“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV).
I find it interesting that Jesus enjoins his followers to be like serpents and doves—two animals with a rich biblical history. When coming to this verse, what reader will not think of the serpent in Eden, Satan tempting humanity to death and disobedience (Genesis 3:1ff.)? And who will not think of the dove descending upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit of God alighting upon him as he begins his ministry (Matthew 3:16)?
So what is Jesus really asking of us, except that we be as wise as the enemy who attacks us and as innocent as the Spirit who indwells us? If we are to withstand the onslaughts of an enemy bent on our everlasting destruction, we cannot be naïve and unprepared; we must be shrewd, even crafty, in our opposition to him and ministry to those he still holds in his grasp. But we do so without guile or sin, without resorting to his deception and violence. Instead, we minister with the gentleness and purity of the God who lives within us and leads us into victorious purity (Romans 8:9-11).
Let us be as wise as the enemy who attacks us, as innocent as the Spirit who sanctifies us.