Oh, the crazy things Christians (like me) think. I confess. I am guilty of Lazy ChristianThink. I have no one to blame but myself.

However, I am trying to get better.

No, I don’t attend CTCTA (Crazy Things Christians Think Anonymous), but I would like to offer some insight, hopefully, into a misunderstood verse that has been passed down to us and we have lazily accepted.

The crazy-thinking verse is from Matthew: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).1

This verse is very well known. In fact, it is part of the Western culture. I remember listening to an album, many years ago, entitled Balaclava, by the group Pearls Before Swine. (I think it was the first time I heard Leonard Cohen sing.) The traditional understanding of this verse is pretty simple: Don’t tell people things you know they will reject or trample them underfoot. They’re either too dumb to understand what you’re saying, too stubborn, or just unprepared to hear. Don’t waste your time. Tagging along with that understanding is often the implied superiority of the speaker over the hearer. After all, they are pigs, right? And you have pearls.

However, this belief is the complete opposite of what Jesus meant.

Please allow me to explain. As usual, the context in which this verse is found will help us.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:1–6).

Jesus taught that we should not judge people. He did not say we should cease making determinations about right and wrong, or toss away discernment about sinful behavior. He was addressing arrogant judgmentalism—judging people because, quite obviously, they’re nasty, disobedient sinners and we’re not. Jesus said this judgmental behavior is like having a log in our eyes. However, if we stop destructive judgmentalism—taking the log out of our eyes—we will be able to see clearly and help take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Please note that this brother does indeed have a sinful problem—he has a speck in his eye. However, treating such a person like dirt offers no help whatsoever. We are functionally blind if we do so. Thus, we are to drop the self-righteous judgmentalism and help the sinful person. Christians, who are also sinners, should exercise compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness—all actions that are reinforced elsewhere both in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Peter wrote that Christians are to respond kindly and respect those who oppose them (1 Peter 3:14-16).

This teaching is then followed by the verse about casting our pearls before pigs. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jesus would follow His teaching about loving compassion toward sinners and then tell people to treat them like dogs and pigs. However, this is precisely what many Christians believe He did.

Instead, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t take God’s precious, loving truths and then attempt to teach them to people we treat like dirty dogs and pigs. The result, He said, would be that these needed, life-giving truths—pearls—would be trampled under the feet of those you disdain. They would reject them. Not only would they reject them, they would actually turn and attack you. This makes perfect sense. If you treat other people like they’re unworthy animals, they won’t take kindly to your attitude, reject the precious pearls of truth you share, and then attack you for your self-righteous, condemning attitude.

That’s called human nature.

Jesus never treated people like they were dogs or pigs. He forgave a woman who had been caught in adultery. He had a private conversation at a well with a woman who was a notorious ne’er-do-well. He allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears. He touched lepers so they could be healed. He called a hated, Israel-betraying tax collector to be one of His disciples.

We’ve had the understanding of Jesus’ pearls-before-swine teaching backwards. Our understanding made us feel comfortable with our feelings of superiority and self-righteousness.

It is crazy Christian thinking.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.