A common idea in Christian circles is that young Christians should invest themselves in doing outrageous things for Christ.
I submit that a better idea is contained within Matthew 10:16:
Beware, I am sending you out as sheep amongst wolves, therefore be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.
Jesus, while sending his disciples on a particular mission that could, by certain modern reckoning, be considered an “outrageous thing for Christ” told his disciples to be cunning or clever.
The passage is not a direct command to all Christians, but rather Jesus’ instructions for a specific mission. But, in the grand scheme of Matthews gospel, it seems directly applicable to Christians today. What does Jesus mean by “be as cunning as serpents”?
I suspect that the traits of wisdom in the four gospels and Proverbs are what Jesus has in mind (ESV used below):
- Conversational Prowess
Pro 16:23-24 ESV The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. (24) Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
- Discernment of Human Character
- Pro 26:4-5 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. (5) Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
- Joh 2:24-25 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people (25) and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
- Foresight (to stay out of trouble when possible)
- Pro 4:25-26 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. (26) Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
- Pro 6:6-8 Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. (7) Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, (8) she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
- Discernment Between Right and Wrong
- Pro 3:5-7 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (6) In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (7) Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
- Luk 12:56-59 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (57) “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (58) As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. (59) I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
Good reasons exist to see the meaning of this passage as a call to be thoughtful about our discipleship. Indeed, one might say that Matthew included it so that growth in wisdom would be seen as a part of daily Christianity because it was required of the earliest preachers of the gospel during their time under Jesus’ tutelage. Such a point seems too obvious to drive home, but a great deal of young people have heard that caution and wisdom should be tossed to the wind in obedience to Christ. In fact, I have received resistance from people when trying to encourage them to be wise as though I were encouraging them not to follow Christ.
Anyway, we could reconfigure the saying in the title this way:
Do put Jesus’ teachings into practice in a way that is thoughtful and pray for his help.”