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24. The Fatal Failures of Religion: # 5 Misdirected Effort (Matthew 7:1-12)


A while back I read the very distressing account of an incident in the life of a young bachelor. He worked in an office where every year the boss gave each employee a turkey as a bonus for the holiday season. Of course, the bachelor could never figure out what to do with his ‘turkey.’ One year the other fellows in the office decided to play a little practical joke on their friend. They exchanged the genuine item for one made of plaster. They could hardly wait to hear his report after the holidays.

On the way home on the bus that evening the young man was contemplating how he could dispose of his turkey. About this time a man in tattered clothing, obviously ‘down in his luck,’ sat in the seat beside him. In the course of their conversation, the young man began to perceive the solution to his problem—he would give this poor fellow his turkey. It would meet a real need for this fellow and his family, and it would solve his problem, too.

In order to avoid humiliating the man he decided that rather than give the turkey to him as charity, he would sell it to him for whatever he could pay. The man gladly produced the last of his money and the exchange was made. Both men parted rejoicing. But when the bachelor returned to the office, he was horrified to learn of the trick which had been played on him, and the terrible deed unknowingly done to the poor man on the bus. For days, the young attorney and his friends rode that same bus to rectify their error, but no one ever saw the man again.

This story (which I believe to be true29), illustrates the principle laid down by our Lord that we are not qualified to pass judgment on the deeds of others. If we were to judge this young bachelor by the act itself, we would conclude that he was a scoundrel. If we were to judge him by his motives, we would have to regard him as a wise and benevolent individual.

While such distressing dilemmas do not occur to us routinely, we commonly err in condemning and criticizing on the basis of outward appearances. I remember when I was a teenager a man stumbled by those of us who were standing in front of our church. I immediately concluded he was drunk and began to mimic him to the delight of my peers. I was horrified when it suddenly dawned on me that this man was not drunk at all, but had some pathetic physical problem.

Because of our tendency to pass quick and critical judgment on others, our Lord has chosen to speak to this issue. As I presently understand verses 1-12 of chapter 7, they all speak to the matter plaguing the religion of Jesus’ day and of ours, that of misdirected effort. Much of that which is done in the name of Christianity is unprofitable and detrimental because it is misdirected and misguided. Verses 1-5 warn us of one type of misguided effort, criticism. Verse 6 cautions us not to carry this to the opposite extreme by insisting that we discriminate between receptive listeners and hardened rejecters. Verses 7-11 instruct us to redirect our efforts in the practice of persistent prayer. Verse 12 concludes with a principle which ties together the entire section and guides us in our relationships with our fellow man.

Judging Forbidden

Few sayings of our Lord are better known or more often quoted than these words: “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves” (Matthew 7:1). Likewise, few sayings are more misunderstood and misapplied. For this reason we must begin by dealing with what our Lord did not mean by this warning.

(1) Jesus did not mean that it is wrong to have law courts and law enforcement. Such was the understanding of Tolstoy.30 Other Scriptures clearly teach that government is a divinely appointed instrument to mete out punishment (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14). Jesus did not dispute Pilate’s authority to execute capital punishment. Indeed, He stated that this authority came from God (John 19:10-11).

(2) It is not wrong to think critically. Some would have us believe that godliness is closely akin to gullibility. This is really an extension of the error some have made concerning Matthew 6:25 (“… Take no thought …” KJV). We should accept every statement of men on its face value, and in no way should we ponder or weigh it as to its veracity (we are told). That is not the teaching of Scripture (cf. Acts 17:10-11; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

(3) Neither is our Lord forbidding taking a decisive stand on doctrinal and moral issues. So often whenever a Christian takes what might be regarded as a negative position, the response is, “Judge not …” But the very context of our passage indicates that we must make decisions and take a stand. If we are not to ‘give what is holy to dogs’ (verse 6), then we must decide who are dogs, or hogs. If we are to “beware of false prophets” (verse 15), then we must determine who such men are. Paul took a public stand on the issue of immorality within the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Timothy was instructed to take a stand in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7). We are to refuse to invite false teachers into our homes (2 John 8-11). We are also instructed to “contend earnestly for the faith …” (Jude 3).

