Friday, July 30, 2010

Cool Video

Check out this video. A storekeeper shares the Lord with a would-be robber and talks him out of his dastardly deed. Turns out the man had never robbed anyone before but was facing eviction and needed $300 for rent to keep his family in a home. Thank God for this bold and faithful Christian in the work place.

Makes you dizzy just looking up!

One of the things that was so impressive about New York was the sheer size of the city, not only in terms of the number of people, but also the height of the buildings. We felt very small standing on the street next to them. The first picture shown here was taken while we were standing in line waiting to buy tickets to see West Side Story. I don't remember now what building this is, but its height is not at all exceptional for Manhattan.

The second picture is of a building which is exceptional by anyone's standards. It's the Empire State Building, now the tallest building in NYC. There is an observation deck on the 86th floor from which one can get a truly amazing view of the city. The picture was taken from the sidwalk across the street.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

On giving to the poor

In Matthew 5:42, Jesus says, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Does this mean we should give to everyone? What about people are poor because they are lazy?

Whenever we talk about the poor, we have to distinguish between those who are deserving of help and those who are not. This is not a very politically correct way to frame the discussion, but it is biblically correct.

When Jesus, “Give to the one who begs from you,” he’s assuming the begging is coming from the deserving poor. Not everyone who is poor is deserving of help. Those who are deserving of help are those who are poor through no fault of their own. It’s not that they have been lazy or irresponsible. It’s that they have suffered a set back that has either temporarily or perhaps even permanently made them incapable of adequately providing for themselves—widows and their minor children, for instance; also those who suffer from a mental or physical disability. These are entitled to our compassion, and God commands us to care for them according to our ability.

But there are also those whom we may call the undeserving poor, that is, those who are too lazy or irresponsible to provide for themselves. For these, the injunction of the apostle Paul still applies. As he said in 2 Thessalonians:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (3:10-12).

Whenever we shield people from the consequences of their irresponsibility—and this is what we are doing when we assist those who are poor because of their own irresponsibility—then we are only encouraging further irresponsible behavior. Let them suffer the consequences of their foolish behavior. Let them miss a meal or two. Hunger serves as a powerful motive to work. "A worker's appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on" (Prov. 16:26). Let him go without electricity for a few days. Let him feel the discomfort of it until he’s motivated to work. Too often we rush in and rescue people from the consequences of their irresponsible behavior and so the motives to work hard, to save, to learn life skills, and so on, are all taken away.

The undeserving poor who accept charity (whether from private individuals or from relief agencies or even from the state or federal government), are liars and thieves. They are liars because they pretend to be something they are not. They pretend to be people with legitimate needs entitled to our compassion, when in reality they’re irresponsible moochers.

In the second place they’re thieves. They prey upon those who are compassionate and take advantage of them by asking for and receiving what they have no claim to. In fact, they’re thieves twice over. They’re not only preying upon the compassionate, they’re also depriving those who really need the assistance from receiving it. And they’re doing this in two ways. First, they are receiving what could have, and should have, gone to someone who really needs it. And second, these pretenders make those who are in a position to give cynical and suspicious and therefore less likely to give even to those who really do need it.

Complicating all this is the fact that government-run social welfare programs, though often well-intentioned, usually do far more harm than good because they don’t take into account how the policies of a government affect the way people think about themselves and their responsibilities. A relative absence of government interference tends to make people “energetic, enterprising, and thoughtful in pursuit of [their] own economic interests.” The more fully they see themselves as being responsible for their own prosperity and happiness the more effort they will put in to it and the less dependent they will be upon others. This is the tragedy of American welfare. When we loosen the tie between labor and reward so that people receive the rewards of labor without actually working for them, even though they are capable of doing so, then we take away the need for personal initiative and of for personal responsibility. And we destroy all incentive to work. We end up creating a mentality of dependence and entitlement. They don’t know how to take initiative. They’ve never had a need to show any initiative, because there’s always been someone there to provide things for them and do things for them. They’ve convinced themselves that they are incapable of doing things for themselves.

Our help should not be given in such a way as to create a sense of either dependency or entitlement.

