Innocent as Doves, Shrewd as Snakes

I exercise 4 times a week on a treadmill in my office. I watch Korean TV dramas as I exercise. I’m usually so eager to see the next episode that I rarely miss a day.

My favorite shows are heart-warming human dramas, and the main characters are usually nice people. But these nice characters sometimes drive me crazy. They’re so naive! They give away important information when bad characters pry into them. They say menacing things like “You’ll get what you deserve” to an evil person when no one else is around, risking their safety – even their lives – because you don’t know what evil people will do when they feel threatened.

Christians must be kind but wise. Jesus says, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)

One area in which we need to be wise is in applying God’s commands. We must judge whether commands are meant for individuals or communities. For example, God forbids killing in the Ten Commandments. But this command is meant for individuals. During wartime, if someone refuses to fight against invading enemies, he’s not loving but foolish. That’s why I disagree with radical pacifists who refuse to fight on the grounds that they’re obeying God’s command that forbids killing. They are foolish and hypocritical. Would they refuse to use force if their wives or daughters were about to be assaulted at gunpoint by an intruder?

I see similar foolishness in anti-death-penalty advocates. It’s possible for Christians to either support or oppose the death penalty based on Scriptural rationales. These are worthy of discussion. But using the Ten Commandments as an argument against the death penalty is foolish. When God said “do not kill,” He meant to not end another’s life for one’s own profit. The commandment applies to individuals. Elsewhere in Scripture, God also commands that people be put to death if they severely hurt the community, and that condones the death penalty for communities.

Leaders also need to be both shrewd like serpents and innocent like doves. We live in an evil world with evil people. When leaders cannot discern evil and recognize evil people, they may bring destruction to the communities they represent.

Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39). We should love evil people like Jesus did, just as he loved even Judas Iscariot, knowing full well that he would betray him. We should be willing to be used, lied to, and taken advantage of. But there’s a difference between being taken advantage of knowingly and unknowingly. The first is being innocent. The second is being foolish.

People of God: be as innocent as doves and as shrewd as snakes.

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