“Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
Is there any doubt that evil rules the world we live in? Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the world-wide web and you are face-to-face with the evidence of evil. You don’t even have to go looking for it anymore. It’s on billboards as you drive on the highway, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. So to borrow from Francis Schaeffer- “How Should We Then Live?”
How do we live godly lives in an ungodly world?
Christians tend to have one of two extreme reactions to the world; we either bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend that evil doesn’t exist, or we become radically defensive and try to shout down evil by throwing Bible verses around like grenades. If you can’t ignore it, try to blow it away. Time has proven that neither approach works. To ignore evil just allows it to escalate and become overwhelming. Taking an aggressive stand has only offended and ostracized the world Jesus died to save.
As in every aspect of life, Jesus has the answer. “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (emphasis added). This is the command He gave to His disciples as He sent them out into the world to be His witnesses. This is the command we must live by as well. As I read this verse today, the two contrasting words jumped out at me. That is always my cue to dig a little deeper. The original Greek definitions for these words shed tremendous light on the command of Jesus.
“Shrewd” is phronimos and means “wise, sensible” and its root meaning is “thinking, understanding.” Jesus was telling them to think and understand and then make a wise and sensible determination. Do you know that one of Satan’s most effective tools is to dull our minds and then feed us from the world’s banquet table of ideas and philosophies? Let’s be completely honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told without bothering to examine things for ourselves. That is one reason I love the story in Acts about the Bereans. “The Bereans…received the message (Paul’s preaching) with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). We must wake up our dulled minds and think about the messages we are receiving day after day, lay them alongside of the Word of God and see if they are true. And this is not just for spiritual matters. The advertising world depends on the fact that we take in their “pitch” without thinking or examining the validity of their message. Try watching a few commercials sometime with a sharp mind. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”
In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent. Akeraios means innocent, pure, not mixed with evil, and has the root meaning “to mix, to be poured.” His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to keep themselves separate from the world around them and not fall into their evil ways nor worship their pagan gods. They tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Has anything changed? Certainly not God’s command to worship and live for Him and Him only. The truth is God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for Christ’s followers today. Mind you, I’m not advocating separatism; Jesus called us to be His witnesses throughout the world. We must interact with the lost world to tell them about Jesus. But we must also keep our hearts purely devoted to Him alone and not allow the world to mix us up.
When I studied this verse, I recalled Jesus prayer in John 15 where He said we are “in the world” (v.11) but “not of the world” (v. 14). We live alongside of people who do not follow Christ or His Word and that is by God’s good design; but we live for the One who died for the world, and we live by His Word and for His glory. How else will they know we belong to the one true God if we believe the world’s message and live as if God is just one option among many?
Holy Father, You are not one God among many, You are the God of all, the Creator and Sustainer and the Sovereign Lord. My heart, my mind, my soul and my all belong to You. Use me in this world to bring others to Christ and to bring glory to Your Name. Amen.