wise as serpents, harmless as doves

Jesus sent his twelve disciples out by two’s in Matthew 10 to proclaim the imminence of the Kingdom of Heaven. As part of his charge to them, Jesus told them in verse 16 that he was sending them out like sheep in the middle of wolves “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

That phrase has haunted me since I first remember seeing it in a coach’s devotion after football practice in high school. (yes, I went to a christian school.)

Look at it again: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

“I am sending you out” Jesus commissioned the disciples and he has commissioned us.

“as sheep in the midst of wolves” Jesus sent them out to a world that hated him and would therefore hate his followers. (cf 10:24-25) But his disciples were to remain “as sheep.”

“so be wise as serpents” this is the part that just continues to rotate in my mind. Why say it like this? Specifically, why “serpent”? was Jesus saying that we are to know the schemes of that old serpent, Satan as well as the snake himself does? I think maybe that is it. I think perhaps this is Jesus teaching his disciples to be very aware of the particular worldly culture into which they were ministering.

“and innocent as doves” at the same time that his disciples were to be in the world and wise regarding Satan’s schemes therein, they were to remain innocent as doves. They were to keep their character as sheep following their Chief Shepherd. In the world but not of the world. familiar with the culture, but not polluted thereby.

Study it for yourselves and tell me if I am off base. Just meditate on chapter 10 of Matthew for a while.

Anyway, I bring that up because I really like Mark Driscoll.

To me, he exemplifies a man of God sent by Jesus as a sheep in the middle of Seattle Washington’s wolves. He endeavors to be as wise as a serpent, and as innocent as a dove. Obviously, like all of us, he fails in one or both sides of this equation from time to time. But he is trying to thread that needle rather than staying safely on the side of remaining innocent as a dove, because he knows that his obligation is to people in Seattle that desperately need to hear the voice of the Shepherd and will not do so unless the man God uses to call them is wise to the worldly culture in which the people live.

Whenever Mark was taking a beating recently, it seemed to me like his critics were missing the main thing. That is why I wrote this post. And it is why I wrote this post as well.

the main thing is that Mark is trying to thread the needle of being as wise as a serpent while remaining as harmless as a dove so that he can fully obey Jesus command to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

One of the more vociferous critics of Mark Driscoll has been Steve Camp. I love Steve Camp, but couldn’t understand the unbalanced nature of his attacks on Mark.

I have learned via Timmy Brister that Steve has now apologized.

That is where I had failed in addressing these things concerning Mark and his ministry; this is where the Lord convicted me as I reviewed some of my past articles I had written about him. I was not godly in how I used words to speak of those concerns on this blog. IOW, I came to see that in a very real way we have the same problem… just a different manifestation. I find myself identifying with Isaiah in the temple as “a man of unclean lips” that needed to repent of his sin. Unclean lips doesn’t necessarily mean here a tongue that uses seedy speech, but rather one that represents a heart that is not right before the Lord – unworthy deserving judgment. That was me; and apart from God’s sanctifying grace each day – that is still me. IOW beloved, my heart was not right towards my brother in Christ. I should have been more gracious, charitable and balanced in my words when commenting about his ministry in the Lord. In my zeal to champion reformed biblical theology which I deeply believe, I was blinded to the prideful log in my own eye while blogging about the speck in my brother’s eye. For this, I sincerely ask the readers of this blog and those associated with Mark and Mars Hill Church to please forgive me. I have already asked this of Mark privately and he has been most kind to extend to me a heart of mercy. It is my desire to always speak the truth in love and to not carelessly amputate another in that process.

Steve makes public his apology in the context of a review of Mark Driscoll’s recent debate with Deepak Chopra regarding the existence of Satan.

Steve realizes in watching Mark’s performance during this debate the nature of Mark’s gifting by God.

4. Mark has a rare ability to take complex spiritual truth and say them in a simple and pedestrian way that communicates the core meaning (while staying true to Scripture) to those who don’t speak Christianeeze or have never darkened the door of a church before. This is a gift; and one I wish more pastors had.

Go read the whole post by Steve regarding his apology to Mark and his review of the nightline debate. Very useful and edifying stuff indeed.


2 Responses

  1. “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”

    I believe the best way to understand the idea of being “wise as a serpent” is to consider what the word “serpent” brought to mind for the hearers of Jesus’ statement. A serpent was considered to be a wise. In the ancient times, serpents were used to symbolize caution, cunningness , or shrewdness.

    There is definitely a strong use of contrast between a serpent and a dove to create this tension Jesus wants the disciples to demonstrate. But more than being savvy with the current culture, Jesus is calling them to know when and how to fight for truth while also being kind and gentle.

    Two things come to mind. 1) I believe Jesus exemplifies this in the way He deals with the situation He is put in with the Pharisees (Matt 22:15-22). He addresses the issue in a profound way without creating a larger mess than needed. He did not go into the corruption in the Roman government and Caesar which was undoubtedly present. BUT He showed His power with restraint.

    2) Paul illustrates this kind of person in 1 Thes. 5:14. We are to be people who can wisely navigate how we are to speak and treat those around us according to the need of the moment. Paul also alludes to this idea in Col. 4:4-6 when dealing with outsiders (wolves).

    We must be careful not to fall a victim of the growing trend to “know everything about our culture” to the extent that we need to engage in it. Meaning…I don’t need to go watch every movie on the top 10 list of this month in order to know the people I’m trying to minister to. This has almost become a license for many “Christians” to engage in whatever worldly behavior they want in the name of “being all things to all people” or “understanding our culture”. Both are dangerous and a misunderstanding of God’s Word. We can accurately understand the sin in our culture and the Scriptures that address those sins without knowing the details of how the sins are being “fleshed out” specifically. I don’t need to know every way in which sexual immorality is being acted upon in my culture to understand the cause and answer to it.

  2. […] is it to recognize that Jesus sent us out as sheep amongst wolves and to therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves? Is it perhaps to love our neighbors as […]

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