Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Matthew 10:16 KJV
“Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents.” In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the serpent is a symbol for wisdom. The ancients viewed snakes as shrewd, cunning, smart, keen-minded, prudent, and cautious, using great skill to avoid danger. The word speaks of shrewdness, wariness, having a circumspect perspective. In Colossians 4:5 Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are outside.” In other words, Christians are to be wise in dealing with the wolves of the world around them. What kind of wisdom? The subtlety, anticipation, sensitivity, cunning, cautiousness, wariness, shrewdness of a serpent.
To put it another way, say precisely the right thing at the right time in the right place. It’s a serious attempt, I believe, to discover the best means to achieve the highest goal. As we confront a hostile world, we have to be wise. There is no sense in creating havoc all around us. We know their tempers, that they are anti-Christian, they don’t want our message, so we must be careful in how we approach them. We have to use wisdom. You can say inflammatory things and ignite conflict with every step you take, or you can use discretion.
When the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus if we should pay taxes, our Lord could have replied, “Caesar is a rotten, wretched, vile, no-good, debauched, evil sinner, damned to Hell forever.” But He said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God, the things that are God’s.” He didn’t compromise the truth, yet He was wise enough not to say everything that could be said and perpetuate something that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Be wise; find the best way to handle a confrontation or conflict. Be careful. The one who faces a hostile world should avoid offensive situations. Don’t make trouble and wreak havoc. Some people become Christians and immediately get fired from their jobs, and say it’s persecution, but it’s only stupidity. Be careful, be wise.
Secondly, He says, “Be harmless as doves.” I can’t imagine being threatened by an attack from a dove, can you? It seems rather innocuous – the lovely, little, white dove. But there is more than harmlessness. Christians are not to cause harm, create issues and problems. We’re not to be running through the world, fighting back and crushing people, devastating people, and being intrusive, brash, or rude. We’re to be harmless and gentle.
More than that, the concept here is purity and innocence. In Song of Solomon 5:2, the husband says to his wife, “My dove, my undefiled.” The dove was a symbol of purity, holiness, and innocence. While we are to be wise, we also are to be pure. When we seek a wiser method in dealing with a problem, we should never compromise the truth.
So it’s a two-fold idea: on the one hand, we don’t fight back, but on the other hand, we don’t compromise truth. But sometimes, we don’t have to say all that could be said in a vitriolic manner. Be wise and shrewd, but do it in a way that doesn’t compromise. Keep your integrity, honesty, and purity. The dove is gentle, pure, uncorrupted, and sincere, in the imagery. Those who represent Christ are not to cause injury or employ trickery or deceit in trying to escape from danger; they are to be wise, pure, and gentle.
In Luke 6:27, Jesus summed it up by saying, “Love your enemies, do good to them who hate you.” He’s saying to maintain your purity, wisdom, harmlessness, show a gentle spirit. In I Corinthians 9:22, Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” You have to be discreet, but never compromise the truth, so that you maintain your purity. Find that perfect balance between the two.
In I Peter 2:23, when our Lord was reviled, He didn’t revile in return. When He was cursed, He didn’t curse back. When His enemies abused Him on the cross, He forgave them their sin. Such was the gentleness displayed by Jesus. That’s where it all begins. Source