“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
– Matthew 10:16
Note: I’ve gotten complaints from people claiming that my post was aimed directly at them. Funnily, anyone who has read my posts will know that I normally aim my posts at “group paradigms” more than individual personalities. I am more concerned with the greater impact my efforts than the hitting back at a single person. So don’t waste your time asking. Besides, if the post hits a nerve there’s probably a reason why. A reason that deserves more reflection.
This post is inspired by a phone conversation I had with a friend of mine, who called to ask advice about his small group leader who had been gossiping about him (sadly, something that has happened quite often in a very gossipy culture). As I listened to him recount his side (and there’s always more than one perspective), I remembered the words in Matthew 10:16, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. Based on his recounting, it seemed that his trusting in his small group “leader” caused him to reveal things to his “leader” that he was shocked to find hearing from other people. Apparently, his “leader” had been gossiping about him, telling others about his issues. I put the word “leader” in quotes because I don’t consider anyone, even people with the title, to be the authority of my life if I am not clear about their intentions, not convinced of their capabilities, and not aligned with the contributions we both make. A good leader, in my opinion, must have a clear purpose for his followers that lead them to a better place, without which, abuse is inevitable. He must also have capabilities, without which his commitments will prove dishonest, as he will fail in his role as a leader. And he must be willing to invest more than he is calling others to. Without these three, again, in my opinion, this leader does not have credibility. Notice, I didn’t say “a leader needs to be perfect” or even “great” or “good”. Every leader will be flawed, and will fail in many areas. But it is enough for me to be aligned on a clear purpose, working with capable superiors, and sharing in the cost required for success in the given purpose. From my friend’s description, his leader failed in the three areas.
When situations such as my friend’s arise, it’s easy to point the finger at the leader, and he does have a responsibility, but we all must remember our responsibility to obey the command of Jesus to be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. This is a command after all, not a suggestion, and Jesus made it because He understood the world. Jesus was very unlike the average sheltered Christian who does not know how to navigate the real world. It’s not enough to be a nice guy. It’s important that we’re also wise. People who are nice but not wise will not succeed and will end up falling for bad leadership, scams, and the evil intentions of others. I, myself have foolishly fallen for things that now look so obvious in hindsight. I thought I was being “submissive” but I was really being naïve, surrendering my responsibility to be wise, and relegating the discernment to someone else.
The Bible is really a nuanced compilation of wisdom. It really does have answers to life’s many challenges. The older I get, the more I appreciate how much wisdom it contains. But we need to discover the wisdom, and we need to apply the wisdom ourselves to our own situations. We cannot simply take the word of another person for it. The Bible doesn’t say, “only leaders should be wise”. It actually puts that responsibility on everyone. It doesn’t also say that it’s enough to be good. Jesus emphasizes what kind of shrewdness he wants us to have: be as shrewd as snakes. This was a powerful metaphor since snakes were seen as crafty and cunning animals, even evil. He was saying, “Be as smart as evil people but don’t have their selfish motives. Be as smart as them, know strategy, know what they know, be creative, be resourceful, but use your intelligence, use your strategy, use your know-how for the right motives.
While much can be said of bad leaders (The Bible has many very scary verses on leaders who lead their people astray, which is why I like to remind people I’m not a church leader nor a ministry leader, simply a writer), this does not remove our responsibility to be wise in choosing our leaders, choosing our influences, choosing who we follow, and choosing who we obey. The Bible isn’t stupid, and Christianity isn’t for people who don’t think. A Christian who doesn’t develop wisdom will inevitably hold others back, and most especially himself.
The point is this: Real life is difficult and can be complex. Thriving in real life requires wisdom. Why do you think the Bible emphasizes it so much. Sadly, it seems that people are more concerned about the kind of wisdom that leads to making wishes and dreams come true, and so we end up falling for anything that seems to point us to those wishes and dreams easily. It’s easy to fool someone with a bait they already want.
But after all this explaining, Jesus said it best, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” That’s as clear and straightforward as it can get. Now the question is, “What are you doing to become shrewd? What are you doing to become wise?”