Confronting others in a judgmental way rarely reaps positive results. That’s why Jesus warned us about it in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5). He then proceeded to issue another alert: “Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces” (7:6). We should conclude the two are related. Seems our Lord was cautioning against “pushing” our faith on those who don’t want to hear anything about it. I surmise there are many reading this essay that’ve experienced firsthand utter rejection of our “pearls of wisdom” from folks we were simply trying to share the Good News with. Why would a person not want to be informed of the path to everlasting life? Don’t they understand we’re doing them the biggest favor of all? Yet they all too frequently stonewall us in midsentence. Few things are as frustrating as “talking to the hand.”
But if we’re not careful we can misinterpret what Jesus said and take it to mean it’s okay for us to judge whether or not a person is worthy of hearing the Gospel. Taken literally, we might be tempted to label them filthy mongrels and write them off as a lost cause. But if we’re in possession of a transformed “kingdom heart” that strives to emulate our Savior’s it’ll be impossible to imagine anything more diametrically opposed to what He taught us. After all, was He not the precious Pearl of God, sent to be callously trampled on by human swine while His all-consuming love for mankind continued unabated? Therefore to think Christ was suggesting certain of our neighbors should be deemed worthless pigs is absurd. He also wasn’t recommending we should spread the Gospel message only to those we feel will accept it with gratitude. No way. Jesus said, “…Do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Therefore we must dig deeper into His statement to find the truth of the matter. Worthiness isn’t the issue; our ability to be helpful is. No animal can digest pearls so if you keep putting them in their trough they’ll eventually get hungry enough to start considering you edible. It’s pointless to keep serving up savory spiritual nuggets they can’t swallow no matter how delicious they may taste to us. Our good intentions won’t make any difference at all and usually our efforts will just make them avoid us in the future. We must conclude it’s not the “pearl” that’s wasted but our opportunity to assist a prodigal soul in finding their way back home.
One of the big reasons I and many other baby boomers abandoned the churches we were raised in when we became adults was because the legalistic “dos and don’ts” of the Christian religion had been shoved down our throats our whole lives. Furthermore if we dared challenge the official doctrine in any way we were threatened with, you guessed it, condemnation – the very thing Jesus warned His followers about employing. But is the 21st century church any less guilty? Not that much, I’m afraid. Believers frequently deliver their “pearls of wisdom” with a holier-than-thou attitude and a heavy dose of self-righteousness that’s downright repellant. Nobody likes to be lectured by an uppity know-it-all. Little wonder so many in the younger generations dismiss the Body of Christ’s Good News as being totally irrelevant to their needs. The underlying conundrum is that those of us who’ve learned how life-enhancing that Pearl truly is can’t fathom the idea that others wouldn’t respond to it with gleeful enthusiasm. The fact we’re offering it to them at all must qualify as solid evidence our hearts are in the right place, no? Well, not necessarily. The proof’s in the pudding and we know the batch we create doesn’t always look appetizing.
Dallas Willard wrote, “What we’re actually doing with our proper condemnations and our wonderful solutions, more often than not, is taking others out of their own responsibility and out of God’s hands and trying to bring them under our control.” Ouch! Ain’t it the truth, though? I have two grown offspring and neither of them has accepted Christ. It breaks my heart but I have to shoulder a lot of the blame. Since I didn’t raise them to respect the Bible as I should’ve I’m tempted to think it’s my job to save their souls when I know good and well only God can do that. Our Heavenly Father allowed His only begotten Son to be tortured to death on a rugged cross just so my daughter and son would have a decision to make of their own free will. As unbelievable as it may seem to me, God loves them even more than I do so who am I to think I can have nearly as much influence on them as He does? God wants heaven to be populated exclusively by souls who chose to spend eternity in His kingdom so He’ll no doubt reveal Himself to each person when the timing is perfect. I can’t coerce or harass anybody into believing in Jesus. It’s up to them. Does this mean I’m not to bring Jesus up at all? Am I to hide my light from those wandering in the darkness of this fallen world? We all know better than that. If we love others as much as we love ourselves we must, as Saint Augustine opined, “…endeavor to get our neighbor to love God.” And nothing impresses a non-believer more than putting our money where our mouth is and imitating as faithfully as possible the exquisite lifestyle of our Lord. We have to remember our basic role – we’re merely seed-sowers. The Bible confirms it: “So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
So are we to deem ourselves relatively useless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things? As we read further into Jesus’ sublime sermon we find that’s not the case at all. We mustn’t discount the “power of petition”. Christ preached, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Jesus is telling us our requests for God to touch and soften the hearts of those who don’t know Him carry a lot of spiritual weight. Willard wrote, “Asking is indeed the great law of the spiritual world through which things are accomplished in cooperation with God and yet in harmony with the freedom and worth of every individual.” In other words, God hears our concerns and our vote most definitely counts.
