“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, NIV)
A pastor said recently, “… It is hard right now, feeling like you are walking on eggshells on all sides. At times one is afraid to speak or even to ask questions out of fear or the concern of getting hurt.” There is concern that if we say the wrong thing even if our motives are pure, but our articulation is imprecise or awkward, we will encounter a backlash or even face the prospect of being “canceled.”
To illustrate my point, I recall a line from the theme song of the television show, “Monk,” which says, “it’s a jungle out there.” Under normal circumstances, it might be considered a witty illustration of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” but now we must concern ourselves if the word “jungle” is going to trigger someone, causing them to react and respond to us with hostility or disdain. Some critiques are deserved, but how can we be effective communicators of the gospel when we become self-conscious of every word that we speak?
Jerry Newcombe in an article called “The Antidote to Cancel Culture,” on the American Vision website said:
“Cancel culture, which is political correctness on steroids, demands rigid conformity to a stifling, ever-changing set of rules, so that things that were uncontroversial a decade ago are now fireable offenses. It requires yesterday’s heroes to live up to today’s momentary standards—and if they don’t, we need to tear them down.”
Since we are being sent out as “sheep among wolves,” it would serve us well to understand what it means to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Everything within us tells us that we are overmatched in the natural. Wolves are predators and sheep are dinner! Without the shepherd, the sheep are in trouble. Douglas Sean O’Donnell provides this commentary:
We are to be as sheep—peaceful, nonviolent, vulnerable, fully dependent on the shepherd to lead, provide, care for, and protect. But we are not to be as sheep in their sheepishness or in their foolishness. That is why Jesus adds the bit about the snake and the dove. We are to be shrewd but innocent, a rare combination of characteristics that we usually put backwards. It is easy to be as “guilty as serpents and as stupid as doves.” Instead we are to be godly but not gullible—snake smart, but not snake sneaky. For our character commends Christ; our godliness proclaims the gospel.
The present climate is difficult to navigate. We will be misunderstood and taken out of context. This should challenge us to stay close to the shepherd and at times our words, especially if it is the Word “hidden in our hearts,” will offend, but God can use those words to accomplish his purposes. How we live and conduct ourselves in the face of conflict will determine our effectiveness: “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:14–15, NLT)
Jesus’ call for us to go out as “sheep among wolves” is just as true for us today as it was for those first disciples and believers down through the ages; the preparation and character qualities are still the same. N. T. Wright says it like this: “Though we face different crises and different problems to those of the first disciples, we still need that finely balanced character, reflecting so remarkably that of Jesus himself. If we are in any way to face what he faced, and to share his work, we need to be sure that his own life becomes embodied in ours.”
Finding the proper balance between “shrewdness” and “innocence” while operating in a hostile environment requires divine help. A few verses later in Matthew, Jesus says, “And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there;” (Matthew 10:19, Message).
Our prayer should be “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NLT). If this is our attitude, we can speak with boldness and not be afraid of walking around on “eggshells.” In a world where many are looking for justice, the words of Oswald Chambers are as relevant today as they were a century ago: “Never look for righteousness in the other person, but never cease to be righteous yourself. We are always looking for justice, yet the essence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is— Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.”
 Jerry Newcombe, July 20, 2020 https://americanvision.org/23854/the-antidote-to-cancel-culture/