Wise and Innocent
Matt. 10:16 ¶ “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matt. 10:17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;
Matt. 10:18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
Matt. 10:19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time;
Matt. 10:20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Jesus is sending out his Apostles to spread the good news. His words were not only for that day but were also prophetic regarding the future ministry of those whom he had called.
Jesus knew that they would be confronted by the wolves of the world. The wolves would be lying in wait to devour these follower of Jesus Christ and therefore their survival was dependent upon their ability to be wise and yet innocent.
The serpent is cautious, constantly shifting and adjusting in defensive measures. This serpent is not to be confused with the Genesis serpent who is a deceiver and therefore Jesus places the dove into the context. Just as the dove is seen as pure and innocent, so the Apostle is to be innocent in their behaviors. Jesus places these two together so that we understand that we are heading into a pack of wolves who are ready to attack us but at the same time we are to do everything that we can to shift, and adjust, keeping ourselves safe while at the same time remaining pure and innocent in the eyes of God.
Jesus goes on to say, “when they hand you over.” He didn’t say “if” they hand you over, but he said “when” — meaning that these sent ones would be brought face to face with government, political and religious authorities because of their faith. Jesus didn’t want them to worry about this. Remember, Jesus’ disciples were a group of rough and tumble folks from around Galilee and they would have to face the officials in places like Jerusalem. It’s like someone from Podunk State having to argue their case at Harvard. Some people have taken this scripture to mean that you don’t have to work to prepare sermons because the Lord would simply give you the words at the moment. That’s NOT what Jesus was talking about. But he was saying that when you find yourselves overwhelmed and in a place where you must give a defense, the power of the Holy Spirit will speak through you and the little person from Podunk State can suddenly out-debate the highly educated from Harvard.
Today’s text can make me feel rather uncomfortable. The reality is that I’m always looking for life to sort of, level off, and not have what seem to be continual strains. However, the more I examine these words the more I wonder whether that is realistic. If I am truly a follower of Jesus Christ and am trying to reach the world for him then, more than likely, there will constantly be some kind of tension. Clarke says, “He who is called to preach the Gospel is called to embrace a state of constant labour, and frequent suffering. He who gets ease and pleasure, in consequence of embracing the ministerial office, neither preaches the Gospel, nor is sent of God. If he did the work of an evangelist, wicked men and demons would both oppose him.” Wow! Therefore it seems that obedient and faithful followers of Jesus Christ will more than likely find themselves in places of opposition.
When we feel that we are being attacked the natural reaction is to want to fight back. Here is where Jesus cautions his followers. We are not supposed to try to be tricky or clever or manipulative. Instead, we are to be wise. We are to use all the resources available to us to get the job done. That means that we don’t push or shove doors open, but we do use all opportunities available to us to continue to open the doors of opportunity for the work of the kingdom. Sometimes this means that we have a low profile and we don’t do things to draw attention to ourselves. (And sometimes that can be really hard for preachers :) But in many places, being wise means that we don’t ruffle the feathers of those in authority but we learn to fly below their radar screen so that we can continue to spread the news about Jesus Christ. (We learned a lot about this in Russia!) At the same time we never cross over the line of doing things in an unjust way — maintaining our innocence, continuing to be reflections of Jesus Christ in the midst of difficulties.
Nope, Jesus never said that being his follower was going to be easy. Serving him is hard work and there will always be those who oppose what we are doing. In the midst of it all may God give us his wisdom while at the same time we maintain our innocence in faithful service to him.
Lord, please help me serve you in wisdom and innocence. Amen.