In our desire to walk out our Christian life as a disciple of the Lord, one of the things we can easily stumble on is how we deal with the biblical paradoxes that we read. One of these came up in the recent book I reviewed by Barry C. Black (Nothing to Fear: Principles & Prayers to Help You Thrive in a Threatening World). It is one we are all familiar with in Matthew 10:16:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” ESV
It is one of the admonitions Jesus gives as He sends out his disciples as they are to prepare for persecution and the trouble ahead as they seek to follow Him and share his gospel message.
Barry Black defines the two parts of the paradox as follows:
“The innocence of the dove refers to gentleness and purity; the wisdom of the serpent has to do with being aware of the presence of evil.”
I think that sounds clear enough, don’t you? It is in the details of how we operationalize it that I need to look more closely at the passage.
The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible gives me some insight:
“Alone, the wisdom of the serpent is mere cunning, and the harmlessness of the dove little better than weakness: but in combination, the wisdom of the serpent would save them from unnecessary exposure to danger; the harmlessness of the dove, from sinful expedients to escape it. “
The descriptions used point to the life Jesus was living out before them as they walked with Him in his earthly ministry. He was ever wise not rushing into danger or brashly confronting the evil of the day whether it was in the government of Rome or the Pharisees of the day. That was one of the things that seemed to cause some who heard Him to question whether or not He was truly sent to set things in godly order and establish his Kingdom on earth. There was plenty of injustice and religious hypocrisy going on, but He didn’t charge in to correct it all. Justice will not be fully balanced with righteousness until He returns again to establish his Kingdom.
I think it can be easy for me (and perhaps you) to be tempted to jump in with a strong response to something we see as clearly ungodly without waiting to determine if we know the whole story or if we are called by the Lord to reconcile what we see with what we perceive to be His truth. Sometimes we are blind to our own perspectives and self-interest that draws us into an issue or situation as a result of the shrewdness of the serpent (Satan). If we read the gospels carefully, it is clear Jesus was not unwilling to deal forthrightly with many issues of the day, but He did not address them all. He chose his battles for when it would most glorify his Father and reach the hearts of those listening.
Sometimes with the social media we all have available, it can be easy for us to respond to nearly everything we read or see on one or the other side of the issue. If we are honest, I think we can see that is a ploy to shift our focus and tempt us to carnality on our walk and divide us one with another. We also need to be careful when we point out others who fall prey to it and miss how often we succumb to the very same temptation. Paul warns us of that in Romans 10:2 ESV: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”
It can be so easy when I (or we) are stirred up about someone or some thing to feel we are called on to respond and when we do, we neglect wisdom in both our character and our actions. Black’s advise in his book is simple and straightforward: “Strive to be unmixed with evil.”
I know I often need to take a deep breath to allow not only oxygen to cleanse my physical being but also allow the breath of the Holy Spirit to adjust my humanity to line up with His character and how He would have me respond. In that moment, I am often reminded that He has already empowered me to deal with the paradox of the serpent and the dove if I allow Him to guide me. That is the key to the temptations that can easily come.
Sometimes He may well be calling me to be silent. Wisdom knows when to speak and when not to speak. Most of us have heard the wise adage of Abraham Lincoln:
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”