It’s a classic movie trope. The main character is alone in the wilderness, huddling close to a dying fire. As the fire dies, glowing eyes begin to appear and multiply. It’s a pack of starving wolves.
But have you ever realized that Jesus says He has put us in that same situation? “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)
Beware the Wolves
Jesus says there are wolves. Maybe not everyone in the world is a wolf, but we must assume we are outnumbered and surrounded.
And the glowing eyes encircling the campfire are not friendly. Those wolves have malicious intent. They want to make our lives and ministries difficult. They want to lay obstacles in our path.
Often, the more we act like Jesus and the more we are on mission for Him, the more resistance we will encounter. So what should we do?
Be a Sheep (Not a Wolf)
Strangely, Jesus does not advocate fighting back. He does not command us to fight fang with fang. We are not to become like wolves in order to face down a world of wolves. No, we are to be lambs – humble, gentle and seemingly helpless.
Be a Serpent
Being a sheep does not mean being foolish or rash. We are to be lambs who are also snakes. In this case, serpents are not a symbol of evil or deceit; they are a symbol of wisdom, shrewdness and street smarts. We need to show some savvy. When walking through a pack of sleeping wolves, we avoid stepping on the dried twigs. We do not needlessly disturb or provoke.
Be a Dove
On the other hand, shrewdness is not a code word for compromise. We are to be innocent doves. We should be innocent of concession and also innocent of pugnaciousness, anger and hypocrisy. We should not be found returning evil for evil.
Be Like Christ
Really, though, Jesus doesn’t want us to be a bunch of animals. He wants us to be like Him. Think of how He handled the wolves he encountered in his life and ministry. He was silent as a lamb (Isaiah 53:7) and innocent as a dove (1 Peter 3:21ff). He even deployed shrewdness when put on trial (John 18:19-24,33-38). Jesus commands us to be like lambs because we represent the Lamb of God. We must respond to wolves as He did.
Be On Mission
Jesus said He is sending us out like sheep. Being sheep is part of our mission. We knowingly infiltrate enemy territory using sheep-serpent-dove tactics. We point people to the Lamb by being sheep ourselves.
To our flesh it seems absurd to risk being mutton. In the surrounding context of Matthew 10, Jesus offers further instruction to give help and hope. But perhaps it is enough to remember Christ Himself. He powerfully accomplished our salvation by being a lamb. How might he powerfully use us on the same mission if we would be sheep, serpents and doves?
Randall Curtis serves as the Rhode Island Regional Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England.