Some items when purchased are shipped with a ‘handle with care’ label on the box. This is generally to warn anyone handling the parcel that the items inside are items that can be broken easily. The person delivering or receiving the items will be responsible for using a gentle approach when handling the items. There are people who need this kind of careful handling, but unfortunately people don’t come with these labels. How then do we discern those people who we encounter who need careful handling?
Jesus’s instructions to his disciples to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves is quite an oxymoron. The two animals could not be any different in character. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). This is the story that most Christians think of when we consider the serpent. There are also many biblical references to the serpent being the Devil himself. The dove has historically been used as a symbol of peace and has been used to represent the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. How then do we balance being as shrewd as serpents, yet gentle and as calm as doves?
The balance comes from having the wisdom of God to discern how to approach and respond to people. James was able to sum this up in one verse. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). James is saying here that we need to be wise in a manner which makes us peaceful, having good reasoning ability, merciful and impartial. A wise person does not need to show off how much they know to others. But they use their gift of wisdom to build others up and to draw people closer to God.
Although people do not come with labels, God instructs us to be wise and loving in our engagements. Nevertheless our main priority should be to do no harm. We commit our relationships to God and listen for his wisdom as to how to proceed. It is useful to commit all of our relationships to Him and ask Him to show us the purpose for our involvement in the lives of people. Our primary objective is to lead people to God through our example. We lead without compromise as our life is a much louder testimony for people than our words.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).