Wise as serpents and harmless as doves meaning?  

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By BibleAsk Team


“Wise as Serpents and Harmless as Doves”

Jesus, having concluded His exhortation of the Twelve disciples concerning their evangelistic mission (Matthew 10: 5–15), He said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). These instructions are for the benefit of Christian workers till the close of time (verses 16–42).  

The Lord used the examples of the “serpent” and the “dove” for they represented two different characteristics. The serpent was more “subtle” than the other animals (Genesis 3:1). The world subtle is used in the Bible to indicate an unfavorable tendency of character (Job 5:12; 15:5), with the implication of being “clever” or “cunning,” but usually in the favorable sense of being prudent (Proverbs 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18). The serpent was one of the created beings God had pronounced “good,” even “very good” (Genesis 1:25, 31). But because Satan used it to deceive mankind, it became a symbol for evil.  

By contrast, the dove is a harmless animal. It was listed among the “clean animals” and was used for sacrifices (Leviticus 1:14). In the New Testament Gospels of Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, Mark 1:10 and John 1:32, we read that after the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and appeared in the bodily form of a dove. Therefore, the dove became a symbol for purity and peace. 

Jesus – Our Great Example  

The dove represented Jesus, who was innocent and without sin (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5). He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Christ is a sympathetic teacher, and those who learn of Him will also be “gentle” and “humble.”

Yet, Jesus was wise (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2: 3; Luke 2:40; Mark 6:2). He laid forth a solid example of the carefulness that should characterize the Christian worker, who is to “beware of men,” that is, of those who are not led the Holy Spirit, but are led by the the evil one.

Also, Jesus’ disciples followed in his steps. The apostle Paul said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1 also 2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul’s pure and peaceful conduct was in harmony with the will of God and the law and the prophets (Acts 24:14; 28:17). Yet, Paul exercised serpent-like shrewdness. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system for his benefit (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11). He also wisely wrote his epistles in order to convince the believers with the truth (Acts 17:22–23; 23:6–8). 

Qualities of Gospel Workers

Gospel workers are to exhibit the qualities of harmless doves, particularly that of kindness in their dealings with others. The “meek” person intends nothing but good toward others (Matthew 5:5). He is humble in his own estimation and assigns himself a low position in comparison with others; he esteems others better than himself. So-called Christians who have not learned to be “gentle” and “humble” have not learned in the school of Christ (Philippians 2:2–8; Matthew 21:5; Acts 8:32; Matthew 12:19; Luke 23:34).

But gospel workers must be prudent and cautious, fast to act when there is a chance. They should be conscious of the risks and hardships that may be facing them in their ministry. They are to be wise in their movements and in dealing with problems. They are to understand the plans of the wicked, without using these plans themselves. However, there are specific qualities of the serpent which they are not to copy. While they exercise the awareness of the serpent, they are not to imitate its shrewdness. Thus, gospel workers are to be as free from cunning lies as a dove.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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