Before Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to carry out his
ministry, he gave them some sobering advice:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be
as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NIV).
He wanted them to understand that they were going to face
opposition, resistance, and in some cases, persecution. And he wanted them to
face it with a demeanor that would make an impression.
Being “innocent as doves” means turning the other cheek,
going the extra mile, and showing love to enemies. It means conducting yourself
in a way that’s above reproach, and not giving opponents ammunition against
What it doesn’t mean is being naive. Hence, Jesus’
instruction to be “as shrewd as snakes.”Shrewdness—the ability to understand things and make good judgments—can
be developed in many different ways, as it relates to Christian ministry.
1. Learn to discern people’s motives and intent.
Jesus offers an excellent model of this. He knew when his
enemies were trying to trap him. He saw through their faux respectfulness and
seemingly sincere questions. In fact, he often confronted them about their evil
2. Recognize how you’re being perceived.
For better or worse, many people hold some rather strong
opinions about followers of Jesus. The more you know about their opinions and
preconceived notions, the better equipped you’ll be to address—and, ideally,
3. Anticipate opposition and debate.
Jesus’ warnings could not be any clearer. His faithful
followers will face adversity. It’s not a question of if, but when. Knowing
this gives his followers a chance to prepare. If you gird yourself for battle
by studying God’s Word and discussing strategy with other trusted believers, you
will make yourself a formidable opponent.
The guidelines Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 10:16
still apply today. The nature of the opposition has changed, but the
expectations remain. The most effective ambassadors for Christ are shrewd as
snakes and innocent as doves.
-- I served as editor for THE BIBLE: WHY IT MATTERS TODAY which is published by Time Inc Books. This blog post was adapted from that title. This special edition magazine is published in the US and available wherever magazines are sold.