To be wise as a serpent relates to being prudent, careful, and intelligent. It has the connotation of street-smart, or able to deal with the likely challenges or dangers of life in a potentially threatening place. To be harmless as doves has an association of gentleness and peace; but the Greek term also relates to purity, innocence, and simplicity.
Here are three ways to be both wise as serpents and harmless as doves:
- Relate: Invest time to befriend and build relationships with people where you live, work, study, and play. When we invest time to befriend and build a relationship we learn about people. We discover some of their interests, circumstances, triumphs, and tragedies. Wisdom helps us to create margin by making changes in our lives so that we can develop relationships.
- Respect: Doves evoke a sense of peace and gentleness. To be harmless as doves requires us to relate to our community with a gentle and humble spirit that displays respect. We are to respect people as God’s image bearers. We are called to listen and discover another person’s worldview with respect. Too often I have found myself not listening well or with respect. I can be talking with a person and interrupt them, or be rehearsing in my mind the rebuttal as they are speaking. Or perhaps trying to show the folly of their philosophy and my worldview is correct. If my motive is pure, to display God’s love to my neighbors where I live, work, study, and play, and not to simply reduce my interaction with a person to an evangelistic project then I’m more likely to display respect.
- Resist: Resist the rant (I’m aware of the irony of my rant about the rant). Ranting on social media, or any other platform, in regard to the perceived immorality of the unbelieving culture is generally neither wise nor harmless. The seduction of the rant is the tendency to be affirmed (i.e. likes on social media) by those who share your worldview. But it is unwise and harmful because it tends to repel the people we are called to reach. It seems wise and harmless to be known for Who and what we are for rather than predominantly known for what we are against.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” – The Holy Bible