In Matthew 10:16, Yeshua told his disciples “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” At first glance, the second sentence seems almost contradictory. Shrewdness is defined as “astute or sharp in practical matters – keen, piercing”, whereas innocent is often defined as “simplicity; absence of guile or cunning; naivete” or even “lack of knowledge or understanding”. As you can readily see, these seem to be opposites, but innocence can also be defined as “freedom from sin or moral wrong”. This definition is more compatible with shrewdness and, I believe, is more in the spirit of what Yeshua was saying.
The context of this verse involves Yeshua preparing his followers for the trials that would meet them as he sent them out to teach in his name. He made it very clear that there would be dangers and was warning them that it would be necessary to expect the worst, but this specific warning to his disciples begs the question: why did Yeshua identify these two specific traits as being needed by his followers? I’m convinced that this is a stroke of brilliance by a truly shrewd teacher.
Yeshua knew the human condition. He knew that shrewdness is a quality of the mind, whereas innocence is a quality of the heart. Yeshua was revealing the need for a balance between the heart and mind. A person possessing shrewdness, operating in the absence of innocence, becomes a manipulator or user of others. On the other hand, a person possessing innocence, operating in the absence of shrewdness, is naive. Neither of these two outcomes is desirable in a follower of Christ. Yeshua needed followers with clean, blameless hearts that were nonetheless fully aware of the evil ways of men.
This sort of balance is still called for today. We must learn to never fear knowing the truth about this world and all the evil that resides in it so that we can be shrewd, while at the same time, we must be free from the love of this world so that we do not conform to the ways of this world. That is the bottom line. We can only achieve this balance when we allow our hearts to be filled with his LOVE. Only then is it possible to balance the head and the heart. So go forth and become shrewd innocents.