(4) It is not wrong to correct those in error. In the 18th chapter of this same Gospel, Matthew recorded our Lord’s instructions concerning church discipline (verses 15ff). In Galatians 6:1, Christians are instructed to restore a sinning brother. Paul corrected Peter face to face (Galatians 2:11). Even the elders of a church are not above correction (1 Timothy 5:19-20). Good friends sharpen each other with constructive criticism (Proverbs 27:7,17).

What, then, did our Lord intend for us to understand by these words, “Judge not”? Since the Lord Jesus has all along been dealing more with attitudes and motives in the Sermon on the Mount, we are safe in concluding that the problem here has to do primarily with a critical, condemning spirit.

I have very little trouble identifying what our Lord has forbidden for there is much of this spirit in me. Often times I deceive myself by supposing that I am just being a critical thinker, when in fact, I am only a critical person. We all love to be critics. It is amusing to observe this during football season. We criticize the football coach for sending in such a ‘foolish’ play. We criticize the quarterback for throwing such a poor pass. We boo the referee for making such a bad call. No doubt we criticize the preacher for such a miserable message.

The criticism of which we are speaking is that which seeks to put others down, while elevating ourselves. It is the kind of smug disdain of those who feel superior to others.

“And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).

The contempt of the scribes and Pharisees was more than just the smugness of superiority. It was a snobbery based upon legalism. The Jews had a neatly packaged system of rules and regulations which prescribed an external kind of righteousness. Those who judged (condemned, despised) the hoi polloi, the masses, did so on the basis that those who were righteous kept their rules, but the rest failed to do so, and, indeed, were ignorant of those rules and regulations (John 7:49).

The underlying issue is that these self-appointed judges set themselves up as those who were qualified to pronounce upon a person’s spirituality by the standards of his own system of rules. They perceived righteousness to be achieved by the keeping of human rules. They supposed that men would conform to these rules by the external pressure of those religious leaders who judged their performance by their man-made laws.

This error is more prominently exposed in Luke’s account in chapter 6. Immediately after speaking of the folly of attempting to remove a small speck from our brother’s eye while we have a beam31 in our own (verse 41-42), our Lord went on to say:

“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:43-45).

Here was the problem within Judaism in the days of the Savior. Here is the problem within Christianity today. Men are directing their efforts toward producing righteousness through external acts. Worse yet, they are attempting to force this error on others by pressuring men to be righteous by keeping man-made rules and regulations and rituals. These efforts are futile and doomed to failure because they do not change a man’s heart. True righteousness cannot be imposed from without, but must be exposed from within. No man can be made righteous until his heart is radically changed by God. Religion today is trying to reform men, but only Christ can transform men by giving them a new heart.

I must digress for one moment, my friend, and ask if you have received a new heart by genuine conversion, or are you still trying to patch up your old sinful self. God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to qualify as your sin-bearer by living a perfect life. He has died on the cross of Calvary to bear the penalty of your sins. He has been raised from the dead that you might live a victorious life and reflect God’s righteousness (though imperfectly) in your life. Religion and reform will never save you, only a renewal of heart can do that (cf. Titus 3:5-7).

Now that we understand what the Master has forbidden, let us concentrate for a moment on why such criticism is wrong.

(1) Criticism is wrong because it usurps divine prerogatives and therefore invites divine judgment, verse 1. “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves.” Although it is not directly stated in this passage I believe it is to be inferred that when one appoints himself a judge of others he usurps a divine prerogative. In the Scriptures there are several passages which speak to this same evil (e.g. Romans 14, James 4:11-12). From these passages, we receive much helpful commentary on the meaning of Christ’s teaching. James wrote: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).

