Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message #170
TEXT: Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Today, we are going to look at three reasons why Jesus commands us to be “harmless as doves.” Doves are very important in the Biblical narrative. A dove first appears in Genesis chapter 8 when Noah sends out a raven and a dove to see if the waters of the Great Flood had subsided. As you recall, the raven did not come back to the Ark, but the dove did come back because it could not find a place to land. Seven days later, Noah sent out the dove again, and this time it came back with an olive branch in its beak as a token of the dry land that was beginning to reappear. That image of the dove with an olive branch in its beak has become an international symbol of peace.
According to Dr. Joe Temple, “more important than the accepted symbol of peace is the symbol of purity, because that is what the Bible emphasizes — a purity that is emphasized by the dove.” In the Old Testament, under the sacrificial system, a family or person that was too poor to afford a lamb or a bull as an offering to God were able to bring two doves instead. In fact, that is what Mary and Joseph brought to the Temple when they went to present the infant Jesus to God. Additionally, when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Gospels tell us that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus “like a dove.” According to the Biblical Archaeology Society, “Before the cross gained prominence in the fourth century” one of the symbols that Christians used to identify themselves and each other as followers of Christ was the dove.
So what does it mean for us as Christians to be as harmless as doves as we face conflict?
1. Being as “harmless as doves” means being pure in our spirit and heart. Purity in the New Testament means to be undefiled by the world — not to engage in activities that will give rise to a root of ungodliness in our hearts. Ephesians 5, likening the church’s relationship with Christ to the relationship between a husband and a wife, tells us that we are to be ‘sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the word, That Jesus might present us to himself as a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.’
2. Being as “harmless as doves” means being pure in our lifestyle and actions. The dove is one of the most harmless and innocent creatures. It does not use its talons to hurt or its beak to attack other creatures. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, innocence in the Bible means “the absence of the guilt of disloyalty to God.” Being innocent in our lifestyle also means being blameless before man — being without guile or the willingness to deceive. As Christians, we should make it our goal to live in such a way that no man can accuse us of wrongdoing.
3. Being as “harmless as doves” means being pure in that we are meek in our attitude and responses. According to the Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, meekness is closely tied to gentleness or humility. Now, meekness does not mean weakness or resignation to events. In Numbers 12:3, Moses is described as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” Yet, Moses, empowered by the spirit of God, stood up to the king of Egypt — the leader of the most powerful nation on earth at that time in history.
Being as “harmless as doves” means being pure in our spirit and heart, being pure in our lifestyle and actions, and being pure in that we are meek in our attitude and responses.
Jesus’ commands for us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” are not contradictory. In this world which is hostile to the Gospel and to those who follow Jesus Christ, the wisdom, discernment, and ingenuity of the serpent is crucial for us to navigate the traps and pitfalls that are set for us by the devil and the devil’s people. The meekness, innocence, and purity of the dove is essential as we seek to be good representatives of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.
MUSICAL SELECTION: “You Alone”, by the Arkansas Gospel Mass Choir and “Thank You For All You’ve Done” by Beverly Crawford