Now none of this should be used as an excuse not to aid the poor; but rather to use wisdom in determining when and when not to give.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Congressional Budget Office Warns Obama

From Newsmax...
The mushrooming U.S. government debt burden may cause a new financial crisis by spurring a sharp rise in interest rates, warns Doug Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Countries such as Greece already have seen such crises, as their debt buildups sent interest rates soaring and drove away international bond investors.

The CBO projects that U.S. federal government debt will reach 62 percent of GDP by Sept. 30, up from 36 percent just three years earlier. Only once before has that figure surpassed 50 percent, during and just after World War II.

The debt, of course, is created by massive budget deficits, with the White House projecting a gap of $1.47 trillion this year.

Elmendorf sees two possible outcomes for our current predicament – one mild, one harsh.
(Read more here.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is divorce and remarriage always sinful?

Please explain Luke 16:18. Is divorce and remarriage always wrong?

The verse reads, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."

The first thing we need to note here is that Jesus is speaking to men, and is considering the question from the perspective of a man’s role in the divorce and remarriage.

He says in the first place, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Taken by itself, and at a glance, this passage seems to imply an absolute prohibition of remarriage in any and all circumstances of divorce. But I think it’s better to understand Jesus as implying a very specific motive for the divorce, a motive which does not meet biblical standards of justification. When he says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another,” he is addressing the issue of a man who has found another woman he would rather be married to, and so he divorces his first wife in order to marry her. The man has not found any lawful reason to divorce his wife; he’s just found someone else more to his liking. There were rabbis in Jesus’ time who said this sort of thing was permissible. Rabbi Hillel, for instance, said that a man may divorce his wife for something as simple as spoiling his food. Rabbi Akiva said that a man might divorce his wife “if he found another [woman] more beautiful than her.” But Jesus says that this is nothing less than adultery. The man is being unfaithful to his wife by unjustly divorcing her so that he can take someone else. He’s breaking covenant with her.

Likewise, when Jesus says, “and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery,” he is supposing a case in which a man gains the affections of a married woman, so that she divorces her husband in order to marry him (her seducer). He who marries her is guilty of adultery (not to mention the fact that she is also) (cf. Mk. 10:11-12). This was the situation that John the Baptist rebuked in Herod. Herod had married a woman named Herodias who had divorced her husband in order to marry him (Mk. 6:16-20).

But all this leaves open the question of whether or not divorce and remarriage are allowed in other circumstances. In Deuteronomy 24, it is recognized that someone could divorce his wife if he found some “indecency” in her. The rabbis debated how far to take this word. As we have seen, some understood it very broadly (a woman spoils her husband’s food, or she has lost her youthful form and no longer pleases him).

Jesus, however, interprets the passage much more narrowly. He says, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). The underlying Greek word for sexual immorality in this verse is the word porneia. It’s the word from which the words porn and pornography are derived. Porneia is a term that broadly indicates offenses of a sexual nature, meaning anything from full-blown adultery, on the one hand, to withholding herself from the marriage bed on the other (cf. 1 Cor. 7:15). A woman, likewise, may pursue a divorce from her husband for similar offenses; and in addition, as we learn from Exodus 21, she may divorce him for failing to provide for her, which is her right as a wife (Ex. 21:10-11).

The breakdown of a marriage is always sad when it happens, but we should understand that it is not the case that all divorces are equal, even in the same divorce. In the same divorce, one party may be all to blame, and the other party completely innocent. The innocent party does no wrong in remarrying, provided it is a marriage in the Lord.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My better half

We were travel-worn and weary and hadn't been able to change our clothes for nearly 48 hours (our luggage didn't take the same flight we did), but we enjoyed our night out on the town. This pic, taken at the southern end of Times Square, was taken just after we saw West Side Story at The Palace Theatre.

Wouldn't you know, as we were walking to this famous intersection we saw some fellow Kansasans right in front of us, a mother and her teenage son. The boy's t-shirt tipped us off that they were from Kansas. We learned that they live in Wichita and were in NYC to visit family.

