A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:1-12. A Christian’s relationships: Our attitude to ‘dogs’ and ‘Pigs’ (6) (continued).
So then the ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ with whom we are forbidden to share the gospel pearl are not just unbelievers. They must rather be those who have had ample opportunity to hear and receive the good news, but have decisively – even defiantly – rejected it. ‘It ought to be understood’, Calvin wisely continued, ‘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’. Chrysostom uses a similar expression, for he identifies the ‘dogs’ as people ‘living in incurable ungodliness’, and in our day Professor Jeremias has defined then as ‘those who have wholly abandoned themselves to vicious courses’.
The fact is that to persist beyond a certain point in offering the gospel to such people is to invite its rejection with contempt and even blasphemy. Jesus applied the same principle to the ministry of the twelve when he gave them his charge before sending them out on their first mission. He warned them that in every town and house they entered, although some people would be receptive or ‘worthy’, others would be unreceptive or ‘unworthy’. ‘If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words’, he went on, ‘shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town’ (Mt.10:14 = Lk.10:10, 11).
The apostle Paul also followed this principle in his mission work. On his first expedition he and Barnabas said to the Jews who ‘contradicted’ their preaching in Pisidian Antioch: ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.’ And when the Jews incited the city leaders to drive them out, ‘they shook off the dust from their feet against them’ and went on to Iconium. (Acts 13:44-51). Much the same happened in Corinth on the second missionary journey. When the Jews opposed and reviled him, Paul ‘shook out his garments’ and said to them: ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’ (Acts 18:5,6). For the third time Paul reacted in the same way when in Rome the Jewish leaders rejected the gospel. ‘Let it known to you then’, he said, ‘that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen. (Acts. 28:17-28).
Our Christian witness and evangelical preaching are not to be entirely indiscriminate, therefore. If people have had plenty of opportunity to hear the truth but do not respond to it, if they stubbornly turn their backs on Christ, if (in other words) they cast themselves in the role of ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’, we are not to go on and on with them, for then we cheapen God’s gospel by letting them trample it under foot. Can anything be more depraved than to mistake God’s precious pearl for a thing of no worth and actually to tread it into the mud? At the same time to give people up is a very serious step to take. I can think of only one or two occasions in my experience when I have felt it was right. This teaching of Jesus is for exceptional situations only; our normal Christian duty is to be patient and persevere with others, as God has patiently persevered with us.
Tomorrow: 3. Our attitude to our heavenly Father. (7-11).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.