Speech is an occasion for worry. Jesus charges, “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” (Matthew 10:19). We all face hostile, litigious, and intimidating situations that occasion anxiety.
Jesus anticipates this. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). We are litigious. Litigation is not harmful in itself. However, the ecclesiastical court is intimidating. Jesus warns, “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17). Civil actions are equally intimidating. “And you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18).
Hostility arises in families; brothers and sisters face off. Children challenge parents; parents denigrate children. “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” (Matthew 10:21). Hostility is often specifically religious. “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” (Matthew 10:22).
Jesus gives an essential principle to apply in hostile, litigious, and intimidating circumstances. “Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). To be wise as serpents requires preparation and study. We learn the thinking of our opposition. We live in a different world, a post-modern world, with superstition, interest in the spiritual, and a lack of commitment to absolutes.
We solidify our positions. Memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism provides an excellent systematic biblical base for our thinking. A recent Sterling College graduate confessed the best thing she did during her college days was to learn the catechism. It gave her a framework for thinking.
To be innocent as doves, we must be upright, righteous, and loving. We must be above reproach and above sin. This lifestyle does not mean being weak. Moses was meek, but he was not weak. He stood up to Pharaoh. He was also righteous and innocent.
Being wise as serpents and innocent as doves also means knowing ourselves. We must know our strengths and weaknesses, our gifts and inabilities. We should play to our strengths and allow others to carry the ball where we will stumble.
Remember the charge of Jesus? “Do not worry about how or what you are to say.” We apply the principle of Jesus in combating worry. Peter and Paul are excellent examples. Peter reminds us, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).
As already mentioned, being ready requires preparation and practice. Peter walked with Jesus for three years. He passed through a crucible of training and testing. Only then did he stand up in the Jewish courts unafraid, without anxiety. The Holy Spirit speaks out of such a reservoir of preparation. We must prepare our minds. Paul was bold before kings and mightily used by God because of his years of study before his conversion. We must also prepare our hearts. God used both Peter and Paul because of their servant-hearts.
How do you face anxiety? You know your opposition; you know your position, and you know yourself. You study to prepare your mind and heart. You know God. You become wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.