You can’t minister to everyone. You shouldn’t minister to everyone.
As a minister of the gospel, your capacity is limited. Unlike Jesus, who reigns with all authority from heaven and earth and who is with every man and is only a prayer away, the minister of the gospel can only be at one place at one time. He has a limited amount of time. He has a limited amount of energy. While some have a greater capacity for work and ministry than others, there is no one minister who can do everything. It’s often said that the greatest enemy of “best” is “good.” Even if he wants to, a minister cannot minister to everyone. But the point of this article is not to argue the thesis that a minister can’t minister to everyone, but that he shouldn’t minister to everyone. A minister not only has a limited capacity, but he must have defined boundaries. According to Jesus, there is a certain territory—a certain kind of people—from whom a minister must withhold his ministry.
This isn’t being partial—it’s being shrewd. This isn’t playing favorites with people—it’s being faithful to Jesus. For Jesus does tell us from whom to withhold our ministry: dogs and swine. He instructs his disciples pointedly in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.Matt 7:6
This is not merely a suggestion for best practice; this is a command from the King. In other words, there are certain kinds of people to whom one must not preach the gospel repeatedly, and to whom one must not give their time indefinitely. Energy and resources must be spent rescuing straying sheep, not trying to entertain dogs and swine. Christ’s directive to withhold the ministry of the gospel and kingdom (the holy things and pearls) from the dogs and swine has three components.
Making the Proper Identification
The first component is the identification. Biblical discernment is required, for all men are sinners and innately hostile to the truth of God. Everyone is born in sin, blind to the truth, possesses a natural hatred for Christ, and has a bent for lawlessness and rebellion. But not all sinners are dogs and swine. Some sinners, as Luke 15:4-7 tells us, are straying sheep. And while dogs and swine must be avoided, straying sheep must be pursued and rescued. Was this not why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who disdained him for spending time with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:1-3)? Is not the gospel of Luke all about the Son of Man seeking, pursuing, and rescuing lost sheep? Identifying one from the other requires the minister to be, figuratively speaking, a theological zoologist.
However, we must not use demographics as our standard for identification. The gospel and the kingdom ought to be offered to people of every demographic—people of every ethnicity, age, culture, background, and socio-economic status. It is not a person’s demographic that we must use as our standard of identification, but rather a person’s disposition. When Christ mentions dogs and swine, he refers to those who do not value the ministry of the gospel, who show no reverence for it, and who treat it lightly. Dogs are those who tear. Swine are those who trample. Tearing dogs figuratively refers to individuals who will aim to harm you for your ministry, like the inhabitants of Nazareth who tried to hurl Christ off of a cliff when he preached there (Luke 4:20-30). Trampling swine figuratively refers to individuals who make a mockery of the gospel and adamantly reject it. The gospel minister must not discriminate, but he must be discerning. He must know how to identify those individuals who will trample upon the gospel and tear you apart for ministering it to others.
Heeding the Admonition
The second component is the admonition. Once the gospel minister identifies the dogs and swine, he must heed the admonition of Christ: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine.” Dogs and swine are not to be hunted or harmed, but neither are they to be fed or pampered.
Again, this is not just saying that we can’t minister to everyone because of limited capacity. Christ is saying that we shouldn’t minister to everyone. Such an admonition has nothing to do with our limitations, but rather has everything to do with the value and dignity of the gospel ministry. What is precious cannot be continually thrown to those who will dishonor it. The gospel ministry is indeed a treasure, and it is contained in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). When a person proves to be one who will either trample on the gospel (by mocking the message) or tear apart its minister (by abusing the preacher), it is from this person a gospel minister must withhold his ministry. Jesus himself would later instruct his twelve apostles: “And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Certainly, we must work to persuade men to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20-21). But the minister must remember that the glory and honor of God along with the dignity of his gospel must also be protected. God is not some needy person who will desperately do any and everything—no matter what the cost—for people to believe in him. God commands us to withhold our ministry from those who make sport of his ministers and a mockery of his gospel. There are some people who are simply not worth your precious time and energy, and simply not worthy to continually receive the ministry of the gospel.
Knowing the Repercussion
The third component is the repercussion. Why must we withhold our ministry from those swine and dogs? It is because if we don’t, the message will be trampled and the minister will be torn apart. The minister of the gospel is an earthen vessel, and the gospel message is a true treasure, the pearl of great price. The minister who allows the gospel message to be mocked is a minister who condones the mockery of the precious gospel message. While God is a God who saves, he is first and foremost a God who is passionate about the display of his glory. Hell exists because God seeks to preserve his glory and honor. Eternal judgment exists because God’s passion for his glory is prioritized over his desire to see all men be saved (Rom 9:21-24). And while the gospel minister is a humble servant who must endure hardship and persecution (2 Tim 2:3; 3:12; 4:5), God never calls for ministers of the gospel to remain with those who abuse and make sport of them.
Gospel ministers, therefore, are never to communicate that such abuse is permissible in God’s eyes. By withholding one’s ministry from those who mistreat and make a mockery of him, the minister testifies that the abuser is currently facing the judgment of God. While the gospel minister must know how to endure the persecution that comes from the world, he must not allow any group of people to continually harm him while he ministers to them. Otherwise, he will be torn into pieces and his ability to further minister the gospel will be hindered.
Christ Died for the Sheep
Such an instruction to withhold one’s ministry from dogs and swine must never be driven by hatred. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, whether those neighbors are our friends or enemies. Rather, Christ’s instructions about when to withhold the gospel must be driven by one’s understanding of the dignity of the gospel and the good of the sheep. Time, as the currency of life, is precious. Time and energy given to dogs and swine is time and energy not given to God’s sheep. But the sheep—not the dogs and the swine—are those for whom Christ died (John 10:14). It is the sheep who Christ is bringing to himself (John 10:16). It is the sheep who Christ commissioned to feed and protect (John 21:15-17). To the sheep, we must throw what is holy and cast our pearls. We withhold our ministry from the dogs and the swine not because we hate dogs and swine, but because Christ loves his sheep.