Sermon preached on Matthew 7:6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/28/2014 in Novato, CA
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Dogs and Pigs
This is an interesting verse. It might sound a bit mysterious when you first read it. It strikes us as poetic and proverbial. In fact, it bears the typical poetic marks of repetition and vivid imagery common to Hebrew proverbs. It was not uncommon for prophets to make use of poetry or proverb in their teaching, and that certainly appears the case with Jesus. And yet what we don’t have here is an explicit interpretation of this imagery. Jesus delivers it for us to meditate on it and consider it’s truth. And is so common with such statements, especially with Jesus’ teaching in this sermon, there appears to be a wrong way and a right way to apply the principle found in verse 6. So then, we pray for ears to hear and minds to understand this verse.
What then does this verse mean? The imagery of this verse basically tells us that there are something holy and precious things that we are not to give to dogs and pigs, lest they not properly value it and treat it, and even turn against you who would try to give it to them. But what does this imagery represent? In other words, this is imagery that illustrates some truth or some principle. What is that truth? What is Jesus trying to teach? Well, let’s seek to understand the imagery and then we’ll think about the application. And so let’s consider first the imagery of the dogs and the pigs. Who is represented by this imagery of dogs and pigs? Well, we are not surprised to see dogs and pigs in a poetic and proverbial verse like this. Dogs and pigs seem ripe in the Scriptures for poetic and proverbial use. Think of 2 Peter 2:22; there Peter quotes a proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit, and, a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” — Dogs and pigs can be disgusting! Or in Revelation 22:15, it says, outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Or Paul in Philippians 3:2 says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” More examples could be given, but those are a start.
And so all of those usages that I just quoted are used figuratively. They are not concerned about literal dogs and pigs. They are using the imagery of dogs and pigs to talk about some group of people. There is something about the viciousness and beasty mindless filth of dogs and the dumb and disgusting nature of pigs that serves as an analogy for some people. In Peter’s reference, he uses that proverb to apply it to those who come into the church but then turn back, embracing heresies or becoming entangled again with the defilements of this world. In the Revelation reference, it’s putting the dogs as those outside of God’s people, lumped alongside various categories of sinners. In the Philippians reference, he seems to be describing the Judaizers, an early group of heretics that taught a false gospel; they claimed to embrace Christ, but were demanding Gentile converts to follow all the ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, in order to be saved. In all of these uses, outsiders of God’s people are being described. And so the imagery of dogs and pigs can be used to describe outsiders; outsiders to the church of Jesus Christ.
To be fair, that’s not the only way this imagery can get used. Sometimes, it’s just a more general term of humiliation that says someone is so not worthy of your attention. Like is 2 Samuel 9:8, when King David shows kindness to Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. Normally, it was a common ANE practice to kill off any descendant of a previous king. But David not only sparing Mephibosheth’s life, but restored his land and granted to him eat forever at his own table! Mephibosheth was essentially adopted into the new king’s family! He was so humbled by this kindness, that he said this to King David, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Mephibosheth could have been treated as an outcast not worthy of even life to David, but David showed kindness. He did not treat him like a dog, but lifted him up like a brother.
I’ve talked more about dogs so far, than pigs. Let me point out with pigs that of course they especially would have stood out to the Jew as unclean. Per the book of Leviticus, Pigs were ceremonially unclean to them, and thus unholy. It would have naturally fit for the Jews to hear what Jesus says here, that pigs are unclean beasts unfit for holy and precious things. Similarly, it was the Gentiles who ate such unclean pigs, the Jewish people did not.
So then, we’ve did a very quick survey about dogs and pigs in the Bible. How then should we understand this verse? What group of people are described by this reference to dogs and pigs? Well, it seems the most natural way to take this is as simply a reference to the outsiders of God’s kingdom. Remember, the theme of this Sermon on the Mount has been about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has taught about who is and is not in his kingdom. It would seem fitting to understand this as a reference then to those who are not a part of his kingdom. It’s a common belief that the Jews at that time would refer to Gentiles as unclean dogs. This would then be a similar imagery. Those who are not a part of his kingdom are these outsiders. Outside are the dogs.
Now let me acknowledge that this is not the most common interpretation I found in my studies. Too often I found many a preacher who wanted to say that this language of “dogs” and “pigs” would only refer to certain outsiders to God’s people. That it would refer to those outsiders who were completely defiant and stubborn and vicious or maybe just dull about the gospel. I can appreciate that thinking. I would certainly acknowledge that those people are especially described here in verse 6. But I am more and more convinced as I meditate on this passage that it describes all those outsiders to God’s people.
So then, this parable says there are certain things God’s people don’t give these outsiders. It says that we don’t give them that which is holy nor throw our pearls before them. The language of “holy” doesn’t seem to be too figurative here. Right away we can think of holy things. Those special things, special things set apart by their relation to God. And the language of pearls makes us think of something of great value. Something precious. Later in Matthew 13, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven like a pearl of great price, as example of something precious. And we remember last chapter that Jesus told us to set our hearts on heaven and the things of heaven. That we are to value and seek those benefits that come from being a part of God’s kingdom and being a part of God’s family. These are not to be given to outsiders according to verse 7.
