I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Today is day 3 of a year (or less) through the Bible. For the previous day, click here, and for all previous posts, click here.
Today, I read Acts 20-23. The prevailing thought I had throughout this passage was about how incredibly wise Paul was, and this could really serve us as an example of how to go about our lives.
Over and over, Paul remained true to his message, all while navigating social and political waters with skilful precision. Here are just a couple of examples.
25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,[n] Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”
26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”
27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
And he said, “Yes.”
28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.”
Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid,for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
Paul had been busy in the temple defending his case and his ministry to Jewish leaders. This was a temple where (supposedly) God lived among the nation of Israel, and only for them.
He lost them when he told them that Jesus himself had said to him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” the next verse says, “Up to this word they listened to him.”
Innocent as a dove, he simply stuck to the message of the one who sent him.
So when we come to this passage above, the Roman guard in charge of keeping peace in the temple (Jerusalem was a Roman city-state, after all) had gotten involved.
Paul knew that this question would throw a huge wrench in the machinery of a Jewish lynch mob. They wanted to string him up because of his teaching. The Romans would have been happy to oblige had he simply been some guy inciting riots in the temple.
But Paul was a Roman citizen. And he knew when to play that card.
Wise as a serpent.
6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away. . .
Here, in the very next scene, the same Roman tribune had called the Jewish leaders forward in the same room to sort out why they wanted Paul dead.
The important thing to know here is that the council was made up of a mixture of sadducees and pharisees. And all that means is that they were jews of two different schools of thought, or two different theological stripes; they disagreed on a couple of points. It is like saying, “he discerned that one group of Christians were Catholic, and others were from the Church of God.”
Totally different schools of thought. And in that moment, Paul said just the right thing.
Paul stated his opinion clearly.
Innocent as a dove.
But he did it in such a way that he knew the two groups would struggle and strive between them, eventually leading the Pharisees themselves to come to his rescue!
Wise as a serpent.
Maybe we can learn from this.
Can we speak the message of the gospel boldly, and still find ways to mitigate ?
Is it possible to work within political (family, workplace, or otherwise) structures or inside of social frameworks without compromising the message we bear?
Too “innocent like a dove,” and you lose the ability to navigate tough situations, ending up isolated amongst other believers.
Too “crafty like a serpent,” and you may win the favor of many, but lose the message you were created to bear.
In my life, this will be an important principle, as my family and I get acquainted to a life of ministry in Germany.
Praying that we can walk that line!
Grace and peace,