Experiencing Matthew 7 Under a Toxic Boss

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus is coming to the close of his Sermon on the Mount. He challenges his hearers, “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.[1]

In verse six, Jesus goes on to say, “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.[2]

In my family’s experience under toxic leaders, this passage became very important. For several years it softened our hearts, helping us to give the benefit of the doubt to the founders of the mission, who were toxic in their treatment of missionaries and nationals alike.

When this passage was shared with me by a friend as we struggled with whether or not to engage our leaders, it took on new meaning. My wife and I had never really paid attention to the final 10 words . . . words that made an enormous difference in our engagement with the CEO.

I wanted to know in my research if others saw what we saw in Jesus’ words. I interviewed numerous mission organization managers and asked if they applied this passage when interacting with their toxic supervisor.

Judge Not – Section 1

Deirdre is a missionary in a developing country serving in an orphanage and school.

She focused on the first section of the passage and had not really considered the second. Deirdre noted her discomfort in hers and other missionaries’ lack of application. She said, “We were all judging [the toxic leader] even though we shouldn’t have been.” 

However, she explained, “It was so continuous, all the little things she did, that it was hard not to.”

She found it very difficult to simply overlook the leader’s failings in her authoritarian and demeaning treatment of nationals and staff. But, Dierdra believed the passage was teaching that their judgments of the mission leader were inappropriate.

Adam was a faculty member and interim Director of a college ministry in a developing country. He said,

I think I used it privately to calm myself after any perceived wrong doing or pattern of behavior. After grieving and being angry for a time that passage would come to mind and I would use it against myself to call me back into line. That I was as capable of the same kinds of things, same kinds of attitudes and actions, as the [CEO] was.

Again, Adam focused on the first section and sought to calm his anger at the actions of the CEO. He felt that if he would cease from judging, viewing the leader as a sinner just as he was, he could keep his relationship intact with the boss and continue ministering with the mission.

Graham worked for a large Christian organization and confronted the founder with two other Christian leaders. When considering Jesus’ imperative, “take the log out of your own eye,” Graham said, “We tried very hard not to be doing any finger wagging. Like, ‘You are a horrible person and the rest of us are bastions of virtue.’ We tried in all humility to bring him to an awareness of what he had done and its effect on the organization.”

He and his friends were rebutted and he lost his managerial position as a result of their confrontation despite their attempt to apply the first section to their confrontation.

Eugene, who worked with an international evangelical mission agreed, arguing it was “not a judging situation as [much] as a helping situation.” Eugene said he was trying to assist the CEO.

He went on to say he was “trying to help him in his own development of his understanding of himself.” In his evangelistic mission, Eugene also approached the boss, a friend for several years, in humility. He wanted to encourage the CEO as a Christian brother.

But, Eugene was rebuffed and lost his job.

Ben explained the “judging” section of the passage (Matthew 7:1-5) did not come to mind until after several months of being away from the organization. He worked for an educational mission overseas. His application of the first section was to his relationship with his toxic leaders after leaving the organization.

At that time, following writing letters to the board, CEO, and faculty, he said, “I recognized that I just needed to forgive them. I was never going to be asked for forgiveness . . . I didn’t need to be putting myself in the seat of judge.” He believed he needed to turn judgment over to the Lord and move on in his own life knowing God would do what was best.

Casting Pearls – Section 2

While still with the organization, Ben said he “very much ruminated on” verse seven where it says, “Do not cast your pearls to the pigs.” His application of the second section was based on the pigs trampling the pearls sent their way.

He explained,

I began to feel more and more affirmed in my thinking that my job was not to try to change them. I was going to fry myself if I took that campaign on. It was a waste of time and energy to try to change the situation in that sense of casting pearls.”

Ben believed it would do no good to cast his pearls (give godly advice) before the swine (toxic bosses). They would simply ignore or reject his views.

My Opinion

Unfortunately, none of my interviewees attempted to interpret or apply the final 10 words of the passage. This is common for Christians who are suffering under abusive employers. I would suggest there are at least three reasons for this oversight.

  • Discomfort with making a judgment after Jesus has already said not to judge!

Jesus spends five verses emphasizing that we should not judge others. He provides wonderful metaphors that burn his teaching into our hearts. The second section has only one verse and seems to contradict the first five verses.

However, these two seemingly contradictory teachings actually go wonderfully together. The first emphasizes how we go to a brother who has sinned and humbly instruct him. The second describes the kind of so-called-brother of whom we need to stay clear.

In the first case, we need not fear. He may disagree with us, but generally as we go in humility, he will respond in humility. But, in the second case, we can expect, because of earlier experience or other people’s experiences, the brother will respond very negatively and it is likely we will get hurt as they “turn to attack.”

  • An excessive attention to the pigs “trampling” the pearls.

I spent many years considering only the fact that the pig may “trample” the good words I bring.

He will ignore and reject. Why waste my time? I received some comments on that from my interviewees, but just like me, they did not read on. If the pig may just trample the pearls, we can always give it a shot . . . what’s the worst thing that can happen? They reject the wisdom . . . no big deal.

But, the passage goes on. It goes on to say that they are dangerous and should be avoided.

  • A discomfort with calling someone a “dog” or “pig.”

After being told to be careful in our judgments – remember, there has to be judgment if you are going to go to a brother who has sinned – we are told by Jesus to judge that a person is a pig or a dog. This does not seem to fit.

But, as I said above, Jesus is speaking to two different circumstances. We must judge whether our brother is one who may respond in humility to instruction or will turn and hurt us. This is very important in our engagement with toxic bosses. It is a matter of life-giving or not . . . a matter of safety.

Placing ourselves voluntarily in places of abuse is not required by our Lord. We are not normally called to seek out a fight in which we are guaranteed to lose our lives.

Know your pigs and act accordingly. 

[1]Matthew 7:1-2.

[2]Matthew 7:6.

4 thoughts on “Experiencing Matthew 7 Under a Toxic Boss

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