Friday, April 14, 2017

Cherish Those Pearls!

These are my reflections from quiet time spent with God today. For more information on how I approach quiet time, go here.
Look: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Jesus, speaking Matthew 7:1-2) 
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

I used to think that these statements by Jesus were offered in the manner of, “On the one hand...but on the other hand.” You know: “On the one hand, don’t judge your brother and sister in faith by the standards of the law, unless you would be judged by those same standards. On the other hand, don’t entrust the gospel to just anybody.”

This interpretation would be rightly predicated, I think, on Jesus’ teaching about the Office of the Keys. We aren’t to judge people’s fitness for eternal salvation; that”s God’s job. So we shouldn’t judge. On the other hand, we have the responsibility to withhold absolution from those who refuse to repent.

I now think maybe that I’ve been wrong in this interpretation.

The problem is that this construction of Matthew 7:6, would instruct us to stop sharing God’s Word of truth, Law or Gospel, from certain people. And while, in the case of excommunication for unrepentant sin (the only basis on which excommunication should happen, so far as I can see), the sacrament of Holy Communion would be withheld, certainly Jesus wouldn’t want us to stop sharing His Word with the unrepentant, with the desire that they would come home
Otherwise, Jesus’ parable about the farmer indiscriminately sowing seed, which Jesus later says refers to God’s indiscriminate scattering of His Word, would make no sense.

There are many interpretations of Matthew 7:6. But the one that most attracts me is the one that sees this verse not as a countervailing contrast to Matthew 7:1-5, nor as an altogether different topic addressed on a series of statements by Jesus, as I had, at different times, seen it, but as an amplification of the first five verses of the chapter.

Listen: In trying to understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:6, I looked at several different interpretations, including those by Martin Luther, Dallas Willard, and others. But the interpretation to which I’m most attracted is found in The Lutheran Study Bible:

“Jesus may be quoting a proverbial saying, which He applies to His previous teaching. He compares His disciples to ‘what is holy’ and to ‘pearls.’ He warns that hypocritical condemnation of fellow believers (vv 1-5) is tantamount to throwing these precious persons out of the fellowship to the dogs and pigs...Disciples thrown out of the fellowship would obviously suffer spiritual harm, and the congregation would be attacked for its hypocrisy.”

This is a different spin for me, and a convincing one. The pearls here aren’t “the pearl of great price” in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:45-46). There, the pearl is the gospel itself, a thing so precious and valuable that we should give up all that we are and have to take hold of it.

Instead, the pearls here are sisters and brothers in Christ, people who have been bought with Christ’s blood. Christ looks on each one as a precious jewel. 
I’m reminded of the These Are My Jewels statue, which stands on the lawn of the State House in Columbus. In it, Cornelia Africana, a member of a prominent Roman family and herself thought to be particularly virtuous, stands atop the statue, her hands stretched downward to call attention to seven Ohio jewels, Ohioans who served with prominence and distinction during the American Civil War and portrayed with their own statues. Cornelia is effectively saying, “These are my virtuous Ohio offspring.” 

People who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are, then, regarded in much the same way by Jesus. We are His jewels.

Don’t, Jesus is saying then, turn them away with your ungracious judgments. To me, it echoes Zechariah 2:8: “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.’”

This then, is an underscoring and intensification of Jesus’ teaching about judging others in the fellowship of the Church.

Don’t cast these pearls out among the dogs who don’t believe! Otherwise, those dogs could trample these precious gems, Jesus’ jewels, under foot, and they will lose their faith.

It strikes me that when seen in this way, we can see connections to at least two other passages of Scripture, one obvious, the other a bit more obscure.

The first is where Jesus says: ““Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2) When we Christians harshly judge or, whether informally or formally, cast out, fellow believers in Jesus because we perceive their sins to be worse than our own, we may cause the judged believers to stumble in or lose their faith. That’s a horrible thing for a Christian to do, even damnable if we don’t repent.

The other passage I think of is Ephesians’ admonition to fathers: “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.” (Ephesians 6:4, Good News Translation)

Just as parents are to discipline from love, rather than punish from anger, Christians shouldn’t lash out at fellow believers in anger. Church discipline, if given at all, should be meted out with love, not vengefulness. Otherwise, believers may become discouraged and give up on the faith altogether.

Every believer is a pearl saved by grace through faith in Christ. There are ways to restore sisters and brothers who have fallen into unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15-20). Condemning them, gossiping about them, shunning them, or tossing them out without a healthy airing of things isn’t Christian and it isn’t loving. Tossing them among unbelievers--who Jesus calls “pigs” and “dogs”--is like taking a Rolls-Royce Ghost and dropping it into a trash compactor. Only the loss is much greater, a person’s eternal relationship with God caused by the discouragement of Christ’s Church. Horrible!

I’ve seen this tragedy happen to Christian believers.

And, often, when the world sees this happen, unbelievers are inclined to trample us under feet.

Respond: No matter what I may be called to say or do today, Lord, let it be informed by Your grace. Help me to love my sisters and brothers in Christ, seeing them as pearls not to be easily judged or dismissed, but as fellow recipients of Your saving grace through faith in Christ. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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