Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
The character of a serpent according to Scripture (Genesis 3:1) is that he is sly, cunning, devious, subtle, clever, or smart. But the “innocence” of a dove can often be understood as “harmless.” So why is Jesus asking His disciples to take on the characteristic of a serpent? Is he telling us to be as sly, deceptive, or as cunning as a serpent? Or do the words “be as smart, or clever as a serpent” make more sense in understanding what Jesus meant here?
There is a relationship between being “wise as a serpent, and innocent as doves.” We are to be as wise or clever as a serpent in order to protect our innocence as doves; that way we don’t compromise ourselves, and we preserve a pure heart within us. A wise, smart, or clever mind seeks to guard and preserve a pure and innocent heart.
We often seem to get it the other way around. Sometimes we are willing to believe anything we read and give our heart to it, only to get burned and disappointed. Thus, we become cynical and hardhearted. So we can become a people, who have a gullible mind and believe anything, only to end up with a heart of stone.
Our Lord regularly warned his disciples that following Him would be no easy joy ride. Their faith would be tested through persecutions, trials, and temptations:
They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 16:2-4)
Before his conversion to the faith, Paul, then known as Saul, persecuted followers of Christ and sought to destroy them. He was zealous for the traditions of his fathers. (Read Acts 8 and 9 and Galatians 1). Saul thought he was doing God’s will. Before his conversion, Saul was a living example of what our Lord expressed in the above verses from John 16.
It is important that parents teach their children not to believe everything they read initially. Kids should ask questions in order to grow in knowledge and truth. They need to do so out of a pure desire to know what is right, holy, good, and true. As our Lord commanded, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you.”
However, most of us adults who are jaded will ask questions just to see if the other person agrees with what we think is right. In other words, we ask questions to test someone. Nothing good comes when this approach is taken. Isn’t this what the Pharisees did with Jesus? They asked him questions only to test Him. Unfortunately, some of them were wolves in sheep’s clothing. They were not interested in learning anything from Him.
So let us teach our children to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves as they journey through the many challenging aspects of life; especially in this day and age.
Christ is risen! The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
+Paul of Chicago