Tocqueville Foresaw it All

From Theodore Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left Of It:
Tocqueville understood, as few modern writers do, that pauperism is above all a psychological, not an economic, condition. And he saw in the English system of social assistance to the poor the same insidious threat to men’s independence of character that he saw, only as a potentiality in American democracy.
Tocqueville’s Memoir on Pauperism was published in 1835, shortly after the first volume of Democracy in America. He had visited England, then by far the most prosperous country in Europe, if not the world. But there was a seeming paradox; a sixth of the population of England were – or had made themselves – paupers, completely reliant upon handouts from public charity. This was a proportion greater than in any other country in Europe, even in such incomparably poorer ones as Spain and Portugal. In the midst of what was then the utmost prosperity, Tocqueville found not only physical squalor, but moral and emotional degradation.

Tocqueville surmised that the reason lay in the fact that England was then the one country in Europe that provided public assistance, as of right, to people who lacked the means to support themselves. The reign of Elizabeth I had conferred this right, as a way of dealing with the epidemic of begging that followed the dissolution of the monasteries. In the past they had provided essentially private and voluntary charity to the poor, on a discretionary basis.

As first sight, remarked Tocqueville, the replacement of discretionary charity by public assistance granted as of right appeared deeply humane. What, he asked, could be nobler than the determination to ensure that no one went hungry? What could be more fair and reasonable than that the prosperous should give up a little for the welfare of those with nothing?

If men were not thinking beings who react to their circumstance by taking what they conceive to be advantage of them, this system doubtless would have had the desired effect. But instead, Tocqueville observed that voluntary idleness to which the seemingly humane system of entitlement gave rise – how it destroyed both kindness and gratitude (for what is given bureaucratically is received with resentment), how it encouraged fraud and dissimulation of various kinds, and above all how it dissolved the social bounds that protected people from the worst effects of poverty. The provision of relief by entitlement atomized society: Tocqueville cited the case of a man who, though financially able to do so, refused to support this daughter-in-law and grandchild after this son’s death, precisely because public support was available to them as of right. Having paid his taxes, why should he do more? The provision of charity as of right destroyed the motive for human solidarity in the face of hardship, and undermined both ties of personal affection and the sense of duty toward close relations. Intended as an expression of social responsibility, it liberated selfishness. As Tocqueville grasped, the shift of responsibility from individual to collectivity had an enormous and deleterious effect on how people thought and felt, and therefore upon society as a whole. Where this shift had taken place, economic progress was perfectly compatible with squalor of every kind, and general wealth with degradation.

It wasn’t until the end of the twentieth century, with its unprecedented prosperity and its militant moral relativism, that Tocqueville’s prescience became clear. Until very recently in human history, sheer physical poverty has seemed much more a menace than any attempt to relieve it could ever be. But none of the social pathology of a modern British or American slum would have surprised Tocqueville, who foresaw it all 165 years ago.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Will the temple be rebuilt?

Will the temple be rebuilt before the second coming?

The short answer is, “I don’t know.” There are many Bible prophecy teachers who are very confident that it will be rebuilt; but the passages they point to as proof really don’t speak to the issue. They actually refer to events that were fulfilled in the first century.

For instance, in Matthew 24, which many prophecy teachers say relates to the time of the second coming, Jesus mentions the temple being desecrated and destroyed. But it’s really quite clear from the context that he’s talking about the temple that existed in his own day, in the first century. When the disciples pointed out to him the magnificent construction of the temple, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2). And when the disciples asked when it would happen, Jesus said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). And sure enough, just as he said, within forty years the Romans came and sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. This happened in August in the year 70. This was a huge turning point in the history of the Jewish faith. The Jews have never had a temple since.

A number of other prophetic passages mentioning the temple, that many Bible teachers apply to the time of the second coming, likewise apply to the temple that existed in the first century. Daniel, for instance, in his prophecy of the 70 weeks, mentions the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Dan. 9:26). But he, too, had first century events in mind. In fact, in Matthew 24, Jesus links Daniel’s prophecy with his own, which he said would be fulfilled in his generation, not in the last days (see Matt. 24:15).

We could say the same thing about other prophetic passages that speak of the temple—Second Thessalonians, for instance, which speaks of “the man of lawlessness…who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4). This is probably a reference to a certain John of Gischala who, in the days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, partnered with the Zealots, captured the temple to use as a stronghold (thus desecrating it), and defied both the Romans one the one hand and the priests and the people on the other. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, talks about these things at some length.

