Regardless of your religious beliefs, you might be interested to know what my favorite verse in the Bible is.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
I know a few things about what God expects of me. He wants me to go out into the world and love on people and tell them of his great love for them, and what that loved motivated him to do for us. And, he wants me to care for others, especially those who society has cast off. Not only did Jesus make it a hallmark of his ministry on earth to care for those who were sickly, diseased, and/or rejected by their society because of a physical/spiritual/social affliction, but he goes so far as to say that pure religion is to take care of the widows and orphans (James 1:27).
We have this model of someone who made it their life’s work to care for the hurting, and share the good news about God’s love for us. That’s it. Pretty simple, huh?
I wonder why we get it so confused. Why we make it so complicated. Why we try to infuse what we know we are supposed to be doing with what we want to do.
As Jesus sent his disciples out to fulfill this mission, a mission that is ours who also know and follow Jesus, he left them with these words: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Shrewd. Another way to put it? Acute. Sharp-witted. Perceptive. Wise.
Be wise. But be innocent.
Whew. What an instruction.
In today’s political and socio-economic climate, my heart breaks for people who know God but are not innocent or wise in their calling. My heart breaks for those who don’t know God apart from what they are hearing us (Christians) say and watching us do.
I see people daily mocking other’s beliefs, then playing the part of victim when those they mock retaliate. This is not innocence.
I see people who are not content to live a life based on their own beliefs, but insist on confronting and arguing with anyone who disagrees with their convictions. This is not perceptive.
I see people with good hearts and good intentions, getting caught up in silly and divisive arguments or fears that pull them away from their very good and meaningful lives. This is not sharp-witted. This is not wise.
As someone with strong beliefs and personal convictions, I know that the flip side is that I will naturally be confronted with people with contrary but equally strong beliefs and convictions.
This is a natrual consequence of having beliefs. Of having an opinion.
What does wisdom look like, then, when we meet others who don’t think like we do? How can we use perception in our conversations with others whom we truly want the best for? How can we maintain an acute mindset when life gets messy? How do we stand for what we believe, yet remain innocent?
As always, for me, it’s about returning to basics. God never asked me to win arguments. He never asked me to mock those who don’t agree with me. He never told me to pick fights. He told me to go out into the world. He told me to make disciples. He told me to care for those who society casts off. And he told me to do all of this with wisdom and innocence.
He didn’t leave us an example of legislating good behavior. He left us the example of getting off our butts and getting to work to serve the people right in front of us. And we are to do this in ways that are both innocent but also uses our heads. We have to be sharp. We have to be wise.
Wisdom understands that people fight when they are scared, and loves them first, allowing the love of the father to transform their hearts, not a well cultivated argument.
Wisdom understands that people fight when they feel threatened, and that a humble and kind word can diffuse contentious arguments.
Wisdom understands that people fight when they feel like their world is built on the shifting sand of uncertainty, and offers them the hope of a life built on spiritual solid rock.
Wisdom perceives just how much is at stake, and REFUSES to get caught in divisive battles that draw our attention away from the fight that truly matters.
Wisdom understands that it’s not your job to convince other’s of the “rightness” of your beliefs, but to follow your beliefs with conviction and grace.
Wisdom understands that most people’s bad behavior is rooted in insecurity. Wisdom understands that insecurity strikes at us all – regardless of race, gender, or religious leanings.
Wisdom understands that more lives can be changed by people loving people than by public policy.
Innocence steps in and shows mercy, compassion, and grace.
Innocence loves the hurting individual heart, instead of condemning individual differences.
Innocence understands that none of us are spotless.
Innocence never seeks to perform the role of the Father, only ever fulfilling the role of disciple, servant, student, brother/sister, and friend.
Innocence remembers the call of sacrifice. Innocence remembers our EXAMPLE of sacrifice.
Innocence remembers our battle is not with flesh and blood.
Innocence understands that our guiltless standing was bought with a price, and LOVE was his name. Innocence understands that we have no right to demand or dictate that which is not ours to give, only ours to claim.
Innocence understands that Love was the motivation and Sacrifice the means for our salvation. Love and sacrifice. Love and sacrifice. Wisdom and innocence understand that you can not have one without the other.
I’ll admit to you; current events discourage my heart. But the response of people I know and love discourages me infinitely more. But I’m not worried. I know who I am. I know who God is. I know the example of Jesus. I know innocence and I know wisdom, and I see the work set before me.
Now, it’s time to get to work.
For what it’s worth. I thought I’d offer one tidbit for further thought: The Bible has a lot to say about how to treat others/strangers/refugees and those that the world has deemed “less than.” Want to know how much Jesus talked about protecting our own? Nada. Zip. Zilch. We aren’t in the business of self-interest as Christians. We are in the business of sacrificial love. If you are a Christian and devoting these current days to defending self interest – in any form – then you might want to consider whose example you really want to be following; that of Jesus, or that of the world.
A great list of verses that talk about how we are to treat strangers, here.