Christ’s Heart on Preferences (Matthew 7:1-6)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

Christ’s Heart on Preferences

How to Deal with Preferences–Matthew 7:1-6

When my kids were small, we’d play a little game called, “Would you rather…” Would you rather have chocolate milk or regular milk? Would you rather have chocolate milk or OJ? I’d present two things to them and ask which was preferred. Giving them a binary choice was easier to make a decision on, and it helped me to know what they really loved versus what was just okay.

We learned that of pancakes, waffles and French toast, all three of our kids had a different favorite–but no one had pancakes lower than second place. I’d play it with them, even until age nine or so. We identified the different vegetables that they disliked, ranking each kid’s worst. So then we knew who would be the biggest challenge when we made broccoli.

I thought it’d be kinda fun to start tonight with a little game of “Would you rather…”

Would you rather sleep in or go to bed early?

Would you rather go to bed early or take a nap during the day?

Would you rather go to work or go to church?

Would you rather go to morning church or evening church?

Would you rather watch the Super Bowl or go to evening church? Ha–well, I’m glad you chose to join us tonight. I asked for a picture-in-picture of the game to be on the screen behind me, but Patrick pointed out that you could see it while I couldn’t, so that seemed pointless. I’d be happy to imagine the cheers would be for me, but I didn’t think I could take the groans and booing that might also come out.

Everybody has preferences. I prefer not to be booed while preaching. I also prefer the Falcons in football, the Braves in baseball, pizza as food and Smarties for candy. Everybody has preferences. You have them. The person in front of you has them. They show up from the time you wake up in the morning.

Will you start with a shower or with coffee? Will you wear black or something colorful? Will you pack a lunch or buy a lunch? You are making choices and showing your preferences from the time you wake up to the end of your day. With the rise of social media, you can now broadcast your decisions, likes and dislikes to the world.

If your coffee has art, it might be on Instagram. If your outfit is cute, a selfie might be posted. If lunch is amazing, you post a Yelp review. If the movie that night is bad, Netflix wants you to share. After the game is over, you post or tweet your analysis. Your preferences are more known to the world than ever before. Everyone’s preferences are shown to us more than ever before.

And what I’ve noticed, and many of you have identified as well is that, all this knowledge causes more dissatisfaction with life. People are increasingly realizing that all this sharing has some drawbacks. For the poster, it can actually amplify insecurity. For the viewers, it can increase discontent and cynicism. But that’s for another sermon.

We want to take to heart Christ’s words in Matthew 6:33. In the Sermon on the Mount, in the context of talking about anxiety, Jesus says, “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.” As Christians, we want to pursue knowing God–His Kingdom and His righteousness–amen? This is our identity. To be a Christian is to be known for your affection for Christ and your singular dependence upon Him.

What tells people that you are a Christian? It should be that you express an unflagging hope in Jesus Christ, in your words and your action. You recognize your sinfulness and you put all your hope in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to make excuses for when you blow it–you can own it. You don’t choose to run after sinful things the way that the world does. You have found a greater delight.

You are not a Mexican, a Republican, a teacher or the mom of Claire. You are first and foremost a Christian. Are you hearing me? So here is the challenge we face as Christians. Too many Christians are identified by their preferences. You love Athletica. You are vegan. You shoot guns. You exercise daily. I get it–that’s fine. But is that what you are known for?

We’re talking about Christ’s heart on preferences tonight. And that whole conversation has to begin with the question of what are you known for? What defines your identity today? If I asked your classmates, coworkers, or extended family what defines you, what would they say? What are you known for as a Christian? If I asked your extended family and your kids what first came to mind when they thought of you, would Jesus make their list? Is your identity defined by your preferences or a love for Christ?

Tonight is about Christ’s heart on preferences, so let me give you the short version now and then unpack it through the Word. Jesus wants you to get your eyes off of others and onto your own walk. Jesus wants you focused on your own salvation and sanctification,
and not be so worried about what others are doing. Some people, even within our church, seem to be very concerned with what other people are doing. They notice who is doing what with whom. They ask why you are not doing what they are. They seem to be in an unspoken competition with others.

