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Finding the Right Balance

Jesus instructed the apostles, “Behold, I sent you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

God’s people are often likened to sheep. When they are pictured that way, their leaders and teachers are commonly called shepherds (e.g., 1 Peter 5:1-3). In this application, however, the apostles were just sheep, too.

The apostles’ work—here, it was preaching to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 6)—would not be easy. In fact, it would be dangerous. Some had already reacted violently to Jesus. His followers, therefore, who were advocating His cause, could expect the same response.

Given the challenge, the apostles needed to approach their work with balance. Doesn’t it seem like an odd sort of balance that Jesus commends, trying to be like serpents and doves? Are any two animals more dissimilar: a dove, the epitome of harmlessness, and a snake, which most of us gravely fear? Nevertheless, the apostles needed a little of each.

Finding the right balance is a constant challenge for every child of God. I struggle with it, and I’m sure you do, too.

Take patience, for example. The Bible teaches us to be patient with each other (Ephesians 4:1-3), especially those who are weaker or younger in the faith. It takes time for folks to mature in their thinking and application of Bible truth. At some point, however, there is such a thing as too much patience; it becomes an unacceptable tolerance of sin (Revelation 2:14-15, 20-21). Thus we ask, Am I being patient, or have I compromised the standard? The answer is not always clear.

When brethren persist in wrong, either doctrinally or in conduct, the Bible teaches us to mark and turn away from them (Romans 16:17), to stop associating with them (1 Corinthians 5:9). Jesus’ own words were, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). But then we have this counterbalance: “Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (1 Thessalonians 3:15). It is not always easy to know what or how much to say or do in such circumstances, especially when family ties enter the mix. If you haven’t wrestled with a specific application here, you’ve likely got way too much dove or serpent in you!

Tact is valuable, until we become so tactful that we don’t get the point across. Generosity is good, until we provide so much that we enable laziness. Sympathy is uplifting, until ongoing expressions of it feed self-pity.

May God bless us with wisdom to find the right balance of serpent and dove.

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