“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) I have never had a dove attack me, although birds have swooped down at me when their young have fallen from the nest and I came too near to them, and there was that large goose that tried to intimidate me that one time, but in general, I have no fear of birds, for they are, for the most part as the Scripture says, harmless.
Our Lord was using an excellent example here in Matthew 10:16 by telling His twelve disciples, as He was preparing to send them out, to emulate possibly one of the most gentle creatures He ever made, one that practically no one has a fear of. And have you noticed in Mark 6:7 that He sent them out two-by-two, an interesting analogy when we think of not only the ark of Noah, but, and please forgive me if I am unknowledgeable about these particular doves, but I understand that some dove species mate for life, and when we give our lives to the Savior, it is for life. You cannot lose your salvation, there are no second thoughts, no turning back.
A couple of things come to mind when we, as were the disciples, are sent into the world, for yes, my friends, Christ is talking to us here as well as He was to the twelve. (Matt. 16:15) One is the verse in Scripture where we are told to turn the other cheek, (Matt. 5:39) and the other is how as a “lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7) To turn the other cheek has always been a verse of much debate, even among yours truly, for in my younger, more insolent and unlearned days, I felt that meant that if someone punched me twice, well, then it was my turn to lash out, of course I was mistaken, and I give God the glory for setting me straight in this area. Though we are to be wise and prepared in the protection of our loved ones, we are never to repay evil with evil. (1st Peter 3:9)
To be harmless as a dove does not infer subservience on the part of the believer, but just the opposite, it is in a sense the bridling of God’s incredible power flowing through us, for if it is unleashed the consequences can be dire. It can be somewhat difficult to expound on this but think of it in the analogy of a man who owns a gun but chooses never to use it, or the strength of a professional boxer when being confronted outside of the ring. Now this is not to say that we should not fight in any unjust situation, for if we did not, evil men would rule over all, but it does mean that we in prayer seek the will of God when we are attacked, as it were, whether physically, verbally or socially. We are to be harmless, never intending harm to anyone.
Did not God use Moses His servant in ways that were meant to turn pharaohs heart toward our Lord, was not Christ able to ask for twelve legions of angels and yet He was the very essence of harmless. Love is always the answer, but sin demands righteous judgement. Great power held in check by great love. It is because of our love for the Lord and His great mercies toward us that we are commanded to love our enemies, (Matt. 5:44) and not to pray for their destruction.
Notice though in Matthew 10:16 that they were also told to be wise as serpents. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10) The word fear here means a reverential trust and a hatred of evil. In verse 14 of the same chapter of Matthew these men were told to “shake the dust off of their feet” whenever they left a place “that would not receive them nor hear their words.” It takes the wisdom and incredible longsuffering of Christ working in us sometimes with some people we meet, and speaking personally, there have been those I have tried to show the path of Christ to that within just a few minutes I wanted to shake that dust off. Some of the unsaved can be just as adamant about their lack of belief as we are about our faith in Christ.
To be “wise as a serpent” can be understood in one way to mean ‘crafty’, sneaking up on them, as it were, with the Word of God. It is never with a false pretense that we speak with the lost, for a true servant of God cares for all that they meet, but it is with a wisdom that can only come from the Holy Spirit that the submissive servant can bring the proper words that the person you are speaking with needs to hear, and all these words lead to Christ. Everyone that our Lord brings into your path has a hurt, a sorrow, a pain, and many times these are buried deep inside, hidden from view from themselves so they do not have to be faced. It is only by the light that shines through us from Christ that the darkness in them can be brought out, brought out and healed. Everyone you meet He loves, and everyone you speak to, He died for. (John 3:16)
God has chosen His obedient servants to be used as vessel of righteousness, and there is no broken vessel that the wrath of God rests on that cannot be repaired. To be wise as a serpent can only be accomplished when we are “filled with the knowledge of the will of God,” (Col. 1:9) then our words will be His words revealed to the lost.
Notice one other item here though, our Lord said that He was sending them out as “sheep in the midst of wolves.” I think that it goes without saying that wolves like to eat sheep. Sheep have absolutely no self-preservation skills or defensive techniques of any kind, they know one reaction only when danger comes, run, and without a shepherd to watch over them and protect them, sheep will die. Now, for the twelve that Christ sent out, He gave abilities to (Matt 10:1), but do not dismay, for whether you realize it or not, you have these same abilities, and much more at your disposal, for you have living inside of you the Holy Spirit of Almighty God Himself. Is it starting to make sense why you need to be as gentle as doves?
I have never cast out a demon, I have never walked on water or moved a mountain, but that does not mean that I cannot do any of these things, and more, if it glorifies God and it is in His will for me to do them. Is anything impossible for God? Didn’t Phillip disappear in front of the Egyptians eyes, did not Peter tell the man to get up and walk, (Acts 3:6) how many times was Paul beaten, whipped and shipwrecked, and then God said, as it were, “Okay, time to get back to work.” Now granted, some of these gifts have come to an end, but Gods incredible power has not, and if so chooses to use us, then it is only by His power that any ends can be met.
Is your faith in the Great Shepherd less than these men because you have not seen or done any of these wonderful miracles, do you need to see or do them for your faith to grow, or can you be content and continuously obedient if none of these things ever occur in your life. “Jeremiah, I am going to send you to these people for the majority of your life, and not one of them is going to listen to you or heed my words.” Were you aware that Joseph, the son of Jacob, was never directly contacted by God throughout his entire life, yet he trusted and obediently served, right to the end.
The people our Lord sends to you, the wolves of this world, know only one shepherd of their lives, themselves, whilst we have the protection of the Great Shepherd, one who never sleeps, one who is always watching, the one who will “never leave us or forsake us.” (Heb. 13:5-6) Be always gentle with the lost, for they do not know that they are lost, be wise around them at all times, always let your heart go out to them while it remains covered in divine protection, let the wolves know who your master is, and in confidence stand in the place of the one they cannot see, the one in your heart who has sent you forth to do the work He bids of you.