"Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?"
Perhaps the most colorful controversies center on the “signs (that) shall follow them that believe” – and most especially on the sentence, “They shall take up serpents.”
There are small groups of Christians that have interpreted this sentence in such a way that they hold live poisonous snakes in their bare hands as a key part of their regular worship services.
Other people dismiss this sentence as a reference (prophetic or otherwise) to St. Paul’s encounter with a viper in Acts 28:3-6 and as having no relevance to how Christians should live their lives today.
It is dangerous, however, to dismiss any part of Scripture as irrelevant to the life of a Christian.
That is not to say that we should all run off and wrestle with cobras. The words and example of our Lord himself are instructive: “'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'” (Matthew 4:7)
Our focus should always be on doing the work of the Lord. Signs and wonders such as snake handling or even speaking in tongues should not be our focus. “These signs shall follow them that believe” is not a command, but simply a description of what God can do.
We should consider also that there are many two-legged serpents in the world around us. We have no need to rush into the brush to test our faith with snakes: we encounter them everyday and we need to pray always that we may be strong in living out our faith despite the snakes and other perils around us.
We should not be intent on chasing after signs and wonders, but on doing the work of the Lord: to "preach the gospel to every creature." As we do the work of the Lord, the Lord may indeed choose to work wonders and even miracles through us. Yet we must also remember that as we do the work of the Lord, his will might be that we endure rejection, pain, and even death (as did our Lord and the Apostles) and that the infinitely majestic power of God might then be manifested through our weakness.
And he said unto me,
My grace is sufficient for thee:
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore
will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in necessities,
in persecutions, in distresses
for Christ's sake:
for when I am weak,
then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
We should not be intent on chasing after signs and wonders, but first and foremost, on doing the work of the Lord: to "preach the gospel to every creature."
Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.
(adapted from an earlier post)