The book of Revelation also mentions the temple, but sometimes it’s a reference to the temple in the first century, and sometimes it’s a reference to a heavenly temple. But in no case is there a clear reference to a rebuilt temple in the days leading up to the second coming.

There is no passage in the Bible that I know of that speaks of a rebuilt, last days temple. So the question of whether or not the Jews will be successful in rebuilding it must be answered very tentatively.

I’m of the opinion that a rebuilding of the temple is very unlikely. This opinion is based on the fact that God’s purpose for the temple has been fulfilled. Jesus himself is the true temple, the true atoning sacrifice, and the true priesthood. When he accomplished our redemption through his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, there was no further need for a temple in Jerusalem. A rebuilding of the temple, and the reinstitution of the priesthood and of animal sacrifices, it seems to me, would detract from the glory of the finished work of Christ.

In fact, we should consider the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 as God’s act. God destroyed the temple. He used the Romans to do it; but ultimately it was God who did it (cf. Acts 6:12-14). And ever since, he has providentially hindered its reconstruction. The biggest obstacle that lies in the way of its reconstruction is the Dome of the Rock mosque that was built on the site of the temple in the 7th century. The mosque is claimed to be the third holiest site in Islam, the most militant religion in the world. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who would not hesitate to fight and die in defense of the mosque if the Jews should wish to tear it down in order to rebuild the temple there.

Perhaps, however, it is in the plan of God to use a rebuilt temple and its ministrations as an instrument to lead the Jews to faith in Jesus Christ. There is a very interesting statement in Acts 6. It says, “A great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Those who were the most conversant with the law and who dealt on a daily basis with the temple and its sacrifices came to believe in Christ. Perhaps, God will permit the temple to be rebuilt and use it as a means to accomplish what Paul writes about in Romans when he says that after “the fullness of the Gentiles” has come in “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26).

Perhaps. But we don’t know. There is no passage of Scripture that bears directly on the question of a rebuilt temple.

Friday, July 9, 2010

And I used to think Calvinism was scary

The other day when I didn't have anything else to do (ha!) I picked a book off my shelf that I bought years ago but never read:  The Openness of God:  A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), a series of essays by various authors on the "openness of God." If you have never heard of the idea, the openness of God is the notion that the future is "open" to God. He does not have a full knowledge of the future because the future acts of creatures possessing free will are inherently unknowable. I'm ashamed to say it, but there was a time when I was toying with the idea. I was struggling to understand the biblical passages that speak of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility and how the two relate to each other (i.e., Calvinism and Arminianism). Involved in this discussion, of course, is God's knowledge of the future. I was firmly in the Arminian camp at the time, but the critique that Calvinists gave of Arminianism's account of God's knowledge of the future made me think that one really must choose between Calvinism and Open Theism. I was attracted to open theism largely because the other alternative (Calvinism) was too scary...or so I thought. Really, I had a very poor understanding of Calvinism, since most of what I "knew" of it I learned from it's opponents. At any rate, God saved me from the god of open theism and helped me to see the truth and beauty of the Reformed faith, for which I am very thankful.

As I was saying, when I didn't have anything else to do, I picked up this book and began flipping through it. I was already quite familiar with the basics since I had read a number of other books and articles on the subject. What really piqued my interest was the last chapter, "Practical Implications," by David Basinger.
We do not...believe that God always knows beforehand exactly how things will turn out in the future - that God possesses simple foreknowledge.
We maintain, rather, that God possesses only what has come to be called "present knowledge." God, we acknowledge, does know all that has occurred in the past and is occurring know. Moreover, God does know all that will follow deterministically from what has occurred [e.g. the physical laws of nature], and can, as the ultimate psychoanalyst [Freud would be envious!], predict with great accuracy what we as humans will freely choose to do in various contexts. God, for instance, might well be able to predict with great accuracy whether a couple would have a successful marriage [good for him!]. But since we believe that God can know only what can be known and that what humans will freely do in the future cannot be known beforehand, we believe that God can never know with certainty what will happen in any context involving freedom of choice. We believe, for example, that to the extent that freedom of choice would be involved, God would not necessarily know beforehand exactly what would happen if a couple were to marry. Accordingly, we must acknowledge that divine guidance, from our perspective, cannot be considered a means of discovering exactly what will be best in the long run - as a means of discovering the very best long-term option. Divine guidance, rather, must be viewed primarily as a means of determining what is best for us now. (p. 163)
So then, in his ignorance, God may actually lead us down a path in the short run that might actually be the worst possible path in the long run. Really. Read on. I'm not making this up.
Since God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run. For example, given that God may not know exactly what the state of the economy will be over the next five or ten years, it is possible that what God in his wisdom believes at present to be the best course of study for a student may not be an option that will allow her after graduation to pursue the profession for which she has prepared... It is always possible that what will occur as the result of following God's specific will at a given time will not be exactly what even God envisioned. (p. 165).
Yikes! And I used to think that Calvinism was scary!

