“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” -Matthew 10:16
In the midst of wolves, embodying “innocent as a dove” seems like a recipe for disaster. Jesus didn’t say we could stay in our comfort zone. He specifically says He is sending us into a vicious culture and tells us how we are to act – shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. While shrewdness, or discernment, is important, we cannot ignore that Jesus paired these two traits together. Shrewdness without innocence is harsh and innocence without shrewdness is passive and naïve. So how do we behave innocent as doves without falling prey to the wolves?
1. Be a symbol of good.
It is interesting to note that throughout Scripture, the dove often symbolizes purity, a mark of favor, or a sign of good. After Jesus is baptized, a dove descends from heaven as the voice of God is heard acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 3:16-17). After the flood, the dove is a sign of safety, bringing a branch back to Noah to indicate the receding waters (Genesis 8:11). In Song of Solomon, the king refers to his bride as a dove to symbolize her purity and perfection in his eyes. In an antagonistic culture, we have the opportunity to be a symbol and source of God’s goodness.
2. Have a spirit of gentleness and compassion.
As believers, we are called to be people of gentleness and compassion. Without these traits balancing our discernment, we fail to be appealing or caring to those who don’t know Christ. But Jesus never intended gentleness to be weak. In fact, throughout Scripture, gentleness is painted as strong. It takes strength to be kind when it would be easier to be defensive. It takes strength to be gentle when those in our office are doing whatever is needed to get ahead. We are never to bend to the tactics of the world, but we are not called to roll over and take them either.
3. Serve the Lord blamelessly.
In the Old Testament, the dove was a symbol of purity and thus used as a sacrificial animal (Leviticus 14:22). As we practice innocence, we do this best when we strive to live a pure and holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:1) and live above reproach (Titus 1:7). When this kind of innocence is combined with shrewdness, we are able to boldly and with discernment approach any situation, knowing that if we are accused of wrong, we can confidently stand on a blameless reputation. It is difficult to argue with strength and character that comes from pure motives demonstrated by a pure life.
When we fully understand that innocence is quiet strength and shrewdness is discernment best tempered by innocence, we are able to battle the wolves in our culture with grace and confidence. God doesn’t call His people to passivity, nor does He call us to arrogance in His name. He calls us to walk the balance between humble discernment and confident innocent. That kind of balance stands in stark contrast to the world. It marks the believer in Christ, and it is a testament to the strength, justice, gentleness, and compassion of the God we represent.