“Be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
You may be familiar with the Winston Churchill quote, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative by 40, you have no brain.”
I don’t know if that quote pertains to my understanding of “liberal” and “conservative,” but as a Christ follower, I don’t want to have a heart with no brain, and I certainly don’t want a brain with no heart! Jesus’ admonition to “be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves” sounds great, but how do we achieve that divine balance in a world with both the genuinely needy and the con artists?
Suppose a man is standing by the side of the road with a sign asking for money for food. The stereotypical “liberal” might think, Aw, poor guy! I’ll give him my cash. The stereotypical “conservative” might think, I’m not giving him money. He’d just spend it on drugs or alcohol.
What would you do?
Scripture has much to say about being kind to strangers, and that in doing so we might even be entertaining angels! (Hebrew 13:2) But in the story of the prodigal son, who had made some very poor choices, it wasn’t until he was totally destitute and “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16) that he finally “came to his senses.” (verse 17)
We know that someone who keeps helping another person continue to make bad choices is an “enabler,” and when God is delivering someone a wake-up call, we certainly don’t want to be that person who keeps helping him hit the snooze button.
On the other hand, there’s the chilling prediction that at the Judgment Jesus will tell some of us, “Depart from Me! I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. If you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for Me.” (Matthew 25:41-42, 45 -paraphrase)
When Jesus walked this earth, He was the picture of compassion, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, even preaching that we should love our enemies. At the same time, on at least one occasion He bluntly told the crowds, “You are not looking for Me because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26) He rebuked hypocrites and chastised those with ulterior motives.
Jesus had an advantage – He knew people’s hearts. Usually, we don’t, and when we think we do, that’s when we get into trouble. So, how do we get “the mind of Christ,” when our minds are finite, and the issues are so murky?
Prayer is always a good idea. Talk to God, and don’t forget to listen for His voice. If we don’t hear an audible voice, He could be speaking to us through Scripture. The book of Proverbs is chock full of wisdom. So are a great many other passages, but be sure to read them in context. We need to study all of God’s Word, or we will be more confused than ever. That’s why some people speak of “contradictions” in the Bible or quote only certain Scriptures to support their side of an issue; they’re reading only part of it and missing God’s perfect balance.
One of my favorite promises is found in James 1:5, which tell us that if we ask God for wisdom, He’ll give it to us. I’ve seen that promise fulfilled when an idea seems to get dropped into my mind. Sometimes the idea is relatively simple, such as giving a generous donation to, or volunteering with a reputable ministry that helps the needy with food, shelter, and employment.
As for the person on the street with the sign, I usually stop and give him/her a gift card for a fast food place. (I always try to carry a few in my purse.) Usually the person is appreciative. If I don’t have a card and the person is asking for money for food, I try to find a way to provide some food. Sometimes the experience gets interesting…
One day when I was visiting my daughter at college, we encountered what appeared to be a homeless man on the street. He asked us for some money so he could “buy a sandwich at the McDonald’s over there.”
My generous-but-smart daughter said sweetly, “I’d be happy to buy you a sandwich. What kind would you like?” The man didn’t want us to bother and said we could just give him the cash, but Kelly insisted on buying it for him. Finally, he said he’d like a fish sandwich, and we headed over to get in line.
After quite a wait, we got back to the spot only to find that the man had left, but another man was sitting on the curb, his head bowed and his long hair dangling around his knees. We offered him the sandwich and a prayer, and he accepted both. After the prayer we asked his name.
He replied, “Gabriel.”
I got a chill.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we have used our cynicism as an excuse not to help the truly needy. Forgive us when we have given with wrong motives, not wisely, just to make ourselves look or feel good. Show us how to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.” Give us pure motives and “the mind of Christ” each day to do Your will, in Jesus’ name. Amen