Sheep Among Wolves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Doing business in a land with different laws, customs and values than those one is used to is a difficult and frustrating process. For the past several weeks here in Bangladesh I have been meeting with government officials, lawyers, and others trying to finalize some necessary matters associated with our college property. To say that I am “out of my element” would be a gross understatement. I am not a business person even in the United States. Here, I really do not know what I am doing. I don’t understand the language, the legal requirements, or the customs and procedures. Help!!
Yet, is this not the situation that Christians face every day in this world? We are not “of the world” and our values, interests and rules are different from those we must sometimes deal with in everyday affairs. Have you ever wished you could just “suspend” your identity as a Christian for a little while, and take care of something, then go back to your religion untouched by guilt or regret? I suspect we all wish that, and certainly many try it.
But that is not an option to the sincere Christian, earnestly striving to please his Lord and impact this sinful world. There is a solution, however, one proposed by Jesus himself even before the Church was established. We must “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” What a paradox. And yet, how perfectly appropriate it is to our situation in a hostile world.
Jesus knew that all who genuinely sought to follow him would be at a disadvantage in worldly terms in dealing with the dishonest, the ruthless and the criminal. “Turning the other cheek” leaves one rather helpless. Loving one’s enemy makes one vulnerable, because the enemy is unlikely to reciprocate that love. Are Christians to merely be victims, helpless before the unprincipled? No, at least not entirely. Jesus permits, even encourages, us to avail ourselves of worldly wisdom and be prepared to meet others with at least knowledge of their ways. In what is perhaps Jesus’ most perplexing parable, the unjust steward is commended for his guile. Then Jesus states the “moral” of the story, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home” (Luke 16:9). Does he endorse or encourage dishonesty? Certainly not. But he does recognize the need for even Christians to have knowledge of the ways of the world that they may prepare to face them.
I don’t pretend to know just how to apply the above principles and texts. They have puzzled Bible readers for two millennia now. But I do recognize two principles they clearly teach. First, Christians are not permitted to engage in the sinful practices of the world, even in self-defense. “Be harmless as doves” needs little explanation. It is unequivocal. We are not to do wrong, to bring harm, even when dealing with the unrighteous. But the second principle is equally clear. Christians are not required to be mere gullible victims, na?ve and blindly trusting to the mercies of the unmerciful. Wisdom is required and encouraged, even the wisdom of the worldly.
And that leads me to a conclusion, perhaps something of an assumption. That is simply that God has not left us defenseless. We are restricted in how we may deal with the people of the world. But God is with us and he will help us. Deal knowledgeably, but honestly as a Christian, and then rely upon him who is our defender. Faith is the final answer, and it is enough.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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