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).
Jesus’ words are commonly understood to mean that His disciples are to show discernment in who they share the glorious good news of the kingdom with. They are not to bring it before individuals or audiences that have no desire to hear it or respect for it. Texts like Matthew 10:13-14; Acts 13:46 and others like it are cited as examples of this principle being applied. It is pointed out that while Matthew 7:1-5 has to do with judging within the community of disciples, v. 6 has to do with judging those outside the community and by doing so offers a necessary balance on the subject.
While I don’t dispute that idea that sharing the gospel with someone who doesn’t want to hear is usually a bad idea—I’m not convinced that it’s always the case (after all, someone who thought they understood what they were saying “no” to could be mistaken—it wouldn’t be the first time). More to the point though, I’m not convinced that this is what is being taught by Jesus in this passage. For starters, I’m not sure how such a reading harmonizes with the Great Commission texts, the preaching and teaching of Jesus, or what we find in the book of Acts. It seems pretty clear from the parable of the soils that the message does fall on some hearts that have no place for it. Furthermore, how exactly would we know that someone wasn’t interested without engaging them in some manner? Wouldn’t it be extremely presumptuous on our part to decide for someone else that they weren’t interested enough?
Jesus has been discussing the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (6:33). Whether it is by honoring God in our giving, praying and fasting (v. 1-18), or trusting in His everyday care for us (v. 25-34) or in our relationships (7:1-5)—we are to have a sense of the sacred as it relates to all of life. If we “see” things in this way, our “eyes are healthy” and our “whole body will be full of light” (v. 22). If we have no such sense, our “whole body will be full of darkness” (v. 23).
I think what Jesus is saying in 7:6 is essentially a restatement of the truth of 6:22-23 under a different figure. The person who abandons their sense of the holy has given to dogs what is sacred and thrown their pearls to pigs. It seems likely that Jesus spoke these words with the Pharisees in mind. Their origins were noble but by the time of Jesus they had degenerated into a power hungry, money loving sect who had lost sight of the sacred (see Matthew 23). It is also illustrated in the story of the prodigal son (the younger one) who wanted to live away from his father and ended up in a pigpen. And it’s interesting that Peter employs the same two images (a dog and a pig) in speaking of disciples who turn away from the truth (2 Peter 2:19-22).
Taken in this sense, the “dogs” and “pigs” don’t represent anyone—they represent us opening the door to self-destruction by our disregard for what is holy. We see this in Romans 1 where the long list of sin begins with “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but in their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 23). The rest of the chapter details the fallout from this initial decision.
If this view is adopted, Matthew 7:7-11 then become a powerful encouragement from Jesus to continue seeking the kingdom and God’s goodness rather than to give in to the despair and self-destruction that come from losing your sense of the sacred.