You are here

Steve and Jeannie turned us loose to do some sightseeing on our own, using the famous New York subway system. This Kansas couple found that it was not nearly as scary as we imagined it might be to be "alone" in this monstrously large city, finding our way here and there underground. Thankfully, we found Steve's advice to be true:  "If you need help, ask. New Yorkers love to give directions."

Is it a sin for a Christian to get a tattoo?

This is a very timely question seeing as how we are witnessing a proliferation of all kinds of body modification, including piercings and cuttings and tattoos. The Bible actually mentions these things very directly in Leviticus 19:28. The Lord says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves.”

A couple of interpretive questions arise. The first concerns the words “for the dead”. "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead…” It was a practice among the pagans to cut themselves for a variety of reasons, one of which was as an expression of mourning for the dead.
In the Ugaritic story of Baal and Anat, the god Baal is killed and the other gods, his friends, cut their cheeks and chins and lacerate their forearms, chests and backs. (R. Laird Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
We find, too, that the priests of Baal, in their contest with Elijah, “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Ki. 18:28).

The question is: Does the Levitical prohibition against cutting and tattooing only have to do with mourning rites and with the worship of idols? Or is it a general prohibition that applies across the board in all circumstances? I think it applies across the board. God’s law frequently teaches us general principles by the use of specific cases. Cutting and tattooing oneself “for the dead” is a specific case from which we are to deduce a general principle. Namely, we are not to mutilate or mar the body.

The second question that arises is this: Is this a law that still applies today? Some laws of the Old Testament no longer apply—the laws concerning sacrifice and offering, for instance. These looked forward to Christ and were types and shadows of his work of atonement. They were like prophecies in the form of object lessons, and since Christ has come, there is no longer any need for them. The kosher laws no longer apply either. They were designed, in part at least, to keep Israel set apart from the nations. And now with the calling of the Gentiles to be joint heirs with the Jews of the promises of God, they are no longer binding.

Other laws, however, obviously still apply. It is as wrong today to commit murder as it was when God gave us his law on Sinai. It is as wrong today to commit adultery, to steal, to blaspheme, to commit perjury, and so on.

So the question is this: does this law against cutting and tattooing oneself still apply today? It is perhaps not as obvious as the commandments against murder and stealing and adultery, but I think it does still apply.

In the first place, cutting and tattooing the body contravene the natural order. God created man in his own image and pronounced his creation good. Therefore, man should not disfigure the divine image given to him by scarring or tattooing his body, but should have a bias in favor of the natural created form. Paul argues in this way on another matter in First Corinthians when he says, “Does not nature itself teach you…” (1 Cor. 11:14).

And even if we’re mistaken in thinking that the commandment against cutting and tattooing is an abiding commandment, there is still another thing to take into consideration. Paul, on several occasions, appeals to the accepted practices of the churches of God:

  • This is my rule in all the churches… (1 Cor. 7:17)
  • We have no such practice, nor do the churches of God (1 Cor. 11:16)
  • As in all the churches of the saints… (1 Cor. 14:33)

We ought to have a high regard for the accepted practices of the church through the ages.

The simple fact of the matter is that the practice of body modification did not originate with the people of God, but with pagans. And in all times and in all places the churches have discouraged the practice. This alone ought to give a Christian pause in considering it.

Western Civilization has been profoundly influenced by the Christian faith. This is why tattooing and other forms of body modification, until recent times, have been relatively rare. But as we have moved away from our Christian heritage we have seen a significant rise in these things. Body modification has come into prominence among those who wish to defy convention—another very good reason for a Christian to avoid it.

