“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Some passages in the Bible cause me to shake my head, to loosen dust balls of worldly intellectualism so I can understand what I am reading. Matthew 10:16 is one of those passages. Jesus deliberately sends his disciples, that is his sheep, out into a pack of wolves with the instruction to be like serpents and doves. Sheep are defenseless; they can only flee for safety. But they are handy for keeping the grass clipped and for their meat, milk, wool, and skins. Wolves are intelligent, loyal, instinctual, and powerful. Jesus sends out all his disciples into the world, clothed with his Spirit, humility, and meekness to take the gospel to the cruel, persecuting world.
Jesus instructs us to be as wise as serpents, which use various strategies for defense and self-preservation. We are to imitate snakes, making use of all appropriate measures so as not to be overtaken by the world’s dangerous evils. I wonder if our Lord meant that we are also to avoid occasions when we might have to strike with poison in self-defense, killing our victim? In any case, serpents have the upper-hand and Christians with the Holy Spirit likewise have God’s superior power. Jesus would not have instructed disciples to be as “innocent as doves” if he intended his followers to be aggressive. Doves are relatively small pigeons, but they are powerful fliers, sometimes reaching speeds up to 55 miles per hour! The Holy Spirit descended on Christ at his baptism in the form of a dove, reinforcing the image of a dove as a harmless, innocent bird.
Having made this short study of the animal kingdom, how shall we apply it? One common thread may be the idea of fleeing from danger. After all, Jesus further instructed his disciples, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23). The world is full of dangerous snares and temptations for Christians who want to live sanctified lives for the sake of the gospel. However, Jesus has sent us into the world with the gospel, and there is no biblical imperative to become cloistered. As we interact with the world and those conforming to it we are to avoid its entrapments wisely. We should not become overly aggressive or surprised when the gospel is rejected but move on, entrusting those we leave behind to the Lord.
In what way do you need to be wiser like the snake, or more innocent, like a dove? Only when we diligently live by dependence upon Christ will we be able to do both simultaneously.