Jesus wants us as Christians to be concerned foremost with our own walk with Him. We need to be fixated upon the truth, just as we’ve heard Sunday mornings from 2 Peter. And we need to treat others with grace, believing the best about them and speaking kindly. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

As we talk about preferences, we want those two elements to be held equally. We don’t want to ignore the truth and say, “God is fine with everything.” And we don’t want to forget the grace we know and say, “You’re going to Hell,” over something trivial.

Open up your Bibles to Matthew 7 and let me show you how Jesus communicates this to His disciples. Matthew 7 is near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is describing what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ, not legalistically following the Law, but seeking the Kingdom of God with all your heart. After describing in chapter 6 what it means to depend on God rather than be anxious about money, your needs or your life, He moves on to talk about our relationships with others.

How do you respond to others who approach life different than you? Matthew 7:1 to 6, “ ‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5You 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. 6Do 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.’ “

In short, Jesus wants you more concerned with your issues than what you see in others. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount is on the heart and Christ’s desire is for you to be more focused on yourself than others. The first two verses warn against a judgmental attitude. Jesus says that a disciple of Christ will:

1.  Be gracious towards others  Verses 1 and 2

Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Sometimes people today use this to say that nobody can say what I’m doing is bad. That is not what Jesus meant. He was not advocating postmodernism or relativism. Jesus is going after the heart and asking how you feel when someone does something you think is foolish, or even sinful.

Do you judge them? Do you think that their teenagers are like that because of the schooling the parents chose? Do you question the wisdom/sanity/salvation of another because of a politician they support? Do you look at the car that someone else drives and think less of them because of it? Jesus here warns against a judgmental heart. That is the type of heart that is manifest when you are struggling with someone’s preference. Now remember . . .

Preferences are different than life or death salvation matters. Preferences have to do with what is wise in this world. Preferences can involve your decision on what is sin and what’s not, when Scripture is silent. And Paul applies Jesus’ words here directly to matters of preference.

Keep your finger in Matthew 7 and turn in your Bible to Romans 14. In Romans 14, Paul is giving the Christians in Rome instruction about what to do with vegetarians. Actually, the issue is meat sacrificed to idols. That was the meat available to buy. And there’s debate over whether it’s sinful to eat it.

Romans 14:1 to 4, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Paul is applying to the Roman situation what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Do not judge other believers for opinions and positions unlike yours. Again and again–accept them, don’t judge them. God has accepted them–who are you to judge? When you encounter a Christian, maybe even at FBC, who doesn’t feel the same way about organic food, you need to love them anyway. You might laugh at the gluten-free aisle, but you need to show grace and patience with those who say they feel better when they don’t eat it.

Older men need to watch their heart and their tongues as they observe the hair styles of young men. Younger women need to watch their heart and their tongues as they observe older women wear clothes they would never own. These are preferences. You should not judge people for them. You should not think less of them. It should not affect your relationship with them. It should not be something you gossip about or condemn them for.

So let’s pretend you have an older Galaxy smart phone. It came for free a couple years ago with your cell phone and you’re perfectly happy with it. In fact, you look at people spending hundreds of dollars to buy new phones and you shake your head. You see people who upgrade their phone every year to the newest model and you grumble in your heart. You are not jealous–you just think they’re stupid. You are managing your money well, and they are not. In fact, they are wasting their money. They could be using that money to support a missionary or, just to pay off their credit card, because there’s no way they’re not in debt!

Can you imagine that someone might feel this way? I bet that you have an issue like this. For you, it might not be a phone. It could be that you buy your cars used and this person buys them new. Or that you buy economical cars, and they bought a luxury brand. Or that you buy at Marshall’s and they buy at Lululemon. Or you shop at Winco and they shop at Baron’s. We all do this–we judge others. And what is happening in your heart when you judge another? You are playing the role of God.

In that moment, you believe that you know what is best for that person. In that moment, you believe that you have all the facts and that their action is worthy of condemnation. You are saying that you know their heart and that they are not walking in the Spirit, but in the flesh. You are judging their actions to be out of line with God’s will, and therefore sinful and worthy of contempt. You might not say that out loud if I asked you, but that is what you feel at the core.

And can we agree that such feelings are both wrong and destructive? We need to pay attention to our own hearts, and be gracious towards others.

Romans 14:10 to 13, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 13Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”

We will all stand before God and give an account. You will not be the one judging, but the one judged. We usurp the role of God when we pretend to know the hearts and motives of others. And Jesus says back in Matthew 7:2, that if you judge others strictly and without grace, then you will be judged in the same way. We should be gracious to others. And when we see an issue in someone else,
Jesus says that your priority is . . .