The bottom line is that our bodies, as Paul said, are members of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). And he goes on to say,

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 3:19-20).
We are not free to do whatever we want with our bodies, but we must hold them, and keep them, and do with them whatever God commands.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On giving what is holy to dogs

Please explain what Jesus meant in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.”

The background for understanding this is to be found in what God had said in Exodus: “You shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field [you shall not use as food any animal that has been killed by another animal. What then is to be done with it?]; you shall throw it to the dogs” (Ex. 22:31).

References to dogs in Scripture are almost always derogatory in nature. They were like portable garbage disposals roaming about the city streets scavenging whatever they could find to eat. And they were known to eat the most putrid and disgusting things, which contributed to their being regarded with contempt.

Now it’s one thing to throw meat from an animal that had been torn by a beast in the field to the dogs, but it was quite another to do this with meat that came from an animal that had been sacrificed to God. That meat, by the very circumstance of being offered to God, was regarded as holy. It would be a horrible sacrilege to throw it to the dogs. It was unlawful even for an unclean person, let alone an unclean animal like a dog to eat of the holy sacrifice. This is what Jesus is alluding to—taking the meat consecrated to God by sacrifice, and throwing to the dogs.

But he’s not speaking literally of dogs and consecrated meat. He is speaking metaphorically. He is speaking of evil men, who in Scripture are frequently called “dogs” (Deut. 23:18; Ps. 59:14-15; Phil. 3:2; Rev. 22:15). And he is saying, do not give them what is holy.

He reinforces the idea by saying, “Do not throw your pearls before pigs.” The Jews often used the figure of a pearl to represent the sayings of the wise. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not give them the precious truths of the gospel when all they’re going to do is defile them.” If dogs were bad, pigs were worse. They were considered the very embodiment of uncleanness. They wallowed in the mire and were offered in sacrifice by pagans to their idols. And so they became the emblem of men who are filthy and corrupt.

Dogs and swine are both used by Peter to represent the very depths of depravity when he says, “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:22).

Now how should we apply Jesus’ instruction?

Well, of course, he doesn’t mean that we are never to present the gospel to anyone who is wicked and profane. Christ himself preached to tax-gatherers and sinners, and Paul spoke in First Corinthians about those who had formerly been idolaters, adulterers, and homosexuals. What he means is that we are to use discernment. There are times and places and circumstances where, if we were to share the gospel, it would be just as sacrilegious as giving the holy meat of a sacrificial animal to a dog, or just as foolish as throwing pearls before swine. It exposes the holy name of God to blasphemy and ourselves to persecution. This is what he means when he says, “They will trample the pearls under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Jesus instructed his disciples that if the ungodly would not receive them they should “shake off the dust of their feet” and go elsewhere (Luke 10:10-11). If, after they had preached, the people proved to be obstinate and blasphemed, they were to leave them alone and go to those who would hear (cf. Acts 13:50-51; 18:5-6).

Jesus himself, when he stood before Herod Antipas, and was questioned “at some length,” answered him not a word (Lk. 23:9). Herod had shown himself unworthy. He had been previously warned by John the Baptist about his wicked life; and he showed his vicious character by having John beheaded.

Jesus dealt similarly with Pilate and the chief priests who accused him (Matt. 27:12-14).

Several years ago I knew a couple of Christian men who went into a topless bar in order to witness and hand out gospel tracts. I submit to you that they were wrong to do so on two accounts. First, they exposed themselves to unnecessary temptation (which their wives were none too happy about either, I might add!) And second they exposed the gospel to ridicule. We should not expect those who are carousing in a topless bar to do anything but make a mock of the things of God. It would be very much like throwing precious pearls before swine.

Witnessing to those same men in a different venue, however, is another story. Say they all were gathered together at funeral for one of their friends. The environment and the occasion are altogether different. Or say you invite them one at a time to your home or out to eat for dinner and conversation. Most people will feel some sense of indebtedness to your kindness and hospitality that will make them more receptive. At least not so hostile. Occasion and atmosphere are important.

There are no hard and fast rules about these things and so we really need to ask God for wisdom and discernment.