The Expository Files


Balancing Between Serpents and Doves
“...with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition..."

Matthew 10:16


Jesus was aware of the dangers and hardships His apostles, and later His disciples, would face as they lived by faith. He did not hide it from them. He wanted them and us to know what we were getting ourselves into. He wanted us to know of the blessings and riches that would become ours in the kingdom, but also He wanted us to know the obstacles we would face on our way. 

On one occasion, He sent out the 12 apostles to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" with the gospel of the kingdom.  What He told them still rings true today because we believe, live and teach the same gospel. But, we do so from a different perspective. They taught the kingdom was at hand. We teach that it has arrived (Colossians 1:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:23-26). But it is the same kingdom, and the same gospel. 

So, we ought not be surprised if the world reacts much in the same way as it reacted then. Jesus told them what they needed to be because their message would not always be welcomed and sometimes they would be severely tested. It would be easy to give up or shrink back from their responsibility. So, facing this, Jesus tells them what they need to be; and this is a rather difficult balance to strike: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16). 

The Need For Balance: Serpents and Doves 

Can the same person be both “wise” as serpents and “harmless” as doves (using the adjectives of the KJV)? Yes, but it takes effort. A striking of a balance of  the conviction of truth with the tenderheartedness of love (Ephesians 4:14,15). There is no conflict between speaking truth and loving others unless we put it there. One can love those who do evil while abhorring the evil they that do (Romans 12:9). 

But sometimes the balance is difficult to maintain. If, for the sake of protecting feelings, the truth is compromised, then we have failed to keep a proper balance. There is a danger that  one will never hear the truth about what they need to do to be saved. 

Also, if for the sake of speaking truth, one becomes harsh and insensitive, again, we have failed to keep a proper balance. There is a danger that the hurt inflicted will close the heart of the hearer to the truth of the message. 

Conviction: Shrewd and Wise as a Serpent

Conviction is absolutely indispensable to the Christian. We must have conviction before we can really be committed. Commitment means dedication,  allegiance, loyalty and steadfastness. It begins with deep commitment to God and radiates to all that He has said. Also, we cannot be committed to God without commitment to His word. (Luke 6:46-49; John 5:24; 6:63; 68; 8:47). 

Today, many apparently think that they can be pleasing to God apart from steadfastness to His word. His word is not politically correct today, and often mocked,, ridiculed and compromised. One cannot be as "wise as a serpent" while compromising the source of wisdom - God's word (Proverbs 2:6; 9:10;  Psalm 119:104).  

Yes, sometimes our faith is tested by distressing circumstances, but faith becomes stronger when tested if the test is passed. Do you have conviction when it comes to the Lord and His word? There is only one way to know for sure! You must be tested! 

Recall the example of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). This man was sorrowful because he knew the right things, but lacked ultimate conviction. He thought he had it, but learned differently when tested. In fact, it is only when our convictions cost us something that we learn if they are real by whether we are willing to pay the cost (Hebrews 11:17; 24-26). 

The depth of each of our convictions is revealed by the hard things I am willing (or unwilling) to do and the precious things I am willing (or unwilling) to give up in order to hold onto my commitment to my God, His word and my faith. To be pure, faith must be willing to go through the fire (1 Peter 1:6,7) 

Tender Compassion: Harmless and Innocent as a Dove

In Paul's words of encouragement to Timothy we find both conviction and compassion. Timothy is encouraged by Paul to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God”  (2 Timothy 1:8) and “The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”  (2 Timothy  2:24-25). 

What does the surgeon's scalpel and the word of God have in common? Answer: They're both pretty sharp! (Hebrews 4:12) . One needs to be cautious when using sharp objects. (You would want your surgeon to be careful with that thing, wouldn't you?). We want the surgeon to be sensitive. There are important organs and tissues close by to his work area and we would prefer those to be undamaged. Just because he can make a big incision does not mean we want him to if a smaller one will do. I would prefer him to use a scalpel instead of an axe. 

We see both conviction and compassion in Paul's final words to Timothy: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”  (2 Timothy 4:2). Preach the word in season and out of season, but with this qualification: "with great patience and instruction." 

I could launch into a devastating tirade and axe my way to the heart, or I could carefully work, cutting and healing, slowly allowing the gospel to do its powerful work.  If I get aggravated or frustrated, I can lose my cool and blow up, or I can pray for strength and wisdom to be patient and deliberate. I will not compromise the truth, but I will speak it in love for the hearer. In Paul we find a complete loyalty to the purity of the doctrine of Christ, but with love and compassion toward the lost (1 Thessalonians 4:1-6; 8; 2:5-8; 10-12). 

A true compassion for others is not in conflict with a deep commitment to Jesus Christ and His word. It is the gospel by which the true spiritual and eternal needs of all can be satisfied, and it is only the gospel that can do the job. The loss of these great truths because we compromise them away in favor of increases acceptability in the world is disaster. We shall not sell the truth! There must be balance! "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves


By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 18.9; September 2011