Wise as Serpents and Harmless as Doves - Part 1
Wise as Serpents (Part 1 of 2)
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. Matthew 10:16-20
Synopsis: To be wise as serpents and harmless as does is to be keenly aware of the character and ways of the serpent, his cunning, his lies, deceptions, manipulations, seductions, and misdirections, that play on our emotions, and using arguments to appeal to our baser passions, to our old sinful nature, our old appetites, and former lusts. Not that we should adopt his ways but, that we must be aware of them, to resist them and not fall prey to them out of ignorance or naivete. To be harmless like doves in our dealings with those who are lost in darkness, as we proclaim the gospel. To be gentle with all men, patient, ready at any given moment to teach the Word of truth, the Good News that edifies and builds up. To always remember that it is His kindness that leads to repentance.
This scripture always left me a little unsettled and I couldn't quite grasp the deeper meaning dealing with the two opposing character traits. The ideas of harmless doves and wise as cunning devouring snakes was like mixing oil and water. What is the message here?
On the surface it may seem simple, but I've learned that when Jesus spoke to the disciples a word of warning or instruction for ministry, the basic imagery carried with it a more profound revelation of truth, as when He told them to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, and they thought, at first, he was talking about bread from the Pharisees bakery in midtown square. Later they realized He was not talking about bread but, to beware of the ways of the Pharisees, who talk one thing, but do the opposite.
The world in the time of Jesus' ministry on earth was not unlike ours today. Indeed, it was much worse, because of sickness and disease, poverty and oppression of the poor, and injustice toward the weak. The rich ruled over the poor. The powerful ruled over the working class and the poor people, and held them all in bondage. The Roman Caesars and their system of taxation legally robed people of their hard-earned wages, while they and those in their ruling elite lived in extravagant luxury. The Jews suffered even more under the oppression of the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of the time.
Jesus exposed their treachery and spiritual corruption, and for that they sought continually to kill Him. Despite the miracles, signs, and wonders He did, that were undisputedly the work of God, they falsely accused Him of breaking the laws of Moses and of blasphemy, because He told the truth about themselves, and the truth about who He was and is. They were hostile to Him and all His disciples.
The Roman governors were threatened by His popularity with the people, and they feared that He would lead an uprising against them. Images of pagan gods were all around them, in shrines and dedicated places. There were demonic places of worship abounded to satisfy the lusts of the rich.
Into this hostile, immoral, lawless, depraved, social, and political climate, He sent His disciples out, two by two, to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons. They were sent out as sheep among wolves.
Now sheep are by nature notoriously naive and easily distracted and led astray. The wolf on the other hand is stealthy and aggressive, hiding in the shadows and the tall grasses, lurking in the thick shrubs—watching, and waiting for the moment to attack the weak and vulnerable. Surrounded by wolves the sheep have no defense of their own. But the good shepherd with His rod and staff, protects and keeps the sheep from harm, and moves quickly to go after any one of them that goes astray.
To be sent out as sheep among wolves was to keep them aware that they were not going to places where their message would quickly be welcomed and joyfully received. No. They were going into hostile territory, but they would not be alone because His Spirit would go with them and God's angels would keep them wherever they went.