesus’ reframe of His ministry should have prompted these Jews to understand the Messiah differently, instead of simply prompting them to reject Him.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 10, and we will read it using the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 22, John tells us that:

22 It was winter, and the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple was being celebrated in Jerusalem. 23 Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Porch in the Temple, 24 when the people gathered around him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? Tell us the plain truth: are you the Messiah?”

25 Jesus answered, “I have already told you, but you would not believe me. The deeds I do by my Father’s authority speak on my behalf; 26 but you will not believe, for you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never die. No one can snatch them away from me.29 What my Father has given me is greater than everything, and no one can snatch them away from the Father’s care. 30 The Father and I are one.”

31 Then the people again picked up stones to throw at him. 32 Jesus said to them, “I have done many good deeds in your presence which the Father gave me to do; for which one of these do you want to stone me?”

33 They answered, “We do not want to stone you because of any good deeds, but because of your blasphemy! You are only a man, but you are trying to make yourself God!”

34 Jesus answered, “It is written in your own Law that God said, ‘You are gods.’ 35 We know that what the scripture says is true forever; and God called those people gods, the people to whom his message was given. 36 As for me, the Father chose me and sent me into the world. How, then, can you say that I blaspheme because I said that I am the Son of God? 37 Do not believe me, then, if I am not doing the things my Father wants me to do. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, you should at least believe my deeds, in order that you may know once and for all that the Father is in me and that I am in the Father.”

39 Once more they tried to seize Jesus, but he slipped out of their hands.

40 Jesus then went back again across the Jordan River to the place where John had been baptizing, and he stayed there. 41 Many people came to him. “John performed no miracles,” they said, “but everything he said about this man was true.” 42 And many people there believed in him.

In this passage, I am amazed at how Jesus frames the crowd’s hostility towards Him. While the crowd rightfully determines that Jesus’ words would fall within one definition of blasphemy, either they did not understand, or they were unwilling to accept, the difficult truth that the Messiah that the Old Testament prophesied about would actually be God’s Son.

Much later in Jesus’ ministry, during the week leading up to Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus uses an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah as evidence that the Messiah existed before David while also being David’s descendant. For those who are interested in what happened, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this event, and you can find it at the end of Matthew, chapter 22, near the end of Mark, chapter 12, and at the end of Luke, chapter 20.

However, tucked within Jesus’ counter-challenge to these Jews is another amazing truth. While Jesus doesn’t ask those in this crowd to accept what they feel are blasphemous claims about being one with God, Jesus does challenge them regarding what they see Him doing. Everything Jesus did was to bring glory to God and to uplift God’s name. Even the crowd acknowledged when they picked up stones to stone Jesus that it wasn’t for anything He had done, but for one single claim He had made.

While Jesus clarifies how His claim about being God’s Son is completely compatible with the Old Testament scriptures, He shifts the focus onto His actions. Actions always speak louder than words, and in Jesus’ case, the only way Jesus could have done 90% of what He did was if God was with Him supporting Him through the Holy Spirit. While Jesus could have leaned on His divinity throughout His entire life, Jesus instead submitted Himself to God the Father’s will, and leaned on the Holy Spirit for power.

This means that if God the Father did not like the message Jesus was sharing, there would be no way Jesus could have helped people during the time He was teaching, and preaching. We don’t have to look very far into Jesus’ miracles to come to one that would be impossible for Jesus to do if God was not with Him.

Because Jesus worked so many miracles, and because Jesus always attributed these miracles as the Father’s will, and as reasons to give God the glory, we can use Jesus’ actions as a foundation for our faith. Regardless of the message Jesus shared, what Jesus did while He was alive on earth could only have happened if God was with Him. If Jesus had stepped too far, or over the line of what God felt was acceptable or not, we could expect that Jesus’ ability to perform miracles would stop.

However, when we fast forward to the end of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was resurrected from the dead exactly as He predicted, Jesus returned to heaven, and the Holy Spirit was given to His followers exactly as Jesus promised. These details surrounding the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth give the greatest evidence to the powerful truth that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Jesus was God’s Son and the Messiah God had promised since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Because Jesus’ word has never failed, we can trust His promises, and even if we are uncertain of some of the more extreme claims Jesus made, we can look to Jesus’ actions as a foundation for our faith in Him.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to place your faith, your hope, your trust, and your belief in Jesus and what He accomplished while He was alive on earth. Trust that Jesus is in heaven working for our benefit as history speeds towards the end of sin and the salvation of God’s people!

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. God wants a personal relationship with you, and a personal relationship is best built on the foundation of personal prayer and personal Bible study. While other people can have good things to say, or interesting ideas to think about, always take what you hear, read, or see and filter it through the truth in God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in John – Episode 24: While Jesus was teaching in the temple during one festival, we come to a time when the Jews present directly ask Jesus if He was the Messiah shortly before they concluded they needed to stone Him to death. Discover what happened, and why this event is important for all of Jesus’ followers living today!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Prioritizing Like Jesus: John 15:1-17

Focus Passage: John 15:1-17 (NIrV)

“I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit.

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. If anyone remains joined to me, and I to him, he will bear a lot of fruit. You can’t do anything without me. If anyone does not remain joined to me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and dries up. Branches like those are picked up. They are thrown into the fire and burned.

