Can Christians actually be wise, prudent and shrewd in a world where much foolishness is promoted? Jesus told his disciples, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Are these just words Jesus dropped on his disciples telling them to be wise? Do we have any evidence that he actually taught his disciples how to be wise? Can we find in the Gospels any proof that Jesus was showing his disciples what being wise would look like as one lived one’s daily life and lived out one’s ministry?
Jesus realized naive fishermen had a long way to go to become the shrewd and wise apostles they would need to be in facing the scheming and conniving unbelief and opposition they would be dealing with in the world. Knowing this here is what we find him doing and saying in the four gospels and Acts that trained his disciples in being wise. This includes some Biblical verses to indicate some places one can find this.
1. He chose twelve men after praying to his Father. The number was important because this was a number he could be close to and actually help each one step by step become the wise and effective apostle they were being asked to be. (Mark 3:3-18).
2. He chose Matthew who, as a tax collector, knew weasels and was probably a weasel himself. He knew conniving and shrewdness and would listen to what Jesus said and notice how he did things from the point of view of one who is watchful for deceit, mischief and scheming unbelief and how Jesus countered it. Matthew could help Jesus teach the rest and also future generations. For example, the Gospel of Matthew points out King Herod’s seeking to trick the wise men (2:7,8) and the intentional conniving of the chief priests. (27:62-66, 28:11-15).
3. The Beatitudes totally contradict the world’s ideas of what wisdom, success & the American dream look like in God’s eyes. (See Matthew 5:1-12, Luke 6:20-26).
4. He kept bringing home to the disciples what an eternal treasure of forgiveness, life, and true riches they had in him versus any earthly profit or success they might decide to seek after or be lured into which in the end they would lose anyway. (For example, Matthew 13:44-50).
5. He prayed for his disciples, that they would put first things first, be united in their relationship to him and his Father, that they would be protected from evil. (John 17:11,12, 14-18: 18:8).
6. He warned them concerning self deceit, liars and the father of lies and the damage and bondage deceitful people could bring about. (John 8:42-47).
7. He trained them in prayer and in being watchful for the leaven of unbelievers like the Pharisees, saying “Watch and pray.” (Luke 11:1-13, Mark 14:38). See the Lord’s Prayer which states, “Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.”
8. He showed them again and again the opposition they would face and how deep this would go even among themselves and their own families. The wolves would always be there to attack the sheep, so being innocent as doves would not do it but there would be a need to be as wise, prudent, shrewd & seeing through scheming. (Matthew 7:15-23, 10:16, 34-39).
9. He warned them they would have enemies and so steered them away from being caught off guard, following a path of convenience and comfort to being alert, ready for setbacks, persevering through trials. (Luke 14:25-35, John 15:18-16:4a).
10. He lifted up shrewdness as with the shrewd manager in Luke 16:1-9. “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way-but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, & not complacently just get by on good behavior.” (The Message) vv. 8b,9).
11. He demonstrated to them how he saw through the tricks of those plotting against him and how he responded to such people—either by silence, by exposing their lies, by lifting up truth, by counteracting their scheming, by not being fearful of such people. (See Luke 20, also Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:8,9)
12. He showed them how there were ways of dealing with conflict, of not being controlled by evil plotters, if people had at stake being faithful to their heavenly Father, to the Gospel, to truth, to service, to love. (Matthew 5:38-48).
13. He empowered them to see that the Gospel ministry was ultimately not about personal success but about remembering who one is serving and how faithfulness meant being faithful to Christ’s commands and their relationship to Him. (Luke 16:10-13).
14. He protected them from being arrested when he was arrested. Wisdom takes grounded thoughtfulness and caring, not forgetfulness, neglect and apathy. (John 18:7-9).
15. He sent the Holy Spirit to bring to their minds what he had said and what the Scriptures taught. If they were open to the Holy Spirit and to the truth of what they had heard, they would always have a response to the foolishness, distortions, unbelief and mischief they would be encountering. (John 16:4b-15).
16. To be aware of Christ’s love that people may love one another and allow love to cast out fear, even the fear of losing an opportunity presented by a smooth talker. (John 15:1-17, Luke 12:1-7).
17. To lay one’s burdens down upon Christ so that one is not vulnerable by depending upon oneself for energy, for contentment, for satisfaction. To allow God to work and provide rather than being anxious. Seeking first the Kingdom. (Matthew 6:25-33, 11:28-30).
18. Foolishness begins by having one’s treasures be wrongly placed and therefore following the limited & in the end unsatisfactory agenda or idols. (Matt:6:19-24, Luke 12:13-21, 18:18-25).
19. Being wise does not mean being passive or simply a doormat but rather having one’s faith be active in love carrying out one’s ministry in the world with discipline and vision, following fully what Christ has asked one to do. Wisdom is found and learned in fulfilling what one has been assigned to be about. (John 16:12-15, Acts 1:8).
20. Wisdom resides in the Bible:When Jesus is tempted, he thwarted Satan by using Scripture & also he fulfilled his mission by fulfilling Scripture. (Matt: 4:1-11; 26:53,54 show this).