Jesus told us how to navigate the sea of life. He gave us some great pointers on social skills that go beyond being kind and tenderhearted and loving one another. He understood the complex personalities of humankind—honest/dishonest, kind/unkind, selfless/selfish, pure/evil, etc., so He told us in Matthew 10:16 (NKJV), Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
What an interesting combination! The serpent is cunning, crafty, and wise—very adept at slithering away from and avoiding danger. The dove, a symbol of Christ’s gentleness, is one of God’s most harmless creatures. Being like a serpent keeps us away from evil and danger; being like a dove keeps us free from guile and protects us from sinful circumstances that could get us in trouble.
Sometimes in dealing with life, people, and difficulties, I think we reverse the scripture and become wise as doves and harmless as certain snakes. Mourning doves will fly right into the path of oncoming cars, or dawdle across a busy road as though they haven’t a care in the world. It’s great that they are committed to their mate for life, but they don’t appear to be the brightest ornithological species when danger and survival are involved.
When we lack discernment and wisdom for everyday life, we are about as safe as a dawdling dove on the interstate. That’s not what Jesus had in mind when He was helping us with life skills. Neither is it helpful if we are as harmless as some snakes. Garter snakes are harmless. In fact, it is said of them that they are cold-blooded, but not cold-hearted; garter snakes form friendships! (Smart News, Smithsonian Magazine). In James 4:4, we read, Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? That’s where a harmless snake friendship will get you! A friendly, harmless snake is not the picture of cunning shrewdness that can readily detect (discern) a tricky scheme of the devil or enticement of the world. In the world we live in it is becoming increasingly more important to develop a keen sense of discernment--to be able to discern both good and evil.
Indeed, being like harmless serpents or wise doves will complicate our lives, but being wise as serpents and harmless as doves will bring us to a place of safety, maturity, and confidence in Christ. So will you be as wise as a serpent? If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking (James 1:5 NLT).
© 2021, Chris Werre