2.  Be focused mainly on your own walk  Verses 3 to 5

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5You 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” (Matthew 7:3 to 5).

Jesus uses a word picture that easily conveys the idea. Take out wood chip and a 2×4. “I hate to say something, but I noticed that you had something in your eye.” Would you want to take advice from this guy? Now look at the text . . . Is he mistaken about the speck? Did he misdiagnose? Should the speck be removed? Is Jesus saying to leave it alone? What is the problem then?

To fight a judgmental heart, to avoid making preferences Gospel issues, to ensure that you are a genuine help to others–be focused mainly on your own walk. If there are some areas of your life that lack sanctification, then work on those first.

Back in Romans 14, Paul said the same thing. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). Then he goes on in verses 14 to 21 describing how all food is unclean–but if somebody is going to be hurt by your dinner choice, then it’s better to go full vegan and even risk gastroenteritis than hurt another believer by your preferences.

Many Christians in America have a distorted view of their liberties. The next verse, Romans 14:14, says that nothing is unclean in itself. You can go into a bar as a Christian. You can love rap music as a Christian. You can watch a movie that’s rated R. You can even root for the Packers and still be a Christian. But God didn’t give you those liberties simply for you to enjoy yourself. He set you free from bondage to the law so that you can love others more effectively.

We don’t have time to go there, but the whole argument of 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 is that you have liberty in Christ so that you can win others to Christ. Sometimes that means using them. Sometimes that means denying them. The goal is not your own pleasure, but evangelizing and edifying others. In Romans 14, Paul’s argument is that your preferences and tastes and liberties are all to be in the shadows compared to your love for others.

You don’t focus on how they need to grow, but instead choose to live in a way that doesn’t cause them heartache. You don’t judge, but act with grace towards them. You focus on your own walk and your own areas for growth, rather than the areas you want someone else to change in.

Think about that picture Jesus gave in Matthew 7. There is a man with a plank in his eye and a man with a speck. The guy with the plank–what does he need to work on? The guy with the speck–what does he need to work on? Ahh–that’s the thing. We don’t know. The text doesn’t tell us that the speck is the priority to be removed. It doesn’t say that the Lord wants it removed. Maybe He does–maybe He doesn’t.

The size of the item leads us to think that while it’s bothersome, it might not be a top priority. But for the guy with the log, that is clearly his top priority. So here’s what happens when you are more attentive to the sins of others than your own heart. When your concern is primarily about others and helping them deal with their sins, you are actually playing God. You are saying that you know which sins in their life need changing the most. You are saying that you know their most destructive and God-dishonoring sins, and that you have the means and ability to see it removed.

Maybe you live with the person and you see the patterns and you’re right. More often, you just spend an hour or two a week with them and you don’t know at all–it just bugs you. In either case, you are focused on them and confident that the thing you’re bothered about is the biggest issue in their life. That it’s the one which God wants them to deal with and sort out. Jesus says that your responsibility towards others is foremost towards yourself.

He says that you–the one with the big plank, should be focused on dealing with your own sin and weaknesses. You know how there are certain things in your life that you find yourself continually fighting? I could ask you, “What sin is hindering you from greater service to God?” That’s your plank. You are to be focused mainly on your own walk.

Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” First Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Even when you are coming alongside someone who is struggling with sin, Scripture says that you should still be focused on your own walk.

Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” So you have a different philosophy of education than another mom? You are shocked to learn that a children’s ministry teacher drinks wine? (I don’t know which do–I’m just assuming.) You think that nose rings in some of the younger women are distracting? You love Hemet and every joke Chris makes feels personal. These are preferences. Have grace for the other person. Focus in on your own pursuit of Christ

3.  But don’t be an idiot  Verse 6

That’s actually my summary of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:6–look there. Matthew 7:6, “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.” At first glance, this verse just comes out of left field. Jesus is talking about judging people over secondary issues. He’s telling us to deal with sin in our own lives. Then He goes off the rails. He takes a hard left turn into an unfamiliar place. “Do not give what is holy to dogs. Don’t throw pearls before swine.”

It sounds like He’s started reading from the book of Proverbs. The connection to what He just said isn’t obvious to us. I think it would have been more obvious to His original audience. In verses 1 to 5, Jesus has been saying that you should focus on your own walk rather than judging other people for how they’re different than you.

