16“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Jesus now warned the twelve apostles about difficulties in ministry (10:16-23).
“Behold [exclamation—call to attention], I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.
The Greek emphasis on the word “I” shows that Jesus held Himself as the cause for ministry among wolves. Wolves viciously tear their prey—defenseless sheep. Jesus did not hesitate to tell His followers what to expect.
Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Jesus’ servants need shrewdness not to give needless occasion for others to take advantage of them. They require a clear head in dealing with opposition. The word “wise” means prudent. However, that shrewdness needs qualification with a “harmless” approach. The word “harmless” carries the ideas of unmixed or pure. People who minister cannot do so with deception. The New Testament uses this word only two other times:
For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple [innocent] concerning evil. Ro 16:19
that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world… Php 2:15
People who minister need the balance between shrewdness and harmlessness.
The combination of shrewdness and harmlessness is quite a blend and tension of ideas. No Christians who serve Christ should be weak; they should never allow themselves unnecessary exposure to risk.