Wolves, sheep, snakes and doves…

16 Jun 2022

Following Jesus in a spiritual warzone

On Anzac Day, I watched a documentary on military chaplains in WW1 – courageous stories of gospel-light shining into the ‘blackout’ of the battlefield.

One chaplain had promised a soldier that he would return and deliver him a Bible the next day. As heavy fighting developed overnight, the chaplain was faced with the choice – “do I break my promise because the risk is too great? Or do I consider the Word of God and the spiritual need of this lost man of sufficient value that I will risk my life to deliver the message of the gospel?”

He chose to accept the risk…and deliver the Word of God.

Do these stories belong to a bygone era? Our society is risk-averse and death-phobic – we are ‘being trained’ to seek our purpose and pleasure in the here and now, so exposing ourselves to genuine risk seems like madness. Sadly, the ‘spirit of our age’ has shaped us more than we realise.

As we seek to engage with the mission of Jesus, let’s listen afresh to His Words in Matthew 10:16. Here, the ‘new recruits’ are given their first introduction to ‘boot-camp, Jesus-style’. As we ‘eavesdrop’ on this ‘briefing’ before their very first mission, we see three key emphases…

Jesus says – ‘I am sending you as sheep amongst wolves’

Jesus was sending His disciples on Kingdom business. He was sending them to ‘preach, heal and deliver’ (Matthew 10:7-8) and they were to expect opposition. Matthew 10 continues to describe what they would face – rejections (v.14), betrayal (v.17,21), floggings (v. 17), arrests and interrogations (v. 18-19), persecution (v. 23), life ‘on the move’ (v. 23) and martyrdom (v. 39).

These first disciples were being sent into a spiritual war zone – the risk was real.

And those of us who go to the unreached of our day should not be surprised to face similar experiences.

What sort of shepherd sends sheep amongst wolves? A bad shepherd who is malicious and aloof? Or a Good Shepherd who shows the way and lays down his life for his sheep! As impressed as we may be with the courage of Vlodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, he is nothing compared to our Shepherd!

Despite the risks of this spiritual war zone, we are not alone – the Lord sends…and He goes with…just as He promised in Matthew 28:20 – ‘…and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’

Jesus says – be shrewd like snakes – we need experience and wisdom

(Fun fact: this is the one time in the Scriptures that we are told to be like snakes!)

The Twelve were to learn ‘shrewdness’: to be on their guard (Matthew 10:17), discern who to trust (v. 11-14), prepare for relational conflict (v. 21-22) and to flee from danger (v. 23).

When we served, as a family, in a war-torn region of Africa, we were wisely advised to do security training. We learned how to be streetwise, develop contingency plans, apply risk mitigation principles, learn wisdom, build strategic networks, assess carefully – these were lessons in ‘snakey shrewdness’.

Our trainers were believers who knew some of us would face persecution and martyrdom in our obedience to the Great Commission. But they showed us that ‘dying on the mission field for being stupid’ is different to ‘laying down one’s life for the gospel’ – they helped us avoid the former…and be prepared for the latter.

Applying this ‘snakey shrewdness’ is mature faith in action – it can save lives, strengthen relationships, reduce harm, love people and enable mission in hard places for the glory of God.

Jesus says – be innocent like doves – we need trust and obedience

(Fun fact: the one other ‘like-a-dove’ image in the Bible is the Holy Spirit resting on the Lord Jesus – Matthew 3:16)

What does this ‘innocence’ look like amidst the many unknowns and uncertainties of the spiritual warzone?

Our Lord gives many examples in Matthew 10 – ‘pack light’ (v. 9), ‘provision will come’ (v. 9,11-12), ‘do not worry’ (v. 19,26), ‘you will have Spirit-given words’ (v. 19-20), ‘all will be revealed’ (v. 26), ‘you are known and loved’ (v. 29-31) and ‘it will all be worth it’ (v. 32,39,42).

Applying this ‘dove-like innocence’ is childlike faith in action – we trust and obey; our Father provides and protects; and He receives the Glory!

Following Jesus in spiritual warzones

Mature ‘snake-like’ wisdom and innocent ‘dove-like’ trust – this is how we are to face risk and follow Jesus in the spiritual warzones of our world.

Heavenly Father, please grow in us courage, wisdom, trust, and obedience to boldly live for Jesus. And may You raise up men, women, boys and girls from our generation and empower them by Your Spirit to reveal your Glory in the hard places of our world!

“I don’t know what the future holds but I know Who holds the future” (Jim Elliot)

  • Dr Graham Poole

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