What do they have in common? I would not use them in the same sentence. Jesus did. He tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16) as we go into a world that does not know our message and doesn’t want it. Snakes are shrewd, quick, and cautious. Doves are harmless and without guile.
Can we be both at the same time? Sometimes. I gave a corrective word to a member of our household. I used some wisdom in what I said but not kindness in how I said it. I gave force to my words, even though I did not raise my voice. I was not a dove. The Lord convicted me of not representing the gentleness of Jesus, and I asked for forgiveness.
Titus encourages us “to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all men” (3:2). Paul told Timothy to be gentle even toward those who opposed him (2 Tim. 2:25). Admonitions often arise with a sense of righteous indignation. They take us over the top, and we lose the innocence. Think Phil Robertson. Done that. Think Westboro Baptist Church. Haven’t done that. Shame on them for grossly misrepresenting both the wisdom and gentleness of God.
Grace without truth is sentimentality, but truth without grace is brutality, and you end up with neither. Westboro needs to know that “the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). They not only have adopted the wrong methods—they changed the message. Phil got the message right, for which I applaud him. He probably used too much force and some of the wrong words to communicate the truth about human sexuality. Westboro proclaims an angry god who hates homos. Not even close. God hates spending time with proud people. They remind Him of Satan. The pastor didn’t notice when God left the building.
So would you rent to a young Christian couple with good jobs and a desire to follow Jesus if the guy has a DUI from a year ago? I say ask Jesus, “Is this the time to be shrewd or innocent?” The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is wielded best by the Spirit of God. He will tell you which side to come down on. With some interactions, we show some of the serpent and the dove. With other issues, we will move to this side or that. That is not being wishy-washy. It is listening to God who is the Spirit!
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). We prove we are in the family by the way the Spirit guides us. And Jesus said He would guide us into all the truth! An incredible promise.