“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
These are among Jesus’ words to his disciples, the Twelve, as he was preparing them to be sent, two by two, out into the world. He commended the wisdom, or shrewdness, of the serpent to them. Here is the larger context Matthew 10: 1-23:
“Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13 If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. 14 Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”
One can observe Jesus’ experience with and appreciation for the ways of the serpent in his own very personal direct assault from the unmasked satan in the account of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness in Luke 4. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and was taken into the wilderness, we are told, by the Spirit, where he was to be tested. In reading of this encounter in Matthew 4 and in Luke 4 we see that Jesus knew why he was in the wilderness, fasted and in keeping with the Hebrew tradition of fasting one would understand that Jesus was also praying. Jesus knew that it was coming, knew the real source of the testing, knew what weapons to use against the Enemy, and succeeded in fulfilling the Father’s will through it all. Prayer, fasting, and use of the Word were Jesus’ equipping.
Notice, additionally, the final observation offered by Luke:
13 “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.”
Satan is an opportunist.
God, in all His Triune Godhead, knows this. And Jesus Christ tells us that we should know it, too. The Enemy is shrewd, which is a different kind of wisdom than that which comes from God. Watch out for shrewd opportunists who try to disguise or insinuate their presentation, their motivation, or their application of their true selves. Note also in these accounts and others that satan is not particularly creative. He uses the same tools again and again. As 1 John 2:16 describes them as “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The same three tools were used against Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7) a these three used against Jesus in the wilderness in these two Gospel accounts. And as John tells us, they are the same tools used against all humankind over and over again. They are, in fact, “all that is in the world.” These three motivations are the root, the lowest common denominator, of all temptations that exist and are the fountainhead of all sinful behavior.
Opportunism, in and of itself, is not evil. How it is used, however, can be.
The Apostle Peter shed some additional light on this matter of opportunism, of taking being ready for whatever circumstances and timing come so that we can make the most of it, but also of the necessity of remaining grounded in virtuous living, according to the example set by Jesus Christ. Opportunism, used by God for advancing the Kingdom of God is not bad thing. Christ could commend it to his disciples, reminding them that, with that skill, they were to be equally careful to bring the gentleness of the dove, representing the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Peter, better than most, would know well the craftiness of the Enemy’s deceptions. He got caught in them more than a few times. Yet Jesus’ could see right through them, even making a way for redemption when one falls victim to them. Peter himself perhaps appreciated this more than most and the ease with which the unsuspecting, unprepared person can be caught in the snare.
In 1 Peter 1:6-13 we are cautioned to be ready for the Enemy’s attacks, especially in times of suffering:
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. 13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”
And in 1 Peter 3:8-16 he reminds us again to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit and be ready:
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a]
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
And again, in 2 Peter 1, we hear these words:
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,” To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and [e]excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” CBB 5-25-20