Monday 29 October 2012


Examining the multiple meanings of the phrase, ‘wise as serpents’.

Serpents, creatures which personify Satan, are cunning and devious. It was a serpent which tempted Eve and subsequently brought about the downfall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus, who sent out the twelve disciples on a mission to reach out to their fellow men specifically told them:  “Here I am sending you out like sheep with wolves all round you; so be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  *  

They were reminded that people may shut the door on them, oppose or persecute them. But they were not supposed to retaliate. God, who was constantly on their side, would vindicate them. They need not fight their own battles.

Isn’t it strange that believers are exhorted to be like these slithering, elusive animals? But we are not to be evil like serpents. We are told to emulate snakes with respect to just one of its characteristics – wisdom.

In what areas of our lives should we grow in wisdom?

First, we should be wise up by preparing ourselves against deception. Jesus warns that deception will be a prominent feature during the end times (The Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24).

Believers have to be wise – in fact, extremely vigilant and discerning – if they want to stand up against deception in these last days. Satan is like a roaring lion who seeks to devour the weak and unwary (1 Peter 5:8).

And even the elect – supposedly mature leaders – can be deceived. If leaders are deceived, don’t you think the flock will fare even worse?

“For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

That is why it is so important to go back to basics. Be like the Bereans:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” ( Acts 17:11).

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Second, we should live circumspectly – with a sense of destiny in mind. We should seek to discover our primary calling and purpose in life:

“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God” (Ephesians 5: 15-17).

Third, we should live with a sense of urgency in light of Christ’s second coming like the ten virgins who had oil in their lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). We should be on our toes and pull up our socks, spiritually speaking. We cannot depend on the spiritual highs and experiences of yesteryear. How has our relationship with God been recently? Has it been vibrant and fervent? The oil in the lamps is likened to the Holy Spirit. Are we filled with the Spirit?

Fourth, how have we been using our time, talents and resources? Is it for the advancement of God’s kingdom?

Lastly, we should conduct ourselves wisely towards outsiders and be ready to give an account to those who need to hear the Good News:

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Peter 3:15b).

So there are many different ramifications to the phrase 'wise as serpents'.
*   We see a parallel here in the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward (Luke 16: 1-13). Though both the serpent and steward are evil, we can learn much from them in the areas of wisdom and shrewdness, respectively.
Jesus commended the steward for his shrewdness: “For the children of this world are considerably more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the children of light.
In essence, we are told to learn positive things from evil characters both the serpent and steward and use what we have learnt for noble goals.





  1. Thanks for the post Dr.

    I would like to add that in the context it also appears that we are exhorted to be wise so as to avoid unnecessary trouble.

    Our carelessness or lack of caution need not run us into needless trouble.

  2. Yes, Jabez. To be wise like serpents is mandatory during such perilous end times when deception and false doctrine abound. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour naive believers.