Relating with people is an inevitable part of our daily lives. As we rub shoulders with our colleagues, friends and family members, it is important to know how we should conduct ourselves in a God-honouring way. This week, we continue our study of the Lord’s commands to believers (as listed in Willmington’s Guide to the Bible). Let us consider the following divine injunctions that will help us to maintain a faithful witness before God and man.
1. Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves (Matt. 10: 16)
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Matthew Chapter 10 records the commands of Jesus to His disciples before sending them out to the mission field. In particular, the disciples were told to preach the Gospel “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10: 6). Amongst other things, Jesus said that He was sending them forth as “sheep in the midst of wolves”.
God’s people have been referred to as “sheep” in many passages of Scriptures (Ps. 95: 7; 100: 3; Jer. 23: 1; Jn. 10: 14, 15, 27; Jn. 21: 16, 17). Like sheep, they are mild by nature. Wolves are fierce creatures that seek out defenceless sheep to devour them. Sent forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves”, these disciples would be easy prey to a cruel and vicious world that would oppose them. They would have to face dangers, discouragement and difficulties in the ministry.
Jesus forewarned His disciples that they would have to suffer persecution for the Gospel’s sake. They were told to expect hatred and hostility: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10: 22). The world will not accept the Gospel message nor the Lord’s messengers. To prepare His disciples for the hard times ahead, Jesus exhorted them: “… be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Why did the Lord use these two animals as emblems to instruct His disciples? Serpents are cunning creatures. The serpent’s wily nature is seen in the way it subtly tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3: 1). Doves, on the other hand, are harmless creatures. In fact, the dove is widely used to symbolise peace.
The Lord “therefore recommends to them prudence and innocence; ‘be ye wise as serpents’, to avoid the world's injuries, and ‘harmless as doves’, in not revenging them. The ministers of Christ must not be altogether doves, lest they fall into dangers; nor altogether serpents, lest they endanger others. … Our Saviour in this text teaches us that wisdom and innocency should dwell together. Offend none by word or example” (William Burkitt’s Expository Notes).
What lessons can we learn from the Lord’s commands to His disciples? When sharing the Gospel, we must expect opposition and rejection. Let us therefore be wise and cautious in our approach. Present our testimony of God’s saving grace upon us in a non-offensive way. Refrain from getting into heated arguments which may mar our witness for the Lord.
“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” We may also apply this wise instruction of Jesus in our daily relationships. Speak and act wisely in every situation. As far as possible, do not offend or hurt anyone, but maintain a good and consistent Christian witness.
2. Be patient toward all men (I Thess. 5: 14)
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
In the context of this verse, the apostle Paul was exhorting the Thessalonian Christians to “warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak”. Interestingly, he ended the verse with a call for them to “be patient toward all men”, because “there is no believer who needs not the exercise of patience ‘toward’ him; there is none to whom a believer ought not to show it” (J F Brown Commentary).
The word “patient” (which is often used interchangeably with the word “longsuffering” in the epistles) denotes a slowness to anger; and endurance and forbearance as opposed to hasty and irritable reactions. Webster defines it as “a calm temper, which suffers evils without murmuring or discontent”.
Patience is one of the qualities of love: “Charity suffereth long” (I Cor. 13: 4). One who is patient “is slow to anger when abused, not quick of resentment, nor hasty to revenge when affronted; but exercises forbearance, suffers long, and bears much, and is ready to forgive” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).
Albert Barnes’ remarks are worth noting: “We must indulge the friend that we love in the little peculiarities of saying and doing things which may be important to him, but which may be of little moment to us. Like children, we must suffer each one to build his playhouse in his own way, and not quarrel with him because he does not think our way the best. … It is in such gentle and quiet virtues as meekness and forbearance that the happiness and usefulness of life consist, far more than in brilliant eloquence, in splendid talent, or illustrious deeds that shall send the name to future times.”
Brethren, are we “patient toward all men”? Sadly, most of us are easily stirred and agitated by the actions of others. Often, it takes a small offence to provoke us to anger. Let us learn to cultivate this lovely virtue called “patience”. Remember that we have our own imperfections. Others have theirs as well. So let us learn to bear and forbear. May the Lord help us to deal patiently with our fellowmen. Amen.