Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16, NKJV).
Before Jesus sent His apostles into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature, He sent them on a limited commission to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6). Their message then was that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:7). They would need the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves to accomplish their mission. Both traits are still necessary for Christians who live “in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15). Consider the snake’s wisdom. (1) Snakes are aware of their surroundings. They are artfully in their pursuit of prey. We need to use heavenly wisdom as we try to seek and save the lost with the gospel (James 3:13, 17-18; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). (2) Snakes have heightened senses. The keen senses of a snake alert it to potential danger and its next meal. Christians must be wise about their moral and spiritual surroundings to avoid sin and partake of spiritual nourishment (1 Cor. 15:33; Heb. 5:12-14; 10:24-25). Consider the dove’s harmlessness. (1) Doves signify the innocence of a character. They glide gracefully through the air harming no one. Even so, Christians are to be innocent of guile (1 Pet. 2:21-22). (2) Doves signify the innocence of pure motives. Doves fly without malice; they are not predators. Doves were the humble offering of the poor at the Jewish temple (Lk. 2:22-24). Likewise, let us be pure in heart and humble in spirit toward all (Matt. 5:8). Our spiritual protection as sheep among wolves is wisdom and innocence.
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:17–19, NKJV)
The examples set by the apostle Paul and the other apostles form a pattern we must follow. By way of contrast, Paul warned there are many who appear to be following the apostles, but who are in fact “enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Not everyone who says they love Jesus, does in fact, love Jesus.) When will we heed Christ’s warning about false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing? “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-21). Likewise here, Paul describes these enemies as those who worship their own desires (“whose god is their belly”) and who set their minds on earthly things instead of things above (cf. Col. 3:1-4). Does it matter what a person believes and does? Absolutely! Their end will be destruction – eternal punishment (2 Thess. 1:8-9). We weep with Paul over the existence of such enemies of Christ. Many walk – but they do not walk in the apostolic pattern of revealed truth. Whenever we walk by our own desires and purposes, our end will be destruction, too. Let us be warned, and never become an enemy of Christ. Walk worthy of Christ by following the examples of His apostles (Eph. 4:1).
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15–20, NKJV)
Are you sure your preacher is preaching the truth? How do you know? Jeremiah warned of prophets who “prophesy lies in my name” by speaking “the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14). These two-legged wolves in sheep’s clothing continue to devour God’s flock by speaking error in the name of God. When someone speaks on behalf of God we must test what is said to be sure it is indeed from God. Our measuring stick is inspired Scripture, including what the apostles taught (Acts 17:11-12; 1 Jno. 4:1, 6). You see, it does matter what is taught and what is believed. If doctrine doesn’t matter, then why does Jesus warn us of the wolves?