Of Sheep and Wolves, Serpents and Doves

It happened in the car while bringing the kids home from school sometime this year… nothing extraordinary or life changing, but I can’t stop thinking about it.


As missionaries on support learning a new ministry in a new place (that is just about as polar opposite as possible from where we were), we are still figuring out how to make everything work: daily schedules, doctor appointments, health insurance, where to go for car repairs, credits for graduation, future college plans, the budget… Recently, we ran into that not uncommon problem of “more month than money” requiring, for one, creativity in the kitchen – the idea being to use up what was there without running to the store for more.

A frequent after school car ride occurrence is a kids’ critique of the lunches I packed and sent. That day, most of what I’d heard was that lunch was “Yummy!” but there weren’t enough crackers to go with the soup. So I looked over at my girl who’d only received a handful of broken cracker pieces and crumbs from the bottom of the bag and asked her if she was upset. She smiled and said, “No, Mama. I really just thought it was sweet of you to crumble up the crackers for me to put in my soup.”

Wow! My eyes filled with tears. I was both speechless… and immediately convicted!

She knows I love her. She trusts me. She assumed the best possible motivation for what she found in her lunch that day.

Do you ever wonder what our world would be like if we all chose to act and believe like my teenage daughter did that afternoon?

First? What if those of us who follow Christ as Savior and King rested in His sovereignty? What if we believed that whatever He allowed/allows, somehow He works so that it is for good. What if we then acted correspondingly, instead of allowing fear or anger or jealousy to dictate thoughts, words, actions and reactions?

Secondly? What if we chose to first assume good intentions, especially by those who’ve demonstrated time and again that they love and/or care about us? What if we chose to trust proven confidence, even when we don’t exactly see why we should.

Thirdly? What if we recognized that the image of God stamped upon and within each human means that sometimes (by God’s grace and mercy), men and women are capable of amazing sacrifice, generosity, wisdom, creativeness and perseverance? And I don’t just mean the Christians of the world. What if our initial response was to look for that image of God in others, regardless of faith profession, because God’s Word teaches it is there?

Perhaps that is a “utopic” view of the world.

I was taught through years of Sunday school truths like:

  • “The heart is deceitful, above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer 17.9)
  • “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts… [and so on]” (Mark 7.21)
  • “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands; there is none that seeks after God.” (Rom 3.10-11)

I still believe those truths. I know I find it harder to respond to life in a way that reflects God’s image… than I do to respond in a way that reflects my own sinfulness, even after 40 years of walking with Him.

But does that mean we give up on looking for the glimpses of His image in others? That we don’t encourage ourselves and others to become what God created them to be?

When Jesus commissioned and sent out the disciples (Matthew 10), He foretold danger. This business we are about is a risky business. The possibility of hurt or worse is high. I love how Matthew Henry puts it: “Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith….” Jesus was downright blunt:  He was sending them as sheep among the wolves. Yet, at the same time, He gave rather specific instructions about how to approach such a daunting task: Be “wise [intelligent, prudent, sensible] as serpents and [at the same time, be] innocent [simple, unsophisticated, sincere, blameless] as doves.”


Human nature seems to swing towards reactive extremes where Jesus advocates balance: sensibility combined WITH simple sincerity… intelligence coupled WITH innocence. Innocence must temper wisdom – otherwise we are nothing more than crafty manipulators. Innocence must be solidified by wisdom – otherwise we become ineffective, disregarded do-gooders.   Innocence just may keep us from harming others; wisdom just may protect us from needless harm. In the words of Thomas Watson, “…innocence without wisdom is too weak to be [productive]. Wisdom without innocence is too subtle to be good.”  One extreme tempers the other – and what a beautiful analogy! Blacksmiths have long known that both the hardness and the elasticity of metals are improved by reheating and then cooling. This process makes the metal both stronger and more resilient. Metals are, effectively, improved when elasticity counterbalances with strength. And this knowledge about metallurgy has been around since before the time of Jesus! The oldest known example of tempered metal is a pick axe discovered found in Galilee, and that dates from around 1200 to 1100 BCE [1].

So yeah… I’ve been thinking about this in light of current world events… while remembering that there’s “nothing new under the sun…” and also knowing that we are sent as sheep sent among wolves… without forgetting that all humans have God’s indelible image stamped within…



Where do you see a lack of balance between wisdom and innocence as our world (Christians in particular) responds to recent events?

Are you more likely to skew to the side of wisdom or innocence? In light of that tendency, how do you find a balance between the two extremes?

[1] Roberts, G. A., and George Krauss. Tool Steels. 5th ed. Materials Park, OH: ASM International, 1998. 2. Print.

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Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|

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