The verse even gives a reason why such things are not to be given to the dogs and the pigs. It says, “Lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” In other words, dogs and pigs will not properly value these holy and precious things of God. They will not treat them with the holiness and respect they deserve. Consequently, we wouldn’t give them to them! Also, these dogs and pigs when they realize that these holy things won’t fill their unholy cravings, may just as well turn on you and attack you. And so both of these qualities can be seen in outsiders. They either don’t care about the holy things of God, and thus profane them, or they lash out at them, through scoffing and persecution. And so because of this, Jesus says to not give to them these holy and precious things.
So we’ve started to think through the meaning of this verse. And hopefully you can appreciate its challenging nature, because it approaches a very interesting and sobering truth of God’s word. There is a way in which God takes hardened sinners and leaves them to their own devices. Romans 1, for example, speaks of those Gentiles who had rejected the clear revelation of God to go after idols, and so God gives them over all the more to their sin and darkness. Those pagan dogs, so to speak, want to reject the light of God and his righteousness, so God gives them over to those things all the more. That’s what it says in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28. A very sobering passage. Or, in a similar vein, Jesus says he teaches in parables so that only to those who’ve been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven would understand them. Again, a very sobering passage. What this all basically means is that there are some special, holy, precious, things that God will not be giving to those outside his kingdom.
Does this mean that we should not give the holy and precious gospel to the outsiders? No, it does not mean that. But it would suggest that they actually don’t deserve it. And actually, this is what I want us to really identify with for a moment. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not talking to the dogs and the pigs directly. But I want us to step into their shoes for a moment. Identify with them for a moment. Because the reality is that for those who were previously not a part of God’s church, but became a part of Christ’s church by faith and repentance, then we had been the dogs and pigs, figuratively speaking. We had been the outsiders in rebellion against God. This parable, taken in an absolutely strict and simple sense would say that we don’t even deserve to have had the gospel given to us for our salvation. We had been unclean gentile dogs. Why should we expect to have received anything of the holy God? Why should we have expected to even receive his precious and holy Word that proclaims good news?
Think about what I’m saying in light of Mark 7:24-29. Turn with me there now. I believe this will be a helpful illustration to complement what we are talking about.
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”
In this passage, Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon, which was a place renown for sinners. You might think of them like the reputation of Las Vegas — sin city. A perfect place for dogs and pigs to live. And here a Gentile woman, an outsider, comes to Jesus for help. At first it sounds like he’s not going to help her. It almost sounds like he’s putting today’s verse into practice. And yet he does ultimately help her. And you’ll notice that when he says that the children should be fed, not the dogs, he actually says that the children should be fed first. He implies that there may be something left over for the dogs! And of course the Gentile woman persuades him that even then the dogs could begin to eat of the crumbs. By the way, when Jesus seems to refer to her as a dog, he actually uses the diminutive of the word for dog, literally, little dog, or puppy. Presumably it came off not as an insult then, but likely a bit endearing. It seems to be a bit of an endearing way to recognize how the Gentiles were commonly thought of as dogs by the Jews, but Jesus’ apparently co-opted the term and used it in a more endearing way, to spark this great conversation with the woman who would have otherwise been an outsider; but now Jesus had intervened in her life with his saving power!
Well, I mention this story because it reveals that even in Jesus earthly ministry, when it was clear from Jesus that he came to focus his ministry on the Israelite nation, which was the visible church at the time; that he even then began to reach out to the nations. Even then he started to bring the same good news to the outsiders. That would become even all the more clear in the book of Acts when Jesus sends his disciples to the nations and tells them that he was bringing cleansing even to the Gentiles.
The point here is that on the one hand us Gentile outsiders have not deserved any of the holy things of God whatsoever. Yet, God in his mercy, sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for outsiders. Jesus became like a dog and like a pig in going to the cross. For their he became forsaken and cut off. There he became accursed for us as he took on all the uncleanness of our sin. But he paid for the sins of so many outsiders like you and me, suffering himself outside the camp, as he died on the cross.
And so we see the gospel going out to the nations now. So, this verse today cannot be taken in such an absolute way that would forbid the gospel going forth to the nations. And yet, there is still an application, of sorts, along those lines. There are a number of times when we see the gospel preaching fall on such hardened hearts that eventually the apostles move on. They don’t keep casting their pearls before such hardened dogs and entrenched pigs any longer. We see that when Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet in leaving towns that rejected the gospel. And we see that by Paul twice in Acts when certain Jewish communities stand fast in rejecting Christ, that he says that he is moving on to preach to the Gentiles. And yet, even there, we see that God was not withholding the gospel from going to those on outside. He was and is having the gospel proclaimed to those on the outside, that they might become on the inside.
