“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…” (Matt 10:16-17a)
In a very real sense, the first sentence has Jesus saying, “I’m sending you out, knowing you are going to get hurt.”
From cover to cover in the Bible, we see that godly people suffered for their obedience to the One who made heaven and earth. While this isn’t a popular subject for modern day conversation, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Christianity is a theology of suffering. Jesus suffered for speaking truth about sin and the need for repentance. So did all of the apostles and most of the first-century Christians. And as I have seen in many places around the world, nothing has changed in the last two thousand years.
Jesus also said there was no way out of the hard life: Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (Luke 17:33) This verse is a diamond with many facets. One of the facets I have thought of many times goes like this: “Whoever tries to keep their old ways of living will lose them, along with everything else they value.” He was telling the disciples that if they tried to live for Him without getting hurt, they were wasting their time. Living for God hurts, but living without Him hurts more. I’ve tried it both ways. I’m not guessing about this.
All that said, the very next sentence tells them to …be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. This means they were not to just turn their minds off and stumble around blindly until they fell into trouble. They were to live in wisdom and try to stay safe as long as it didn’t compromise their walk with God.
Jesus emphasized that His disciples “be on [their] guard.” He used that phrase three times in the thirteenth chapter of Mark. They were to stay alert and aware of what was going on around them and try to stay out of trouble if they could. He said in Matthew 10:23, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” They didn’t need to stand around waiting to become a victim. If they could get to a place of safety, they were to take advantage of that opportunity.
Jesus knew that the time would come when there would be nowhere to run. There would eventually come a time when each of them would have to stand firm, regardless of the circumstance. At that time, they would need to stand strong, but not fight back. They were to be innocent as doves, using Jesus as the model of patient endurance in the midst of suffering as described in 1 Peter 2:23: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
A modern way of speaking Matthew 10:16-17a might go like this: “I’m sending you out into a world that doesn’t know me and you are bound to get hurt. Be streetwise, but don’t do anyone harm.”
I saw this played out in 2012 when I visited with some of the Ethiopian Christians who had been burned out of their churches by rampaging Muslim mobs. One congregation told of how, when it was safe to return, they responded by turning the other cheek and forgiving their attackers. Three entire Muslim families came to Jesus because of that godly response.
© 2018 Darvis McCoy
Photo: Pictured are the ashes of an Ethiopian Church building, as mentioned above. Read more on the story in “God Prepared A Fish” soon to be released on Amazon. More pictures from Darvis’ trip to Ethiopia are here.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™