Now some people have taken this and said this means that we cannot criticize, condemn or even evaluate the actions or teachings of somebody else. Have you ever heard someone quote, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” as proof for how you are not allowed to have an opinion about the sin in their life? When that idea is embraced, sin flourishes in the Church and Christians become undiscerning and worldly.

Corinth is an example of this when they were trying to love and endure the man who was sleeping with his stepmom. The world today calls this tolerance. It says that we need to be tolerant of one another, and that to say someone’s actions or lifestyle is wrong is to hate them. Verse 6 is the “don’t be an idiot” response to that idea of unbridled tolerance.

Matthew 7:6, “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.” So to help you make sense of this passage, let me ask you a couple questions.

Is He giving animal care instructions, and really talking about dogs and pigs?

Do you think that He is probably referring to a certain kind of person as a dog or pig?

Does He define what is holy or what are pearls?

Not at all–some scholars theorize that “what is holy” refers to holy meat that had been offered to the Lord as a sacrifice in the Temple. Some of that meat would be burned up, another part would go to the priests, and part would go home to be eaten by the family who made the sacrifice. It would be unthinkable to give to a dog something that had been dedicated to the Lord.

So Jesus says, don’t give something meant to serve God to people who are like dogs. And don’t give something of high value to people who act like pigs. You kinda get that right? People debate whether Jesus is talking about the Gospel or whether He’s describing the grace of overlooking differences. But consider this . . .

How are you to know who is a dog?

How do you know what is holy?

How can you recognize a person who acts like a swine?

How can you determine if something is a pearl of high value? Answer–discernment! You have to judge and determine. This verse tosses toleration out the window. In the first five verses, Jesus deals with the error of being too harsh and critical in your judgments–this was the sin of the Pharisees. Now at the end, He reminds us that there is a place for judgment.

We don’t just tolerate everyone and everything. When you are sharing the Gospel, you have to say that a person is a sinner. When considering preferences, you have to declare when something is actually sinful and harmful. Just as Chris has been teaching on Sunday mornings, you have to address false teaching that distorts the Gospel. You have to confront defiant sin and patterns of sin. You have to recognize when you are standing before a pig.

Jesus would go on to ask His disciples to steer clear of such people. Matthew 10:14, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” Similarly, Paul was witnessing to Jews in Corinth, “But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’ ” (Acts 18:6 ).

We are called to be gracious and focused mainly on our walks. But that doesn’t mean we’re idiots. You don’t ignore patterns of sin. You don’t take your spouse’s affection for pornography and call it a preference. You don’t let your child’s anger go unaddressed. You don’t allow your in-laws’ Mormonism to redefine the Gospel for you. You don’t let some crazy book or TV preacher tell you that everyone has always misunderstood Jesus and they’re going to set you straight.

What happens if you don’t confront obvious sin? What happens if you don’t address distortions to the Gospel? Matthew 7:6, “They will trample [your grace] under their feet; they will turn and tear you to pieces.” So don’t be an idiot. Don’t be so full of grace that you lack truth. Have discernment.

Chris has been teaching on false teachers and how to recognize them. That whole series requires us to judge others with discernment. Second Peter 2:22 even connects those who are apostate with dogs and swine. “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’ ” Chris read many passages this morning about how we are called to judge and discern others. It’s 100% true.

Yet one of the challenges of the current series on 2 Peter is that our church family becomes so focused on what’s true that we become hypercriticaI and lack grace and charity for others. We can become so concerned with the error around us that we lose our love for people. We become so fixated on what’s true that we utterly fail to be kind, generous and gracious to others. Like Jesus, we need to be full of grace and truth in equal measure. Towards sin and the self-righteous, we must be cautious and discerning. To any distortion of the Gospel, we rebuke and run.

But preferences? Areas where Christians have different convictions? We must be generously gracious. We should not be quick to judge. Whether it’s a book you’re reading, a person you’re talking to, or a family member who just annoys you–we should be gracious, remembering that we have been forgiven of much more than whatever is bothering us in the moment.

When we are focused mainly on our own walks, it keeps our eyes on the cross and on the one person we will answer to God for. We do not want our preferences to define us. We want our identity to be that of Jesus Christ. Would you pray with me?

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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