And that is our story. In Christ, we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are no longer those dogs on the outside. We are no longer those pigs trampling upon the things of God in foolishness. No, by the grace of God and by the quickening of the Holy Spirit, we have come to believe in Jesus Christ. We have come to see the precious value of knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We have been baptized into Christ and been united to him in faith. We are no longer unclean; we are clean. We are no longer outsiders; we are insiders. We are dogs and pigs no more. We are children of God; God is our heavenly father. We, but dead dogs, have been granted by King Jesus, to eat forever at the table of the Lord. Praise be to God.
Again, realize what this means, dear saints. You now, formerly dogs and pigs, formerly people who could care less about heaven and its treasure, you now have been given the holy things of God. Yours is this heavenly treasure. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is the righteousness of God; first imputed to you by Christ, and ultimately worked within you by the Spirit. Yours is the adoption, the new covenant, the coming glory, the worship, and the promises which find their fulfillment in Jesus. And you look at these things, and do not trample upon them. You do not profane them. By the grace of God, you have come to truly value these. Because he has transformed you. Okay, well yes, true, this side of heaven, we don’t value you them perfectly. There are ways, sadly, we see our old dog and pig natures coming up. We do sometimes treat these holy things as if were still dogs and pigs. But saints of God, you are not a dog or a pig any longer. You are a child of God.
Need further proof of this new identity? Look at the very next verse in our passage. To those on the inside, to those who are in his kingdom, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you.” If you were still a dog or a pig, God would surely not give such a blanketed offer to you — remember, don’t give to them what is holy. But instead, God says to us that he will give to us who ask! God indeed hears the prayers of his saints and graciously gives to us because he is our loving heavenly father!
And so this is an interesting verse that we’ve considered today. On the one hand it about not giving away what is holy. On the other hand we know from elsewhere that we do give away, to a degree, that holy gospel that can change dogs and pigs into the family of God! So then as those who were formerly outsiders but are now insiders, how can we put it into practice? If we are not to give what is holy to dogs, how do we apply that today?
Well, for starters, it means we recognize that there is an antithesis between Christians and the unconverted world. We have different values and different treasures. We have been given the holy things of God, particularly entrance into his kingdom which Jesus likens to a pearl of great price (Matt 13:45ff). Yes, we call such unbelieving outsiders to repent and believe that they too would become insiders. But until they do, they are outsiders, and there are certain things, certain holy and precious things, which we should not give them. Let me give several examples.
First: church membership. We ought not admit into membership in the visible church such dogs and pigs. We may only receive them into membership if we believe they have first been born again, as evidenced by a credible profession of faith. Admittance into church membership is a holy and precious thing of God reserved only for his people. Second: access to the Lord’s Supper. As we read every time we take Communion here, the Lord’s Supper is not for everyone. It is for the people of God who have been brought into communion together as the church of God. We ought not to give this holy and precious meal to those who are on the outside.
Third: We should not give ourselves to unbelievers. What do I mean by that? A couple related things. Paul twice in 1 Corinthians 6:20 says that we have been bought with a price. In other words, God has bought us with the blood of Jesus Christ. We are not our own. We are the holy people of God. And so Paul says there in 1 Corinthians that this has implications. For example, he says there that this means that we should not engage in sexual immorality, because our body is a holy temple of the Lord; thus we should not give of our now holy bodies to be say with prostitutes. Or in the next chapter he says that a Christian should not go and get married to a non-Christian (though to clarify it does acknowledge that Christians sometimes find themselves married to non-Christians but he’s not saying you should break off your marriage commitment at that point.) Rather, the point is that going forward we should not seek to give ourselves into some situation that would make us unequally yoked. Being unequally yoked is not just about marrying an unbeliever, but could include various ways in which we unite with unbelievers in an uneven way, maybe certain business partnerships for example. We have become part of these holy and precious things of God. We are different than the world. We must see that our verse today speaks even to such unholy entanglements that we might get ourselves into, and to be on guard concerning them.
Well, in the grand scheme of things, the biggest thing that is not to be given to these outsiders is heaven. In other words, they won’t get eternal life. They won’t receive this great reward of God’s grace. God won’t give this to them. So, then, we too should not give them any such false hope. We should not promise them that they will have something that they won’t.
And so brothers and sisters, may we pray for wisdom as we look to embrace and live out today’s verse from the Sermon on the Mount. May we be encouraged that we are now insiders by God’s grace and a bearer of the holy and precious things of God. We look forward to coming to possess them in an even greater measure in glory. And may we be vigilant as we engage in the world around us. There is a great antithesis between the believer and the unbeliever. Do not be unaware of this. Do not be blind to the intense spiritual battle that you are a part of. Be on guard concerning this. And so may we then also be concerned for these outsiders. They are on the brink of eternal destruction and damnation. This is a call for evangelism then. Let us proclaim that holy gospel and pray that the Spirit would so work through that proclamation. That we would be blessed to see outsiders converting to insiders. And in that evangelism, may God grant us the wisdom of when to speak further, when to try to reason further with someone. And when to shake the dust off our feet so to speak and move on to the next person to tell them about Christ.
What a wonderful God we have. Ask for this wisdom from above as you thus look to live this verse out. As we see in verse 7, we can have confidence in his answer to such prayers, because we’ve been made into his children,. Praise be to God. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.