Matthew 10:16 is a commission from the Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles.  It says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”  This instruction came from the Lord while He was yet busy in His public ministry in seeking to save the nation of Israel.  Let’s read verses 5-6 which says, “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, GO NOT INTO THE WAY OF THE GENTILES, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  It would be after the death, burial, and resurrection that He would send His apostles out to all the world with the Gospel as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and TEACH ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The words of Matthew 10:16 are still applicable to us as we carry the Gospel to all those around us.  It is appropriate that the Lord would refer to His followers as sheep.  He says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  Believers are the Lord’s sheep and He is our shepherd…while those in the world are referred to as wolves.  The Lord sends His people, inoffensive and harmless as sheep, into an unfriendly and cruel world.  We can envision the position of the disciples would be like sheep surrounded by a flock of hungry and raging wolves.  Sheep are one of the rare animals that have no effective defensive or offensive capabilities.  They are totally dependent upon their shepherd to provide for and protect them. 

The Lord gives a twofold instruction to His disciples.  They were to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Let’s look at these instructions separately. 

“Wise as serpents.”  The serpent has always been the symbol of wisdom and cleverness.  We read in Genesis 3:1, “Now the serpent was more subtil (prudent) than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made…”  The wisdom of the serpent would save them from unnecessary exposure to danger. 

As believers, we really are sheep in the midst of wolves, so the Lord cautions us to be very wise in a world that did not love the Lord and does not love His followers.  The Lord tells us in John 15:18, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” 

“Harmless as doves.”  Philippians 2:15 shows us that the Lord wants us to be, “…blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”  We represent Christ in the world, and we should not be offensive to those we are trying to reach for Christ.  This does not mean that we are to be silent in the face of evil or that we go along with others in the name of tolerance.  We are instructed in Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”  Peace with all men should be our goal as we go forward seeking to be harmless.  However, sometimes standing for the truth will bring offence.  We must ‘speak the truth in love’ as we are instructed in Ephesus 4:15. 

This combination of wisdom and gentleness will allow us to function in the world as ambassadors for Christ.  I encourage you to read the entire chapter of Matthew 10.  There the Lord warns us of what we are to expect in the world.  It will not always be easy or comfortable for us as we seek to live for the Lord.  The very moment we accept Christ as our savior, we receive a host of enemies who desire to stop our testimony for the Lord.  The Lord confidently tells us in Matthew 10:26, “Fear them not…”  He tells us later, “I am with you alway.”  (Matthew 28:20).  We need not fear anything the world may do to us for the Lord is with us and will not leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5).  (435.2)