If as appears more and more likely, Christians in the United States come under persecution (after all, believers have been being persecuted in China, India, Muslim-dominated countries everywhere, and other places too numerous to mention), if, as I say, we should feel the hot breath of the wolf in our faces, what then? When the Lord commissioned the twelve, He gave them several truths to cling to. Though our circumstances are by no means identical, His words still yield principles applicable to us today. Consider these.
1. God is in charge of the perils. Believers are not at the mercy of a mindless mob nor an immoral government. “Behold,” the Lord told His disciples, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16a). That’s right. The world is populated by vicious wolves whose sole objective in life is to attack and devour defenseless sheep. Yet, knowing the nature of the predators and the helplessness of the prey, the Lord sends the sheep out. Trials, danger, and even persecution are known by God and governed by His sovereign hand. Clearly, it is His will that His sheep live in a world surrounded by ravenous wolves. When He protects us during such times, He is glorified for His watch care. And when He permits us to feel the attacks, He is glorified by the faith His children rest in Him.
2. Don’t be naïve. “So be shrewd as serpents” is how the Lord expressed it (v. 16b). Beginning with the Fall in Eden, the serpent was an emblem of craftiness. God does not put a premium on a Pollyanna-ish view of life. We are not to believe as Scarlett O’Hara that a dismissive shrug of the shoulders will alter reality for the better. Like the serpent in Eden, we are to size up our foes, measure their strengths and weaknesses, and battle accordingly. Underestimating the ability of the foe or overestimating our ability to be faithful is foolish self-deceit. Whether the twelve spies or Gideon, God directed His servants to gain an accurate assessment of the enemy as well as their own munitions. The believer who puts his head in the sand and hopes the enemy will just melt away is about to be crushed under the tracks of a Sherman tank.
3. Do be gentle. “Be . . . innocent as doves,” the Lord said (v. 16c). As the serpent symbolized craftiness, so the dove symbolized innocence—simple purity. Gentle and slow in flight, the dove is virtually defenseless, the picture of perfect prey. Yet quiet and gentle, it evokes sympathy and affection. There is nothing devious in its actions. Unlike some birds, the dove’s flight is not silent, its wings making a whirring, trilling sound as they move. It cannot flee successfully; it cannot hide. It cannot defend itself, much less attack. And perhaps that is the key. Believers are not to respond to ravening wolves with violence and vituperation; we are to manifest the gracious spirit of the Lord who “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Pet. 2:23).
4. Trust the Lord. “Do not worry,” were the Lord’s words, specifically “about how or what you are to say” (v. 19b). But as the verse in the preceding paragraph indicates, we are to trust the Lord in every circumstance and for every need. The directive to avoid naivete makes it clear that we should remain as informed as possible about the dangers around us, but this command specifies that we should not allow that knowledge to foment fear or to provoke merely natural plans—whether offensive or defensive. We are to look to the Lord for guidance.
Paul assured the Philippians that “to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (1:29). It is a privilege granted to believers. Pray that we will not faint in the day of adversity (cf., Pro. 24:10, KJV).
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