“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
This passage stuck out to me because of the sheep, serpents and doves. Sheep are followers of the master. Serpents are an emblem of wisdom and doves are innocent.
Jesus sends us out to follow Him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:1-3
He also tells us to be wise and innocent. I think He knows we have a tendency to strike out (or maybe that’s just my tendency and I am projecting.). That we need to use wisdom to stay innocent or harmless to those that are around us.
I admit I don’t know a lot about snakes. I know I don’t want to be around them, because I don’t want to be bitten. Yet, if I am honest I have held a snake on more than one occasion. I have slept in a house with snakes. I have also been up close and person with a few, purely by accident. I have never been bitten. Still when I think of a snake, I think of videos I have seen with that sudden attack move (rarely seeing what led up to the actual attack). I also know that they try to blend into their environment. Snakes with rattles will give off a warning if you get to close. That is pretty wise.
I think that is how a lot of people view Christian evangelism. A predator that strikes quick like a snake, on a surprise “victim.” Instead they see people with megaphone on the street corner, much like a protester. They see people handing them flyers as they go about their business, much like solicitors. That does not look like Jesus’ ministry. Jesus sent the disciples out, He did tell them to stay in the four walls of the temple and wait for the sinners to come in. We also don’t see them Jesus or the disciples yelling at passers by or springing themselves on unsuspecting people. Generally speaking it was the other way around, people were yelling for His attention. It was hypocritical religious leaders of the time that were striking out.
There was nothing about Jesus that made him stand out from His environment. According to Isaiah 53:2 he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
Doves on the other hand are seen as a sign of love and innocence. They are often at weddings. People like to see them. The Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove at His baptism.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
Doves don’t generally just fly up on a person. They will spend some time in the vicinity of people but they are cautious in approaching. They do not blend into their environment, but are a stark contrast to the world around them. We need to be loving, gentle and moved by Holy Spirit when we are ministering to others. We should not look so much like the environment around us that people mistake us for a non-believer. Reflecting Christ should make us stand out, even as we are in the vicinity of others letting them get to know us and see that we are safe. We should be taking time to build relationships and get to know the person in their environment.
As believers, we are to be sheep following our Shepherd. We are to be wise like serpents. We are to be as innocent as doves, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. Our actions should be tempered with love.