by JD Greear
Jesus once told a story that established risk-taking as a necessary component of true discipleship. It was about a rich boss who left behind sums of money for his servants to invest. To one servant he gave five “talents,” to another two, to another one. A talent was a rather large unit of money: about twenty years’ salary! So, to one man he gave twenty years’ salary (in our terms, about a million dollars); to another double that; and to another, a hundred years’ worth.
“He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matt. 25:16–18)
The man with two million turned it into four, and the man with five turned it into ten. When the master returned, he commended the first two servants for their wise investment of his resources. But to the one that sat on it, he said:
“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:26–30)
Two things about that parable grip me. First, Jesus commended the first two servants for taking a risk with his money. Investing it means they could have lost it. That’s the nature of investing: no guarantees! Yet, Jesus doesn’t say, “What were you thinking? You could have lost all my money!” Instead, he commended them.
The second thing that stands out is even more startling, however: He called the one who did not take the risk “wicked.”
What had he done? There seems to be no stealing, immorality, or even reckless irresponsibility involved. He didn’t blow the master’s money on partying, prostitutes, gambling, or first-class accommodations in the Caribbean. In fact, he had not spent a single penny on himself. He returned 100 percent of what he had been given to the master.
And for that, Jesus called him “wicked.”
Most of us tend to think about wickedness only in terms of bad things that we do. But according to this parable, “wicked” can apply as much to what we don’t do as to what we do. Failure to risk our lives to the fullest potential for the kingdom of God is as wicked as the most egregious violations of the laws of God.
Do you ever wonder what character quality separated the first two servants in Jesus’ parable from the third?In other words, why were they able to risk for the master when the third one couldn’t?
I think we find a clue in how the third servant responded to the master:
“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” (Matt. 25:24–25)
The third servant did not trust his master’s goodness. Apparently, the other two servants knew that their Master was gracious —and also competent enough to handle any mistakes they made in pursuit of their risk.
Every great risk in God’s name begins with confidence in the goodness and trustworthiness of God. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment received healing from him because she believed in his goodness (Luke 8:45–46). The Gentile woman who coerced Jesus to heal her daughter did so because she knew there was so much grace in Jesus’ heart that “even the little dogs,” like her,could have some (Matt. 15:27).
The story is told that Alexander the Great had a general who approached him after many years of service to ask if he would pay for the wedding of his daughter. Alexander agreed and told him to obtain the funds needed from his treasurer. Soon thereafter the treasurer came to Alexander, complaining that this general was taking advantage of Alexander’s generosity. He was asking for an exorbitant amount of money, enough to host the largest wedding Greece had ever seen.
Alexander thought about the situation for a moment, then waved his hand dismissively and said, “Grant him his request in full.” The treasurer looked bewildered. Alexander continued, “My general pays me two compliments: He believes that I am rich enough to afford his request and that I am generous enough to grant it. In assuming these two things, he honors me.”
Our God is so good, gracious, and powerful that we can never ask or assume too much of him. We don’t offend him with large requests; we offend him with small ones! John Newton, writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” said it this way:
Thou art coming to a King, so with thee large petitions bring!
For his grace and power are such, that none can ever ask too much.
Any worthwhile kingdom attempt involves risk. C. S. Lewis said that the way to know you are living by faith is that what you are doing for God scares you. If it doesn’t, he said, there is no faith involved. So get comfortable with being scared. We have a Master who not only has commanded us to risk, but also has promised us that as we do so, led by his Spirit, he will multiply our investments in the harvest of his kingdom.
Our church has asked God to allow us to plant 1,000 churches and bless 1,000 cities by 2050. We want to send out 5,000 people as a part of those church planting teams. We have started a pastor training school that will train pastors and church leaders. We have asked God to let us baptize 50,000 people in the Raleigh-Durham area. We have asked him to let us be part of major awakenings in Muslim and European nations. Each year we try to give away more money and send out more leaders than we feel we can afford. Only when our giving scares us do we know we are getting close to target.
Some well-meaning people have called our vision “grandiose”; others, “foolish.” We believe, however, it is the required faithfulness to the Master who entrusted us with a small pile of talents to invest until he returns. He is gracious enough to compensate for our incompetence and would rather have us risk too much than play it too safe.
Where do you need to take a risk? Is the Spirit of God leading you to start the application process, or write the check, or walk across the street to knock on the neighbor’s door?
J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and the author of Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send (Zondervan 2015)and Jesus, Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014). Greear and his wife ,Veronica, live in Raleigh with their four children.