Vol.XX No.VII Pg.4
September 1983

Serpents And Doves

Robert F. Turner

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

Serpents and doves — two creatures that have little in common. And yet, in the development of our character, we are to be "as" they are in some respects. Quite a paradox, isn't it? Well, much of the Christian's character is a paradox. For instance...

We are to control our tongue (Jas. 3:1-f) but also speak boldly (Eph. 6:20). There is no virtue in a bold tongue that is uncontrolled or one so controlled that it is never bold. Our tongues need a "controlled boldness" in order to rebuke sin both publicly (Gal. 2:11-f) and privately (Matt. 18:15). Though the consequences may be unpleasant (Mk. 6:16-18) we must speak boldly, and when occasion demands it our bold tongues must be blunt (Matt. 23:15). Fear of saying a wrong thing should not keep us from saying the right thing (Matt. 10:26-27). "Silence is not always golden, sometimes it is just plain yellow."

Paul's humility (1 Cor. 15:9) and yet his confidence (2 Tim. 4:7-8) exemplify yet another paradox. Humility should not breed timidity but neither should confidence give rise to arrogance. Humility will keep us aware of our own weaknesses but should never cause a hesitancy to point out sin in the lives of others (1 Cor. 5:1-13). We are humbled by our liability to err in opinions and understanding of Truth, but are confident that there are some things of which we are sure that cannot be compromised (Gal. 2:5). The virtue of longsuffering (Gal. 5:22) must be balanced by intolerance (Col. 2:4, 8, 16, 18). Longsuffering is needed as attempts are made to progress toward maturity, but intolerance is demanded when progress is not made and goals not reached (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-f). It is one thing to suffer long with sinners as they attempt to conquer sin but quite another to tolerate wrongdoing (Rev. 2:15-16; 20-21).

We must certainly care what others think about us (Matt. 5:13-16) but at the same time think little of how others evaluate us (Gal. 1:10). The virtue of living to influence others (Phil. 2:12-16) can so easily become the vice of living to please others (Gal. 2:11-f).

Some are prone "by nature" to be as serpents" or "as doves" and the Devil uses our "natural inclinations" to cause an imbalanced character. He would have us emphasize what comes easily and de-emphasize what doesn't. As a consequence we often go to extremes: either a pseudo-sophisticated person who thinks that "cultured" people avoid bold speech, confident affirmations, intolerance of sin, and conduct that may "offend" others; or a crudeness that is abusive in speech, arrogant, intolerant, and unconcerned about what others may think.

The development of a balanced, yet paradoxical, character does not come quickly (Heb. 5:12 — "by reason of time") nor is it easy (1 Cor. 9:25 — "striveth...self control"), but there are no short cuts to maturity.

David Smitherman