Paul wrote in Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls …” (cf. also verse 10). Judging is a divine prerogative. We take too much upon ourselves if we set ourselves over others to judge them. It is not the privilege or the position of a slave to judge other slaves. That is the responsibility of their master. We make ourselves masters (and not slaves) when we judge others.

(2) Criticism is wrong because it arises out of impure motives. The judging which is here condemned by the Master is wrong because it is criticism arising from impure motives. It attempts to emphasize one’s own righteousness at the expense of a brother’s reputation. On the surface such criticism may be done in a spirit of helpfulness, but this is only a shame. “I really love you, but…” “You’re a wonderful person, but…” “I’m saying this for your own good…” “This hurts me more than it does you, but…”

The only criticism or correction which is praiseworthy is that which is prompted by genuine love. Love does not seek a brother’s downfall, but his edification (cf. Romans 14:13,19). Love is reluctant to believe the worse and hopeful of the best:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

“Love seeks to conceal unrighteousness, not to expose it” (1 Peter 4:8).

(3) Criticism is wrong because it sets its own standards and judges other men by them. We have already suggested that it was the legalistic rules and regulations of Pharisaism by which men judged others, rather than by God’s law (cf. James 4:11-12). The judging forbidden by Paul in Romans chapter 14 was that concerning ‘doubtful things’ (verse 1). Of these things men were to be ‘fully convinced in their own minds’ (verse 5), but since their observance was ‘to the Lord’ (verse 6), we are not to condemn.

This tendency to go beyond the requirements of scripture is clearly implied by the Savior when He warned that the standard by which we judge men is the standard by which we will be judged ourselves (Matthew 7:2). If we wish to be overly demanding on others, we must accept this same standard for our own conduct (cf. Romans 2:1-2).

It is so easy for Christians to confuse biblical principles and personal preferences, convictions and commandments. We then try to impose these upon others, and we judge men’s spirituality by how well they live up to our preconceived ideas of righteousness.

(4) Criticism is wrong because it turns the focus of our attention outward rather than inward. Personal convictions are to be kept to ourselves, not crammed down the throats of others (Romans 14:22). The entire focus of criticism is upon the lives and conduct of others, but this is none of our business, for each man must give account of himself before God (Romans 14:10). Here we are trying to correct the flaws in others, rather than concentrating upon ourselves. Criticism is minding other people’s business. We listen to a sermon and remark how we wished that Sister Smith were here to hear it. How we deceive ourselves!

(5) Criticism is wrong because our knowledge is limited. Although our text does not specify this error, criticism is wrong because we are not in a position to know all the facts. If we judged the young bachelor’s gift of a phony turkey from the perspective of the man whose ‘luck was down’ we would judge wrongly. You and I cannot judge without full knowledge of the facts.

Furthermore, we cannot know the motives of a man. In doubtful things (not in matters clearly forbidden, as the situationalist would tell us), it is one’s motives that make all the difference. If a man drinks wine or eats meat, doubting his freedom to do so, he sins (Romans 14:22,23). Since we cannot know a man’s heart, his motivation for his deeds, we cannot judge him.

(6) Criticism is wrong because our perspective is distorted. You can imagine the smiles which began to work their way across the faces of our Lord’s audience as they saw the humor in what He was saying in verses 3-5. Here is the picture of a man with a large beam in his own eye attempting to remove a minute particle from the eye of another. The irony is that we often try to correct others while our own problems far surpass the errors of those we criticize and attempt to correct. This problem is emphasized in Luke’s account where he includes this statement of the Lord Jesus as an introduction to the paragraph on judging others while you have a beam in your eye: “And He also spoke a parable to them: ‘A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” (Luke 6:39).

The scribes and Pharisees looked upon themselves as the leadership of Judaism. They felt that as such they were obligated to judge those under their authority, and to impose upon their inferiors the full requirements of Jewish traditionalism (which they called ‘the Law’). Jesus clearly implied in Matthew 7:3-5 (and plainly stated in Luke 6:39-45) that those with the greatest problems were the leaders themselves. How often we project our own failures (sins) upon others, while neglecting our own responsibilities.

