How do we put Matthew 7:6 into practice even as we work to share the Gospel? Should we share the Gospel with all people or only selectively with some?
In Matthew 7 we read:
Matt. 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
In this well-known statement, Jesus uses a parable to instruct His followers not to take the precious spiritual things they’ve received from the Spirit and offer them to those who cannot appreciate them and will only use them to mock the Lord God and us.
In the parable, Jesus compares the precious truths found in God’s word to pearls. Believers come to understand spiritual truth by God’s grace through His word as revealed by the Spirit working in us. These things are not knowable by the flesh, so without the Spirit of God, a person cannot appreciate spiritual truth. It remains a mystery. Therefore, a follower of Jesus should be careful to avoid entering into unprofitable conversations with an unbeliever who will only mock or insult the revelations of God.
On the other hand, the Gospel message itself is not the “pearls” Jesus is describing in this parable. On the contrary, sharing with unbelievers the truth of Jesus as the Savior Who came and died to save the lost is the very mission of the Church! Jesus Himself modeled this practice as He shared the Gospel with large crowds as did His apostles after Him. Likewise, Paul frequently attempted to persuade unbelieving Jews in synagogues of the truth of the Gospel in spite of the fact that his arguments were usually rejected.
Clearly, sharing the Gospel with people who are resistant to this truth is not prohibited by Matthew 7:6, and therefore, Jesus’ command is referring to other spiritual truth beyond the Gospel message itself. Pearls are spiritual truths appropriate only to believers, including the Bible's revelation of God’s program for the end of the age, the Church’s mission on earth, the believer's future life in the kingdom, among other truths. These “pearls" of spiritual wisdom are revealed to believers by the Spirit, so we should guard them and share them only among those who also have the Spirit.
If we share these pearls indiscriminately with unbelievers who we know cannot appreciate them, then we only invite their scorn, mocking, and even attacks as Jesus said. This is an unwise ministry, and it may cast scorn upon our the Lord. We should remember that unless and until a person receives the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus Christ, they remain incapable of knowing the things of God. Consequently, the only message that is appropriate for us to share with an unbeliever is the Gospel itself.
In another moment in the Gospels, Jesus modeled how we can discern a person’s readiness for deeper spiritual truths. In Matthew 15 Jesus was approached by a Gentile woman with a request for His attention and healing:
Matt. 15:21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.
Matt. 15:22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
Matt. 15:23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”
Matt. 15:24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Matt. 15:25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
Matt. 15:26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Matt. 15:27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Matt. 15:28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
Notice initially how Jesus did not engage with the woman. He says He was not willing to extend His personal ministry beyond the people of Israel, to whom He has been sent according to the promises of God. On the other hand, Jesus neither rejected the woman when the disciples suggested He do so. Jesus neither met her demands nor rejected her either until He understood her state of heart.
So He tested her heart by stating a spirit truth and then watched her reaction to that truth. In her case, Jesus declared that He could not offer holy things to “dogs” (i.e., Gentiles). His was saying that the Messiah was promised to the nation of Israel, so He must prioritize serving Israel over sharing the truth with Gentiles.
His statement was a spiritual truth hidden in a metaphor to test the woman's heart. If the woman were an unbeliever, she would have lacked the spiritual insight to grasp the point of the metaphor. In that case, Jesus would then have known she was not a true disciple and would not have served her request. Jesus was testing her heart by her response.
In this case, the woman responded with an understanding of Jesus' spiritual principle. She uses Jesus' metaphor to acknowledge that the program of the Messiah was centered on the Jewish people, but she also knew from Old Testament prophecy that God also intended to bless the Gentiles through the Jewish Messiah in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22.
The Canaanite woman understood an important spiritual truth that the Gentiles would be permitted to receive the Messiah in due time, so she challenged Jesus to acknowledge her faith in Him now and grant the healing she requested, which Jesus did. Her response demonstrated Spirit-given insight, which told Jesus she was ready for greater "pearls."
While we don’t possess the divine insight of Christ, obviously, we do have the potential to follow His pattern in this example to some degree. We should look for the opportunities in our conversations with others to probe their understanding of spiritual truths. Once we gain a better sense of a person’s spiritual state, then we can determine how to proceed in the discussions.
If a person indicates they no nothing of Christ or the spiritual truths of the Bible (or if they are confused on biblical principles like salvation or Christ), then we should freely offer them the Gospel while avoiding discussions of deeper matters of the faith, which they cannot understand and will only “trample” by making a fool of you and Christ.
On the other hand, if they indicate they know Christ and can relate to basic spiritual truths, then we are free to shift gears into sharing “pearls” with them as the Spirit offers opportunity.