“Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 KJV
Over the years it has been my privilege to observe ministerial leadership in several different settings. Many have inspired me through there godly attributes to be a better leader myself. One example is the pastor of the church I attend regularly (when I am not involved in ministry elsewhere). While no one is perfect, I have often seen him handle situations with grace and patience. Just in case you weren’t aware, church leadership is not always easy. So as a side note, pray for your pastors, chances are they need it more than you know. Unfortunately not all of my observations of Christian leadership have been good. In fact, I would even say that I have been able to see both ends of the spectrum and a bunch in the middle.
At one point in my life, I was working in a ministry outside the church. I won’t get into the details, but they do exist. It turns out that prisons, hospitals, and various other places have people that need to hear about Jesus to. While doing ministry in that secular setting, I was supervised by another minister who was not afraid to tell me of his faith in Christ. He encouraged me to share the gospel freely, which unfortunately is a rarity these days in such settings. It all sounds wonderful, except that this man was a bridge burner. Everywhere he went, you could see the flames from the relationships he had set ablaze. He metaphorically smelled of smoke and ashes. As someone in a leadership role he was known as somewhat of a bully. When things did not go his way he would become belligerent and even verbally abusive. It seemed that his wrath knew no bounds, and extended to both the unsaved staff we worked with and those doing ministry underneath him. Perhaps you have heard the expression, “no man is an island.” Well, this guy was an island, or he was fast becoming one because of all the bridges he burnt. Let me just say here that the intention of this post is not to beat on him, but to recognize that sometimes Christians have significant problems in the way they relate to others, beginning with Christian leaders.
It was obviously important enough that Jesus felt the need to address it with his disciples. In Matthew 10:16, he uses several analogies that help Christians to understand what they face and what they need to do. He starts by telling them that they will be sheep among wolves. Wolves love lamb chops. Jesus was telling them that the world they were being sent to would literally try to eat them alive. He wanted them to recognize the gravity of the situation they faced. Lost people of the world would at times make it their mission to trip them up, to make them fall, and to destroy their ministry. I am afraid that now a days nothing has changed. I know unsaved people that relish the failure of the righteous. Why, is a deeper discussion for another time, but perhaps it is because it makes them feel better about their own sin. Whatever the reason, Jesus’ implied advice in this verse is, “be careful”.
He follows this with the analogy of the snake and the dove. Of all the animals God has created, I like snakes the least. However, even I will acknowledge that they are not dumb creatures. Even the serpent in the garden must have appeared wise to Eve. After all she was willing to listen. We need to be wise in our relationships and not reckless. The dove is a symbol of gentleness and purity. Along with the animal I like to think of the soap. Is there anything more clean and satisfying than a new, white bar of Dove soap? We must be so careful. It takes very little to tarnish our testimony in a world of wolves waiting for the opportunity to pounce and devour. We can never forget what is at stake. You are the vessel that God will use in this world to share his love. When we carelessly set bridges on fire and discard relationships like yesterdays garbage, we are not being obedient to the call that God has placed on our lives as believers.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Bridges can be rebuilt, but it takes a lot of work. You need to clear out the debris, and new bridges are not build overnight. If you are reading this today and you have allowed your pride or your anger to destroy relationships, there is hope. First you must turn it over to God. Repent of your recklessness disregard for his work, and ask him to provide the materials you need to rebuild. Secondly be honest with the person. Honesty doesn’t fix everything, but it goes a long way with healing. If you can’t admit your faults, then you can never rebuild. Finally when the bridge is rebuilt, take care of it. Don’t allow it to fall into disrepair. Don’t fall into the same traps. Pray that in every word, action, and thought God would help you to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.