(7) Criticism is wrong because it is hypocritical. Finally, the kind of criticism condemned by our Lord is wrong because at its base it is hypocritical. “You hypocrite …” (verse 5). Criticism is hypocritical because it holds a double standard. I often hold to a very rigid standard when I condemn others, but I am most tolerant when I commit the same sin. This process is called rationalizing. What we call ‘losing your temper’ in others we redefine as ‘righteous indignation’ in ourselves. Often, by the way, we use the most pious terms for our own transgressions. We call income tax evasion ‘stealing’ when others do it, ‘good stewardship’ when we are guilty. We call exceeding the speed limit ‘speeding’ when others are doing it, ‘redeeming the time’ when we are guilty of it. If only we were as tolerant, understanding, and merciful with others as we are with ourselves. This is precisely the principle which is laid down in verse 12.

The Need for Discernment

There is a great danger of imbalance in the application of what the Savior has taught in verses 1-5. If not counter-balanced, this prohibition of criticism (of condemning others while elevating ourselves) would be carried to illogical extremes. Thus the need for these words: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

Following through with the theme of ‘misdirected efforts,’ we have just learned that one such profitless practice is that of expending our energy in the fruitless venture of judging others. It fails to edify and build up our brother, it increases our own pride and sets the standard for our own condemnation. Worst of all, it does not produce righteousness in us or in others.

But there is an opposite and equal error, and that is the profitless expenditure of our time in persisting to proclaim the gospel to those who have clearly rejected it. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ virtually divided the nation by His teaching and claims (cf. John 7:40-44; 9:16; 10:19-21). No doubt one member of a family would tirelessly work to convince the rest of his family that Jesus was the Christ, but often to no avail. Many there were who attempted to remain within the mainstream of Judaism and to work from the inside to change the system (cf. John 7:45-52; 12:42-43). Today there are Christians who are saved and yet have spent their lives in apostate churches. They often attempt to stay in the church and to bring about its revival and reform. These words of Jesus have direct bearing on such efforts.

We are not told specifically what that which is holy is, nor what pearls signify, but it is not difficult to figure out. Surely that which is holy pertains to spiritual things, matters which Christians would consider of great value and sacred in nature.32 We would conclude that foremost in our Lord’s mind is the Gospel of salvation. Other spiritual truths could surely be included.

But who are the ‘dogs’ and the ‘hogs’? Both dogs and hogs were considered unclean by Judaism. Consequently, they were expressions which could be employed with reference to the heathen or the Gentiles (cf. Matthew 15:27; Mark 7:28). Within Israel the term dog was an expression of disdain (cf. 2 Samuel 9:8; Proverbs 26:11). In Deuteronomy 23:18 ‘dog’ is a euphemism for a male prostitute. More to the point, I believe, is Paul’s warning: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision” (Philippians 3:2).

Peter wrote of those who were apostates and rejecters of the truth:

“But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed … For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:12, 21-22).

Dogs and hogs are not merely unbelievers,33 but rather are those who have ample information concerning the way of righteousness and who have stubbornly rejected it.34 They are hardened in their rebellion and unbelief. To persist in witnessing to such people is wasted energy.

The dogs of Jesus’ day were not well-mannered lap dogs, but wild dogs that lived on the streets, eating that which was discarded and unclean. At times this included dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11; 21:19-24). In offering meat to an unclean dog one might well get bitten in the process. They were not so well-mannered as to avoid ‘biting the hand that fed them.’ Were one to cast pearls35 before swine, they might at first think them to be food, and then, not valuing pearls, might trample them under foot and even turn on the one who offered them.

And so although one dare not be overly critical of others (verses 1-5), neither is he to be so naive as to not distinguish between those who are open to the truth and those who oppose it.36 Jesus followed His own counsel when He ceased speaking openly to those who accused Him of using demonic power (Mark 3:22ff.). When Christ sent out His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God He instructed them, “And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matthew 10:14). Likewise, this was the practice of the apostle Paul (Acts 13:44-51; 18:5,6; 28:17-28).

