Jesus taught in so many different ways. You’re no doubt familiar with his parables — today I’m going to look at a teaching tool you might not recall him using.

Jesus sometimes taught using brief verbal vignettes packed with meaning. At first glance these proverbs seem simple, but they are truly profound. Jesus used one such proverb in Matthew 10 when he was preparing his disciples to be sent out into the world to minister:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

“Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves;”

That’s pretty threatening. Sheep are defenseless. They’re easy prey for predators. Here’s our Lord, the one to whom we’ve devoted and committed ourselves, the everlasting son of God, giving instruction to his followers.

Because these instructions are retained in holy scripture, they’re clearly intended not only for the disciples, but also for us. So here we have the notion that the lifestyle to which we’re called has an element of danger to it. There will be opposition. Our commitment to him may become dangerous.

A sheep analogy is also used is Psalm 23. Read my blog about this famous psalm.

“Therefore be as shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.”

After the warning comes a commandment. Jesus introduces a third and fourth animal here. Look carefully at how he uses these animals: he doesn’t say “go be sheepish,” he says “be as shrewd as a serpent.”

Usually the snake or the serpent is a pretty sinister character in scripture. There’s a little bit of a note of that here, but that note is quickly balanced with the equal command to be “innocent as doves.” We’re to be cunning and intelligent like the serpent, but harmless, innocent, moral, righteous and pure like a dove.

Do you live as a sheep among wolves?

Jesus packed a lot of metaphors into this brief proverb. The first two, “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” is intended to tell us that in following Jesus there’s some threat. There may well be some danger.

The second metaphor is there to tell us not to be stupid.

Be thoughtful, shrewd, and analytical in how you live, remembering that you are “in the midst of wolves.” Be clever, but never let this cunning spirit lead you into immorality.

As followers of Jesus, we are sent out into a world where following him means living out our lives in constant awareness of the potential pressures and threats from our environment. Be intentional as you think about how to live in light of this, but be sure also that your actions stem from gentleness and purity.

Read more about gentleness in “Momentum: Why gentleness is different from weakness.”

The previous was adapted by Rachel Motte from one of Dr. Sloan’s convocation addresses at Houston Baptist University.

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