Shrewd Innocents

January 2013

The recent foiling of an attack on a Turkish pastor got me to thinking again about a passage that Jesus used to instruct his followers on how to respond to the “wolves” who would hunt them. He says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16 – NIV84) Our Lord uses two interesting counterpoints to express the attitude of His followers: shrewdness (prudence or wisdom) and innocence (harmlessness or simplicity). But how is it possible to be both innocent and shrewd? Doesn’t innocence preclude being shrewd? Too often it seems that we either are too shrewd for our own good, descending into cynicism, or else too innocent and naïve, putting ourselves and other believers in danger. Where is the balance point?

D.A. Carson writes, “So Jesus’ disciples, in their mission as sheep among wolves, must be ‘shrewd,’ avoiding conflicts and attacks where possible; but they must also be ‘innocent,’ i.e., not so cautious, suspicious, and cunning that circumspection degenerates into fear or elusiveness.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Ed.)

How does this look in everyday life? How do we display the “manly combination of unflinching zeal and calm discretion” (Jamieson, Fawcett & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible) that Jesus calls for? I for one have not yet found the balance between these two, more often erring on the side of shrewd cynicism rather than innocent naïveté. Perhaps one way is to approach people with open goodwill, yet reminding ourselves that no one comes to find out about Jesus with pure motives. Even if these people seem open and friendly, they may be plotting our demise behind our backs. Shrewdness will look for signs of this for the protection of ourselves and others. Innocence will welcome them with open arms, loving them as Jesus loved Judas Iscariot: selflessly and to the uttermost.

The key is in Matthew 10:20: it is the Holy Spirit – God Himself – who gives us what we should say when we must say it. And that is comforting.