Thus, while we must initially proclaim the gospel universally and indiscriminately, there comes a time when we must mark those who are hardened to the truth and cease our efforts to convert them and press on. This does not necessarily mean that such persons may not be saved in the future. The apostle Paul may well have been in the category of a dog (or a hog) before his conversion. Only the power of the Spirit of God can transform scoffers into saints.

Profitable Persistence: Prayer

While the first six verses of chapter 7 have informed us of unproductive activities for the Christian, verses 7 through 11 provide us with a creative (and profitable) alternative, namely prayer. A number of Bible students have concluded that these verses have little or nothing to do with the preceding verses, but this seems very unlikely.

First, we are confronted with the word ‘therefore’ in verse 12, which implies that this verse directly and logically relates to what has come before. In this ‘Golden rule,’ it is easy to see direct application to the matter of criticism. I, at least, am compelled by this to see verse 12 as the concluding principle for the entire section composed of verses 1-12.

In addition to the grammatical connection just mentioned, there is a decided logical connection. Our Lord is challenging us to redirect our destructive energies to that of productive prayer. More than this, nothing neutralizes a critical spirit more than prayer. You cannot long be angry at those for whom you are praying, seeking their salvation and best interest. This, no doubt, is why Jesus tells us in this sermon to pray for our enemies (cf. Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28).

I see yet another connection between verses 1-6 and 7-11. We have just been taught by the Lord that we are not to be critical of others, standing over them as their judge. We have also been told that we are to discern between good and evil, truth and falsehood, sheep and wolves (or dogs). The question which immediately comes to my mind is “How can I possibly walk this tightrope?” “How can I distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment?” It is a difficult, even impossible, assignment. I must have divine enablement.

I see verses 7-11 as an encouragement to pray for the wisdom and enablement demanded by verses 1-6. When our Lord says, “Ask, and it shall be given you, …” what are we to ask for? Daily bread? I think not, at least not primarily.37 What about wisdom? James tells us, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God …” (James 1:5). Surely the instruction of verses 1-6 demands divine wisdom.

‘Seeking’ and ‘knocking’ suggest most aggressive and intensive prayer. I would think that we would be continually seeking to know to whom we should speak and what we should say in the light of the first 6 verses. Knocking may involve the matter of looking for opportunities to share our faith in such a way as to stimulate one’s interest in spiritual things.

The suggestion that the subject of the prayer which is encouraged in verses 7-11 is for wisdom and enablement is strongly supported by Luke’s additional statement: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13).

If we ask the Father to grant us wisdom, discernment and enablement in the proclamation of the gospel, it is through the gift of the Holy Spirit (already given to the church at Pentecost, and to us at conversion) that God grants the answer to our requests. The prayer life which we are encouraged to cultivate here is not the prayer for things, but the prayer for enablement.

In all probability we dare not get too carried away with finding specific applications for each of these terms: ask, seek and knock. They are all present imperatives which would suggest continual and persistent activity. Rather than persisting at criticism or fruitless evangelism among the hardened, let us pour our efforts into prayer, for God is always willing to help us search our hearts. He is always ready to give us His best.

Here is the underlying theme, I believe, of these five verses on prayer—God’s willingness to give His children good things. Even earthly parents, who are evil by nature,38 are eager to do what is best for their children. If we take verse 8 seriously we must conclude that there is no unanswered prayer for the Christian, for Jesus has said, “For everyone who asks receives …” Would an earthly father give his child a rock when he has asked for bread? Would he give him a snake (or perhaps an eel39) when he asked for a fish?

If men, evil by nature, desire to give good things to their children, are we not to be assured of God’s answer to our prayers? Now we should also remark that while God’s willingness and goodness are here emphasized, no where are we told that God is going to give us all we ask for. Jesus has said that God does not play dirty tricks on His children, giving them useless or dangerous things in response.40 Thank God He has not given me everything for which I have asked.

