Be wise as snakes, innocent as doves
Jesus says we need to be gentle but smart when sharing the gospel.
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)
I have been on and led a lot of mission trips. I have led a lot of ministries into high schools, and I have delivered a heap of evangelism training. Often, just prior to engaging in the mission, I have tried my best to inspire the team for the task ahead. I’ve used different strategies for these motivational speeches:
- I have spoken about the glory of God.
- I have spoken about the need for the lost to be found.
- I have spoken about our small part in the Great Commission
- I have put eternity in the minds of my teams so that they would be focused on the mission.
However, I have never attempted what Jesus does in Matthew 10:16.
A dangerous mission
The context of this dramatic charge from Jesus to his disciples is his sending them to go out to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ preaching and performing miracles. A very exciting sounding mission…until Jesus adds, ‘I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’.
What Jesus says here seems to make little sense. Ask any sheep owner and they will say that you do whatever you can to separate sheep from wolves: Build fences. Get guard dogs. Whatever you do just don’t leave them alone and most of all don’t send them into ‘the midst of wolves’.
The outcome of doing such a thing is not a 50:50 chance. It is a given—the sheep will definitely die. And here we have Jesus making a parallel of certainty, basically saying ‘as surely as sheep are attacked by wolves so will you be as you go out on my mission’.
If this is the reality, how do we respond? Jesus provides the answer, and it's in two parts:
- Be wise as serpents
- Be innocent as doves
So, what exactly does that mean?
Be wise like snakes
We are not to be dumb like sheep who wander obliviously into a pack of wolves, but we are to be wise like serpents. Serpents are known for their cleverness and craftiness in the Bible. The point is—be smart. Be evangelists (people who share the message of Jesus) but be wise evangelists.
Don’t walk around arrogantly ramming gospel truths down people’s throats and, upon rejection, claim that now you and the Apostle Paul have a lot in common! Avoid all unnecessary hostility, think about your audience, love your audience, and carefully craft how you will lovingly communicate the good news to them—never changing the eternal message but its method of communication.
Be innocent like doves
Don’t be so clever as to become deceptive. We can have such a low Christian profile that it becomes no profile at all. Be wise evangelists but still be evangelists. Be shrewd when you do it, but do it. The dove does have to take some risks if it will fly. It could be shot or attacked; it could stay in its nest to be safe—but the dove is born to fly.
We should make Jesus known as much as we possibly can to whoever will listen. Yes, we must do it very carefully and well, but more importantly, we must do it. Too often we have inverted the demand and been as guilty as serpents and dumb as doves.
So for the sake of the glory of God and the lost, let’s be like sheep among wolves and let us hold the tension of being both wise and innocent.