“If you remain joined to me and my words remain in you, ask for anything you wish. And it will be given to you.When you bear a lot of fruit, it brings glory to my Father. It shows that you are my disciples.

“Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. In the same way, I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy will be in you. I also want your joy to be complete.

12 “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

15 “I do not call you servants anymore. Servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. I have told you everything I learned from my Father.

16 “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit. It is fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.

17 “Here is my command. Love each other.

Read John 15:1-17 in context and/or in other translations on!

Has God ever challenged you with a difficult person?

Or has God ever brought someone into your life who pushed you to grow – regardless of whether you wanted that growth or not?

If there is ever a passage that challenges us regarding our attitude and priorities about other people, it is this one. Many people really like this passage applied to others, but when we really dig in to apply this to ourselves, we run into some very challenging implications.

The part of this passage where this comes to Jesus’ big point is in verses 12 and 13: “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends.

We love these verses when others apply Jesus’ teaching because it feels nice to receive excellent service and to receive gifts. However, when applying the verses to us, things get significantly harder.

The standard that Jesus gives, and the one He set is placing your friends’ lives ahead of your own life. There is no getting around this simple truth. Jesus set our lives ahead of His own life by dying a death that He did not deserve – for people (us) who did not deserve it. And He calls us to do the same if we wish to remain in His love. (v. 10)

This is very counter cultural to even today’s Christian world. The Christian self-help movement likes to make us think that our priorities should be God first, then ourselves, then others. After all, isn’t this way healthier and less likely to cause burnout?

Perhaps, but what often happens in the God-myself-then-others priority structure is that others get the leftovers, and over time, we turn inward and our backs face those who need our help.

The flipside is also damaging. Jesus never modeled a life where He didn’t take time alone to recharge. Praying alone all night, sneaking away from the crowds, and sending the crowds away were all part of His balancing act. The danger to the God-others-then-myself priority structure is that we lose our identity and our connection with God because others will have a tendency to push God to the side.

This passage does not teach an others-first or even a self-first mindset. Instead, it teaches a God-first perspective. The time we spend with God is the most valuable time we can spend. [Period]

Time spent with God is restorative to our health, it recharges our identity, and it reprioritizes our focus onto the things that God wants us to focus on. By spending time with God, He will direct us to His ministry for us – a cause that we can dedicate our lives to that helps others. What is left afterwards is self, and in reality, the more time we spend with God, the less important our “self” time will be. Our time spent with God is restorative and it should be our focus.

Jesus modeled a God-first, Others-second attitude. Self wasn’t even in His equation. If Jesus placed others first, as His followers, we should too!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Not-So-Last-Minute Escape: Matthew 2:1-23

Focus Passage: Matthew 2:1-23 (CEV)

When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,

’Bethlehem in the land
    of Judea,
you are very important
    among the towns of Judea.
From your town
    will come a leader,
who will be like a shepherd
    for my people Israel.’”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.”

The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

11 When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. 12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.

13 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”

14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”

16 When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.

17 So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,

18 “In Ramah a voice was heard
    crying and weeping loudly.
Rachel was mourning
    for her children,
and she refused
to be comforted,
    because they were dead.”

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt. 20 The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”

21 Joseph got up and left with them for Israel. 22 But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee, 23 and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Read Matthew 2:1-23 in context and/or in other translations on!

At the end of every Christmas story that follows the wise men’s journey, we are presented with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt. I’m not sure why my mind has created this picture, but I’ve often imagined the scene that the little family is leaving through the south gate of the city when the guards are arriving at the north gate to enter and kill the children.

But if we read closer at what Matthew describes in his gospel, I see a different scene taking place. If the wise men’s visit was during the day, then most likely, that same night both groups had their respective dreams. The wise men dreamed that they should not return to Herod and Joseph dreamed about the need to escape to Egypt. (v. 12-13)

Joseph didn’t waste any time. He packed up his family and they set out that night.

What Matthew does not mention is how much time passed before Herod realized the wise men had chosen to not return. “Later they [the wise men] were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.” (v. 12)

When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.” (v. 16)

The time between the wise men taking the different road and that information reaching Herod may have been days or weeks. It is even possible that Joseph and the family were crossing the border into Egypt on the actual night the slaughter happened in Bethlehem.

But maybe, from what we know about Herod in this event, the king had sent spies to watch the wise men and report on their actions and their direction. It is even possible that if there were spies following the wise men, they learned the exact location where the family was living. However, as soon as the wise men took the road that didn’t lead back to Jerusalem, the spies realized they weren’t headed back to Herod and they left to give their report.

With this information, the escape most likely happened a day or two ahead of the slaughter if there were spies watching the wise men, or perhaps even a week or two if Herod was simply waiting for their return.

This detail in the Christmas story tells me that God has everything planned out in detail, and He is not surprised by what is going to happen. God knew Jesus’ life was in danger long before Herod even knew of Jesus’ existence and He made a way for the family to escape the slaughter. This means that nothing that happens in my own life is a surprise to God. While not everything that happens is good, God is able to take the bad and salvage it into something good if we let Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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