What is here stressed is that God will always answer our prayers. That, as a concerned and loving Father,41 He will never overlook a request, nor will He respond in a way which is harmful to His child. But just because we ask for a fish (or a fancy sports car, or a wife who is a beauty contest winner, or acceptance at a prestigious university) does not guarantee that we will receive exactly what we request. God will never give us that which is not for our good. And what God does give us is just what we really need.

We should greatly rejoice that our loving heavenly Father reserves the right to substitute something better in place of our request. One time my wife ordered a new electric drill for me from Sears and Roebuck. When the drill arrived, it had a note which explained that since they were out of the drill we had ordered, they had substituted one in its place that was more expensive. We should never hesitate to allow God to substitute what He knows to be better for us than that for which we pray.

Now here, my friend, is good reason for prayer. If there were ever motivation for prayer, it is in this fact. God is our Father (if we, by faith, have become His sons through Jesus Christ, His Son, John 1:12), and we are the objects of His intimate and infinite care. No request of ours is insignificant to Him, and no request is ignored.

A Rule for All Seasons

Perhaps without our realizing it, the Lord Jesus, in these few verses has succinctly summarized the Law and the Prophets. Implied by our prayer life (as prescribed in verses 7-11) is the fact that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Matthew 22:37). Explicitly stated is the second great command, that we love our neighbor as ourself.

It is this second summary principle of the Old Testament revelation which is put in coveralls in verse 12: “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

To love my neighbor as myself is an abstract concept, a little difficult to translate into everyday life. But this restatement in verse 12 is really where the ‘rubber meets the road.’ How do I love my neighbor as myself? By treating him as I would wish him to treat me.

This principle governing human relationships was not new to the ears of Jesus’ listeners. The ancient world had produced numerous parallels to it, yet all with one notable exception: they were expressed in the negative. The essence of these sayings was: ‘Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.’42

Now let us take this summary principle and apply it specifically to the preceding verses. How would I want others to treat me in view of my sinfulness and obvious flaws? I would not want to be harshly criticized or smugly condemned. I would want to be treated with consideration, with an evident spirit of love, encouragement, and a desire to build me up rather than to tear me down. I would not want my sins to be overlooked or excused, but lovingly to be confronted and corrected.

If I were one who had heard the gospel and concluded that I wanted no part of it, I would hope that once I had made my disinterest and rejection known my feelings and decisions would be respected. I would desire that the same points not be raised over and over again, and that I would not have to avoid contact with the Christian or to terminate our friendship in order to avoid arguing the same points over and over again.

I would greatly appreciate having my critics spend their efforts in persistent prayer, reporting my faults to God alone, and asking him to strengthen and sanctify me. Were I an unbeliever I would prefer for the Christian to prevail upon God for my conversion rather than to pester me.

Conclusions and Application

There are several things which come to mind as I look back upon this lesson.

(1) The Christian life is, to a great extent, walking the tight rope between opposite and equally erroneous extremes. The key word is that of balance; not the balancing of truth with error, but the balancing of truth with truth. The more I read the Bible, the more need I see for balance.

Christians prefer things to be all nicely packaged, cut and dried. That is the great appeal of legalism. A law for every possible circumstance. But Christian liberty is not that easy. We are to live a life of faith, and this is to be exercised by keeping two opposite extremes in tension. The example given here is that of judging versus discerning. Only by God’s divine enablement can we walk the tightrope between these extremes.

The tension between criticism and discernment is not unique, but typical. So also the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is not a hypothetical problem posed by the theologian, but a practical problem raised by the fact that both truths are taught side by side (cf. Romans 9, 10; Philippians 2:12,13).

(2) Also we see the contrast between two opposing approaches to spirituality, legalism and liberty. Legalism attempts to avoid thinking and faith by drafting a rule for every conceivable circumstance and situation. Compliance is enforced by external pressure through fleshly effort.

