Deaf ears aren’t opportunities.

Despite the kingdom’s unlimited resources, let’s not be stupid with them.

Matthew 7.6

In his the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the chip and the beam story, Mt 7.3-5, Lk 6.41-42 then immediately brought up pearls and pigs. Or pearls and swine, as the KJV more famously has it. The saying’s only found in Matthew. Figured I’d show it to you in context, since it makes my interpretation more obvious.

Matthew 7.3-6 KWL
3 “Why do you see the wood chip in your brother’s eye,
yet not notice the support beam in your eye?
4 How will you tell your brother, ‘Let me get the chip out of your eye’?
Look, there’s a beam in your eye!
5 You hypocrite, first get the beam out of your eye!
And you’ll see straight enough to get out the chip from your brother’s eye.
6 But don’t give holy things to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before the pigs.
Otherwise they’ll trample them under their feet, and they might turn and attack you.”

See, the problem with the pearls-to-pigs saying, is we regularly forget it comes right after the chip and beam story. Or forget it altogether. Or think it doesn’t apply—when it so often does.

Give you an example. Back in seminary I was at my home-away-from-dorm, a popular coffeehouse. I got to talking with some university students, ’cause they figured out I was a fellow student, wanted to know which college I was in, didn’t know the school… and once they figured I was a God “expert,” wanted to talk God.

A lot of pagans go through a phase in university where they flirt with nontheism. I now realize that’s what was going on: These guys wanted to try out their newly-learned anti-God arguments on the seminarian. Kinda like a kid who just learned a new judo hold, and wants to fight everybody with it… and foolishly picks a fight with the taekwondo black belt. Not that I was a black belt; more like red. I did have a decade of Christian apologetics on these guys. So it wasn’t at all hard to slap their arguments down.

But the arguments get tiresome after a while. Especially since the debate was never gonna go anywhere: They weren’t curious about God. They had no real intent to listen, repent, and become Christians. This was jus an intellectual exercise; they were killing time at the coffeehouse.

Pearls to pigs, I realized. So I called truce. “Wanna talk about something different?” I said. “I mean, to you this is just light conversation, but to me, this is something I take very seriously and personally. I’m having trouble not taking all your God-bashing personally. Wouldn’t you rather talk politics?”

“Yeah, okay.” So we talked politics.

I hadn’t come to the coffeehouse alone. I had two fellow seminarians with me. One was a missionary who was finishing his degree before going back into the field. The other was a fairly new Christian—and hadn’t yet learned the difference between sharing Jesus and proselytism. So he was outraged. To him, this was an opportunity—you keep talking to these guys, wear ’em down, and seal the deal. To him, I just threw away these guys eternal souls.

This was no opportunity, as I pointed out to him then, and as I point out to you now. I was trying to take the chip from their eyes, and they wouldn’t have it. So I was done.

“But I’m planting seeds.”

I’ve written elsewhere about the proselytizer’s usual excuse for pushing too hard—and brushing off a negative decision. “I preached the word of God, and it won’t return void.” That’s not at all what God meant by those words. That’s our idea, preached and supported by out-of-context scriptures because we’re too stubborn, too hard-hearted, to lose an argument.

See, we’re supposed to want to see ’em come to Jesus. And some of us honestly do. But mixed in with that—or even wholly taking the place of that—is this desire to see ’em lose. We want God’s word to be so mighty, God’s grace to be so irresistible, they drop to their knees and embrace Jesus. We’re on the side of the Almighty; why can’t we have nothing but success every single time? Shouldn’t we have success every single time?

Hence, sometimes to comfort ourselves, that’s what we tell ourselves. We did have success, sorta. “I planted a seed. He thinks he’ll never become a Christian in a million years, but I gave ’em God’s word, and it won’t return void, and it’ll work on him, and burrow into his soul like a tapeworm, and God’ll change him eventually. I started that. It wasn’t for nothing.”

Clearly we missed the point of Ecclesiastes: Some things are for nothing. We tried to argue ’em into the kingdom, but they don’t wanna go. It sucks, but it happens. Thinking we “planted seeds,” that our efforts must always come to something: Not biblical. Like Jesus said in his story of the useless fig tree.