The more in tune our hearts are with the character of Christ the more effective our prayers will be. What do I mean by that? Well, our love for others must be genuine, that’s for sure. We can’t love God and harbor disdain for people simultaneously. “The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Forgiveness and unconditional love go hand in hand. Recall what our Lord said earlier in His sermon: “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Therefore we aren’t in a position to pick and choose who we’re to love and who we’re to despise because in doing that we promote ourselves into a position where we’re qualified to judge others. That’ll never be our privilege. We must surrender that presumptive false notion at the foot of the cross if we’re to make any spiritual headway at all.
A demand divides whereas a request unites. When we ask someone to consider the Gospel message we’re granting that person the option to reject it and that can make an enormous difference as to how receptive they’ll be to hearing/contemplating the truth that’ll set them free. If our sincerest desire is for someone we encounter to get their name entered into the Book of Life then it’s only natural we should let that desire be known to our generous Father God. Jesus used common sense to convey what the result of that heartfelt plea will be. “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). Jesus was telling us the answer to the question of how we can best go about getting those who are lost to acquire salvation is to tap into the awesome power of prayer – asking God to intervene. We must trust He’ll do everything short of overriding that individual’s free will to bring them into His glorious kingdom’s fold. We surely wouldn’t want anybody to want less than that for us, would we? This sentiment sets us up to comprehend Jesus’ infallible Golden Rule: “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Alas, if only all human beings would obey that simple exhortation this world would be a peaceful garden.
What Jesus was teaching us to do (regarding getting others to accept the Good News He later commanded His disciples to spread across the globe) – requesting God’s help – is also applicable to everything we attempt to do as Christians. It should be our core aim in life that God’s perfect will be done in lieu of our own. Jesus, with His horrible crucifixion looming, prayed on the Mount of Olives, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As James S. Stewart preached, “The praying Christ is the supreme argument for prayer.” Jesus didn’t hesitate to show us what real, uncompromised submission looks like. Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “…Prayer is getting more of God rather than getting more from God.” When our covetous, self-centered urges get in the way of God’s grace problems are certain to arise and flourish. “Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you? You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3). Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal that we must realize; it’s rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” In other words, if Jesus isn’t at the center of all our interactions with and hopes for our neighbors then we’re settling for much, much less than what we might otherwise gain if He were our only focal point.
In this segment of His Sermon on the Mount Christ Jesus didn’t just say, “Don’t be pushy.” He continued on to tell us to always rely on the Holy Spirit when we witness to others about Him. Also, our contentment and joy should be easy to detect. And projecting a humble, open-minded countenance always goes a long way toward putting others at ease. Yet we should be wary of people who’ll try to paint us into a corner via blunt questions like, “So you believe if I don’t accept Christ then I’m going to roast in hell forever. Isn’t that right?” Neither a yes or no response will adequately address the complex issues contained in their query and will most likely doom the conversation to stalemate status. Instead it’s more productive to first ask them about their views. Like “What do you think about Jesus?” or “What’s your theory concerning the resurrection?” or “What do you guess comes after death?” As Christians it’s our duty to be prepared to defend our faith logically and in a confident, non-confrontational manner. As Saint Peter wrote, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (1 Peter 3:15). When others speak we should listen intently, treating them with the respect they deserve while silently requesting spiritual guidance for when it’s our turn to respond. We have divine assurance we’ll say the right thing. “…Do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20). Thus the pressure’s off. What a relief!
In the final analysis it may turn out that the hardest battle we Christians have to fight while on planet Earth is the struggle against widespread unbelief. Frederick Buechner said it well: “In the great war of liberation, it’s imperative to keep in touch always with the only one who can liberate. We must speak to Him however hard it may be in the thick of the fight, however irrelevant it may sometimes seem, however dried up and without faith we may feel. And we must not worry too much about the other war, the war of conquest. Of course to some extent we must worry about it, and it’s necessary and right that we should. But in the war for a place in the sun, we must never mistake conquest for final victory, and above all, we must never mistake failure for final defeat.” God runs the table in the end. His kingdom house wins. How precarious things may sometimes look in the meantime doesn’t matter one iota. We have a particular job to do in God’s master plan that no one else can do as well. There are some people in this world that’ll turn a deaf ear to any and all talk of the kingdom of God, with the exception being how we present it to them in our unique manner. If we’re patient and our heart’s in the right place, they just might listen.