Liberty lives by principles which apply to a broad diversity of situations. These principles are applied by faith through the power of the Spirit. They are applied individually as matters of personal conviction.

Legalism concentrates upon others, seeking to get men to live according to my personal preferences and prejudices. Liberty looks to my own responsibilities, living my life before God in the light of personal convictions and biblical principles.

(3) While prevailing upon men is unprofitable as a Christian exercise, prevailing in prayer with God is invaluable. The prayer of one of God’s children is always profitable because we have a heavenly Father Who answers every prayer. He never fails to hear or to respond, although He may choose to give us a better answer than we thought to ask for. Prayer dissolves a critical spirit and it is instrumental in obtaining wisdom and discernment.

(4) While the world talks much about love, it knows little about it. True love is not blind to the truth. Love sees things as they are and loves in spite of them. True love does not criticize, but neither does it fail to make necessary distinctions. As the apostle wrote to the Philippians long ago, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment; so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).

29 This story is told by David Roper in his sermon on James 2:1-13 entitled “The Case of the Near-Sighted Usher.” A Belief That Behaves, Message Number 3, 1971, Available from Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California, 94306.

30 Cf. John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p. 175.

31 “A log on which planks in the house rest (so papyri), joist, rafter, plank (Moffatt), pole sticking out grotesquely.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), I, p. 60.

32 The ancient church applied this to the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. Hendriksen agrees with this application when he quotes from the Didache:

“As to specific reference, the terms “what is holy” and “pearls” are rather indefinite. They undoubtedly apply to other things besides the gospel message. The office of the ministry, the eldership, and the diaconate must not be entrusted to the unqualified. The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (IX..5) makes still another—I believe legitimate—application, as follows, “But let no one eat or drink of your eucharist (Lord’s Supper) except those who have been baptized in the Lord’s name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs.’” William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 360. Although some might see this as an application of this principle, it is not in my mind, our Lord’s primary intent.

33 Of special interest and import are Calvin’s comments on this text: “But here a question arises: for he afterwards commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark xvi. 15); and Paul says, that the preaching of it is a deadly savour to wicked men (2 Cor. ii. 16); and nothing is more certain than that it is every day held out to unbelievers, by the command of God, for a testimony, that they may be rendered the more inexcusable. I reply: As the ministers of the Gospel, and those who are called to the office of teaching, cannot distinguish between the children of God and swine, it is their duty to present the doctrine of salvation indiscriminately to all. Though many may appear to them, at first, to be hardened and unyielding, yet charity forbids that such persons should be immediately pronounced to be desperate. It ought to be understood, that dogs and swine are names given not to every kind of debauched men, or to those who are destitute of the fear of God and of true godliness, but to those who, by clear evidences, have manifested a hardened contempt of God, so that their disease appears to be incurable. In another passage, Christ places the dogs in contrast with the elect people of God and the household of faith. It is not proper to take the children’s bread, and give it to dogs (Matth. xv. 27). But by dogs and swine he means here those who are so thoroughly imbued with a wicked contempt of God, that they refuse to accept any remedy.” Calvin’s Commentaries: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc. n.d.), p. 153.

34 To determine that someone meets the qualifications of a ‘dog’ and to thereby cease from persisting with the claims of the gospel is not, in and of itself, to sentence one to eternal doom. In fact, it is altogether possible that God would, at a later time, open this person’s eyes to perceive the truth. It is a practical decision at the present moment in time dictated by the imperative to preach the gospel to all the nations. We cannot linger where efforts are unfruitful.

I believe this is a principle that is to be applied to individuals, and not to be misapplied nationally. Some have suggested that missions be supported mainly where the response is the greatest. Should we neglect missionary endeavors in the Moslem nations because the response has been exceedingly small? Personally, I think we must not fail to take the gospel to every nation. We must present the gospel to every man, turning from them only when they reject a clear-cut gospel. God is honored by the proclamation of His Word, and its proclamation is never without achieving God’s purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Isaiah was commissioned to preach to a stiffnecked and rebellious nation. His message was purposed to harden the hearts of the people, not to save them (Isaiah 6:8-10).

