IN THE DAYS OF HIS POWER SERIES.
TOPIC: AS SHREWD AS SERPENTS, AS INNOCENT AS DOVES
Rev. Innocent Peace-Udochukwu
President Living Fountain Ministries Int’l LIFOM
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
In sending out the Twelve, Jesus said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV). The NIV says, “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
In these similes, Jesus invokes the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent was “subtle” or “crafty” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless—doves were listed among the “clean animals” and were used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as “sneaky.”
When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.
The world is on a collision course with disaster. It isn’t a massive asteroid hurling towards earth that threatens humanity, or global warming, the covid-19 or AIDS epidemic. It is the clash between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God. And the clock is ticking faster and faster towards midnight.
Recent developments have demonstrated the fierceness of this battle around the world. In Indonesia hundreds of Christian Churches have been burned and thousands of believers have lost their lives. In the Sudan, Nigeria, North and West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia more than 100 million Christians were killed in the last century simply because they professed the name of Christ.
Let’s consider the behavior of serpents to see how Jesus’ statement about these creatures in Matthew 10:16 relates to timing. First, serpents blend into the environment when they move into a new territory. Rather than announce their presence, they lay low, stay quiet, and blend into their surroundings. In fact, you could walk right past a snake and not know you’re close to it!
When God calls us to do something new — to move into a new territory or seize a new opportunity — it is wise for us to move slowly and carefully into that new phase of our lives. A common mistake is to act too fast. Acting hastily, before all the facts are gathered and assimilated, often leads to erroneous decision-making. In fact, one serious mistake can cause us to lose out on an opportunity altogether. Better to lay low, stay quiet, blend into the environment for a while, and learn from the facts we observe.
Harmless as doves 🕊️
Christians must be HARMLESS. The second thing I am to speak of is the dove: “be harmless as doves.” The dove is an excellent creature. It was so acceptable that, in the old law, God would have the dove offered in sacrifice. The Holy Spirit, when He would appear in a visible shape, assumed the likeness of a dove, Matthew 3:16.
The dove is the emblem of meekness; it is without gall. We should be as doves for meekness; we must avoid unruly anger, which is a temporary madness. We must be without the gall of bitterness and revenge. We must be of mild spirits, praying for our enemies. So did Stephen, Acts 7:60, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” This dove-like meekness is the best jewel and ornament we can wear. 1 Peter 3:4, “The ornament of a meek spirit, which in the sight of God, is of great price.” Anger disfigures; meekness adorns.
We should be as doves for INNOCENCE. The innocence of the dove is seen in two things: Not to deceive and not to hurt.
Not to deceive. As the dove is without gall, so it is without guile. It does not deceive. Thus we should be as the dove, without fraud and craft. A holy simplicity is commendable, Romans 16:19, “I would have you simple concerning evil.” To be a bungler at sin, not to have the art to beguile, is a good simplicity; as Nathaniel, in whose spirit there is no guile, John 1:47. Where is this dovelike innocence to be found?
We should be as doves for PURITY. The dove is the emblem of purity. It loves the purest air; it feeds on pure grain. The raven feeds on the carcass—but the dove feeds pure. Thus, let us be as doves for sanctity, cleansing ourselves from all pollution both of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1. Christ’s dove is pure, Song of Solomon 5:2, “My dove, my undefiled one.” Let us keep pure, among dregs. 1 Timothy 5:22, “Keep yourself pure.” Better have a rent in the flesh—than a hell in the conscience! The dove is a chaste, pure creature; let us be doves for purity.
Let us consider Jesus as exemplar: the Lord was known as a gentle person. Indeed, Scripture testifies that He would not even quench a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). But was He always (and only) gentle? No. When the occasion demanded it, He took whip in hand and chased the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:15). Jesus’ extraordinarily rare action, seen in light of His usual mien, demonstrates the power of using a combination of tools. This “dove-like” Man of Innocence spoke loudly and clearly with His assertiveness in the temple.
In His more typical moments, Jesus showed that He was as wise as a serpent in the way He taught. He knew enough to discern the differences in His audiences (a critical skill), He used the story-telling technique to both feed and weed (Matthew 13:10–13), and He refused to be caught in the many traps that His enemies laid for Him (Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:13).
Jesus showed that He was as harmless as a dove in every circumstance. He lived a pure and holy life (Hebrews 4:15), He acted in compassion (Matthew 9:36), and He challenged anyone to find fault in Him (John 8:46; 18:23). Three times, Pilate judged Jesus to be an innocent man (John 18:38; 19:4, 6).
The apostle Paul also modeled the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–23; 23:6–8).
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road. Peter admonishes us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
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