A passage of scripture that I often find myself returning to is the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30. There’s just so much information and so many lessons that can be drawn out from such a straightforward story. You can talk about stewardship, accountability, faith …
One topic, however, that I’ve hardly heard brought out from the text is risk-taking.
When the master returned from his journey, he “settled accounts” with them — basically to have them report to him on their labor and the status of his investments. The one-talent man, as you know, was found lacking. But why?
The master’s response to the one-talent man is key here. In the ESV, Matthew 25:26-27 reads, “But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown 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.” [Emphasis added]. In this story, Jesus presents to us three levels of risk associated with stewardship. First, the five- and two-talent men did business with their allotment, doubling their investment. Second, the one-talent man took zero risk but received nothing to show for it. The master in this story also suggests a third alternative: the one-talent man could have invested his money at the bank, which would have had a moderate amount of risk but still some return.
It seems to me that, often contrary to our instincts, God expects us as Christians to take risks while doing His work. I would suggest the same is true at the level of the local congregation. I’m talking about the risk of failure. How ambitious are we in the plans we have to do work for God? Do we trust that things will be okay even if we try hard and mess up? This, I think, is a part of faith that requires maturity — the faith that God will stick with us even if we don’t succeed by our standards.
For example, say that you study with someone about the scriptures. There are several things that could go wrong, including you saying something that turns them off from Bible study or them misunderstanding something you’re trying to teach them. Is this a reason not to try in the first place? If you hadn’t talked with them to begin with, that “failure” would never have happened. I believe many Christians feel it’s safer to avoid evangelism for fear of “messing up” than to try to teach someone and something go horribly wrong. Think about this, though: if you hadn’t tried to begin with, and that person remained in their current standing with God before your attempt to teach them, would that actually be better for them?
I’d like to continue with some specific examples next time, but for now I’ll end with a very familiar story. In Matthew 14, we have the account of Peter joining Jesus to walk on the water. Even though Peter eventually doubted Jesus and began to sink, we still regard Peter with admiration in this account because of the faith that caused him to take a risk and step out into the water in the first place. Notice that, even while he was sinking, Peter still had faith in Jesus to save him. A risk-taking faith is one that not only trusts God enough to step out but also trusts Him to give us another chance if we fail.