35 “Pearls look a bit like peas or acorns and would deceive the hogs until they discovered the deception.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, I, p. 61.

36 Stott beautifully sums up the matter: “To sum up, the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous. Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges).” John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, p. 177.

37 As someone has kindly pointed out to me, however, the three illustrations (two in Matthew and one additional one in Luke 11:12) our Lord employed (bread, fish, egg) were all items of food.

38 We are greatly enriched by this statement of the Savior with respect to the inborn sinfulness of man. Verse 13 assumes that men are evil by nature, all men. But the concept of total depravity does not mean that evil men are incapable of any good thing, only that every part of one’s nature has been affected by sin and the fall. Much like a glass of water is totally poisoned by a single drop of poison, so man is totally contaminated by sin.

39 “The point is that in each case the two things cited bear a close resemblance. The little, round, limestone stones on the seashore were exactly the shape and the colour of little loaves. If a son asks bread will his father mock him by offering him a stone, which looks like bread but which is impossible to eat? If a son asks a fish, will his father give him a serpent? Almost certainly the serpent is an eel. According to the Jewish food laws an eel could not be eaten, because an eel was an unclean fish. ‘Whatsoever has no fins or scales in the water, that is an abomination unto you’ (Leviticus 11:12). That regulation ruled out the eel as an article of diet. If a son asks for a fish, will his father indeed give him a fish, but a fish which it is forbidden to eat, and which is useless to eat? Would a father mock his son’s hunger like that? If the son asks for an egg, will his father give him a scorpion? The scorpion is a dangerous little animal. In action it is rather like a small lobster, with claws with which it clutches its victim. Its sting is in its tail, and it brings its tail up over its back to strike its victim. The sting can be exceedingly painful, and sometimes even fatal. When the scorpion is at rest its claws and tail are folded in, and there is a pale kind of scorpion, which, when folded up, would look exactly like an egg. If a son asks for an egg, will his father mock him by handing him a biting scorpion?” William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1963), I, pp. 274-275.

40 This is in contrast to the gods of the ancient Greeks: “God will never refuse our prayers; and God will never mock our prayers. The Greeks had their stories about the gods who answered men’s prayers, but the answer was an answer with a barb in it, a double-edged gift. Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth, so the Greek story ran. Zeus, the king of the gods, offered her any gift that she might choose for her mortal lover. Aurora very naturally chose that Tithonus might live for ever; but she had forgotten to ask that Tithonus might remain for ever young; and so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.” Barclay, Matthew, I, p. 275.

41 “There is no doubt that our prayers are transformed when we remember that the God we are coming to is ‘Abba, Father,’ and infinitely good and kind.

Professor Jeremias has demonstrated the novelty of this teaching of Jesus. He writes that, with the help of his assistants, he has carefully examined ‘the prayer literature of ancient Judah—a large, rich literature, all too little explored,’ but that ‘in no place in this immense literature is this invocation of God as Abba to be found ... Abba was an everyday word, a homely family word. No Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always ... and authorizes his disciples to repeat the word Abba after him.’ What could be simpler than this concept of prayer? If we belong to Christ, God is our Father, we are his children, and prayer is coming to him with our requests.” Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, p. 185.

42 “Much has been made by various commentators of the fact that the Golden Rule is found in a similar—but always negative—form elsewhere. Confucius, for example, is credited with having said, ‘Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself’; and the Stoics had an almost identical maxim. In the Old Testament Apocrypha we find: ‘Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate,’ and this, it seems, is what the famous Rabbi Hillel quoted in c. 20 BC when asked by a would-be proselyte to teach him the whole law while standing on one leg. His rival Rabbi Shammai had been unable or unwilling to answer, and had driven the enquirer away, but Rabbi Hillel said: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is only commentary.’” (Recorded in the Talmud: Shabbath 31a), Ibid., P. 190.

Related Topics: Christology, Spiritual Life, Apologetics

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