Luke 13.6-9 KWL
6 Jesus told this analogy: “Someone had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.
He once came to ask for fruit off it, and none was found.
7 He told a vineyard worker, ‘Look, three years I’ve come to find fruit on this fig tree.
None is found; knock it down. Why should the ground be wasted?’
8 In reply the worker told him, ‘Master, leave it here this year so I can dig round it and add manure.
9 Then it should produce fruit. If not, then I’ll knock it down.’”

Because you can try, and try, and try… and if you don’t see any fruit, it’s time to give up. The tree’s never gonna produce what you want.

Problem is, there are plenty of Christians who simply can’t accept the idea they’re throwing pearls to pigs. Unlike this vineyard worker, they never will cut down the tree. Can’t recognize warning signs. Can’t accept deadlines. They’ll just keep piling on the manure.

And keep passing around success stories which tell ’em to keep doing as they’re doing. Testimonies from Christians who were hardcore holdouts, who hated Jesus, but eventually the Holy Spirit wore ’em down. In the hopes the next Jesus-hating pagan they argue with might become the next Paul of Tarsus, they keep plowing away at the alkaline soil.

Again: Not biblical. Paul was a tough customer, but he required Christ Jesus’s direct intervention. And when you listen to those former holdouts, you’ll notice a lot of them tell of how the Spirit cracked ’em open. Not the evangelists. No matter how much their praying grandmas or persistent preachers would love to take credit. Bringing ’em to Jesus took a miracle. Not stubbornness.

When Jesus told his story about planting seeds, you recall the devil immediately snatched some of those seeds away. Mk 4.15 So you planted a seed. Sometimes it’s never gonna take. You’re giving holy things to the dogs. You need to pay attention to your surroundings, and when the conditions are all wrong, stop evangelizing. Stop wasting their time and yours. Their hearts are hard. Shake the dust off your feet Mk 6.11 and stop giving them your pearls.

True opportunities.

Evangelists are fond of saying there are always opportunities to share Christ. They’re absolutely right. We Christians blow a whole lot of opportunities because we’re gutless. Every time someone asks us a religion question, a moral question, a philosophy question, or bluntly, “What’re you doing Sunday morning?”—here’s our chance to pipe up.

And if they back away—“Whoops, didn’t wanna go there”—then drop it. But a lot of times they’re curious. There’s your opportunity. Share!

At the same time, be cautious about their curiosity. Antichrists sometimes wanna listen to what you believe, then slam it and call you a moron. Heretics wanna “correct” you. The “open-minded,” who aren’t open-minded so much as they’re trying to invent their own religion cobbled together from our good ideas and any others they can find, are looking any ideas they like and can swipe. These folks aren’t real opportunities. Pay attention. Discern what you’re dealing with.

See, dogs and pigs were ritually unclean animals. Likely ’cause they’ll eat anything, including dead animals, which is also ritually unclean, Lv 11.24, 39 so if you touched such animals you couldn’t go worship. (Commentators like to point out kyón/“dog” was also Greek slang for a male prostitute, but it’s really unlikely this was the metaphor Jesus had in mind: “Hey, don’t give bibles to whores.” Everybody needs bibles.) Jesus’s point was there are some people who are just toxic: What we find valuable, they don’t. What they find valuable is nasty. Try to share Jesus and his gospel with them, and they’ll stamp on our message, then try stamping on us.

So pay attention to the Holy Spirit, ’cause looks can be deceiving. If they look good, but the Spirit says, “Drop it and go away,” you tell him “Yes sir,” drop it, and go away. Never assume you know better than the Spirit.

Don’t be one of those evangelists who pretend they heard from the Spirit, when what really happened was they psyched themselves up to overcome any anxiousness, and started talking about God with strangers. That happens way too often. You’ll know them by their fruit: The person they’re speaking to is already Christian, so these would-be evangelists, instead of claiming the Spirit sent ’em to evangelize, claim he really sent ’em to encourage. No he didn’t. The Spirit isn’t vague about what your job is: If he sent you to evangelize, or sent you to encourage, you’d know which one he sent you to do.

(Besides, the Holy Spirit shouldn’t have to send us out to encourage others. We should be doing that already!)

Just remember: You’re there to share. And if they don’t want what you’re sharing, step away and find someone else. Spend your time on people who are worthy of Jesus. Mt 10.11 Worthy of pearls.