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Shrewd As Serpents, Innocent As Doves

Shrewd As Serpents, Innocent As Doves

by Robert Nicholes on September 09, 2014

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16, NASB)

This verse speaks clearly to our Lord's intentions for His people in this world.  Jesus begins by telling the disciples that He is the one who sends them out. He is well aware of the manner in which He does so and the reality of the world He sends them into.  Christians are sheep in a world of wolves; the world views us with pity and often ridicules us for being easy prey.  Because we are in the position of ambassadors for God, Christ tells us the attitude and character that we are to have: shrewdness and innocence. 

Because we are in the position of ambassadors for God, Christ tells us the attitude and character that we are to have: shrewd and innocent. 

Being shrewd and innocent are not actions we take--they are who we are to become.

Encompassed in the transformation and non-conformity enabled by the Holy Spirit, spoken of in Romans 12:1-2, we are to find the footing to not only survive in this world of wolves but thrive in their midst. Survival is characterized by the fighting, domination, fear and flight which so often characterize our interactions and lead to conflict (or the drive to avoid it). 

To thrive is to live differently. 

But how can we be both innocent and shrewd simultaneously?  We tend to see these characteristics as the world does: mutually exclusive.  Truthfully, most of us have not seen many examples of believers living shrewdly yet innocently.  We know Jesus was a perfect example, but we often dismiss His example precisely because He was "perfect."  We shouldn't do that. He lived His earthly life in exactly the way He calls us to, and in His power, we can.  

To give us a picture of the innocent-and-shrewd combo, Christ uses the illustration of snakes and doves. A snake is not defenseless, but it is limited in its defenses. It has no claws nor powerful legs on which to run, yet it rarely considered "easy prey." Snakes have learned how to live in this world and defend itself from the position God gave it (on its belly).

But we are also to have the innocence of doves--those symbols of peace. Not only are we to be innocent of guilt and sin, but we are to pursue peace (Psalm 34:14, Hebrews 12:14).

"Behold as I send you out in sheep suits, this is who you really are…clever yet pure." 

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus is also addressing the reality of the world into which He sends His disciples to minister.  He wants them (and us) to be prepared to deal with that reality (not ignore it or live sequestered from it), and He wants them to win.  What is the win?  "Winning" in God's Kingdom is Christ's disciples engaging in the Great Commission through His power. That is, working to bring people into His Kingdom and establish them in lives of faith bound to Christ.  

 'Winning' in God's Kingdom is Christ's disciples engaging in the Great Commission through His power. 

Armed with the new vision for successful life in this world, we come around to the notion that it is for God's purposes that we seek to "win without bruising."  We are to be shrewd and innocent for Him.  It is on behalf of Jesus and His gospel that we are sent out.


  • Pray: This week ask God to help you understand and internalize Matthew 10:16.

  • Reflect on the past week. What you can learn from your interactions with the world. Do you fight with it, seek to dominate, or are you so fearful that you flee? In other words, do you seek out conflict or seek to avoid it?  Neither is godly or healthy.

  • Seek God's guidance in your life about these issues as you come to better understand the reality of living in this world of wolves, how we are to live among them, and the reality of the Holy Spirit's power and grace to enable us to become innocent and shrewd. 

Watch the sermon from September 7

Tags: christian living, shrewd and innocent

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