“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
It’s such a contrast it seems impossible. After all, how can characteristics of sheep, snakes, and doves exist within a single person? Jesus didn’t say it would be easy, only that His followers were to do it! Thankfully, He never commands anything that He doesn’t also enable us to do.
First, by saying believers were like sheep among wolves, Christ was speaking to their vulnerability. Sheep are basically defenseless creatures. They are dependent upon a shepherd to lead them to food and water, and to protect them from predators, etc.
Because of their relatively defenselessness, Christ instructed His followers to be shrewd as snakes. “Shrewd” comes from a word meaning “intelligent, practically-wise, prudent, or sensible.” It describes how we assess a situation and “size things up.” Picture a snake using its tongue to gauge its environment and then reacting based on what it senses and you’ve got the idea. Based on the situation, a snake may strike or retreat. It may determine an object is suitable for its next meal, or too large to handle. It takes in all it can from its surroundings and then practically responds in a sensible manner. Jesus says, “Do likewise.”
But as we size up a situation and decide how to respond sensibly, we’re also to be completely “innocent.” A dove doesn’t land on your arm and then rip your skin with its long talons – because it doesn’t have any. In essence, what you see in a dove is what you get – peace, gentleness, no aggression. Likewise, for the follower of Christ, innocent means “not tainted by sinful motives or ambitions.” Instead, we are to be pure. What others see is what we should be.
As you go out to encounter our culture are you being practically wise and completely innocent? –Dave
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