What role does risk-taking play in the Christian life? Should Christians take risks? And, if so, how do we know how far to go? Is there a point when our risk-taking becomes foolishness instead of faithfulness?
As I have wrestled with these questions over the years, I have been regularly challenged by the testimony of the Gospels, which presents an overwhelming picture of what we might call “faithful risk-taking.” Time and again in the Gospels, we see examples of people taking risks that are motivated by their faith in Christ. In Matthew 8–9, for instance, we see no fewer than six examples of individuals who took a risk and stepped out in faith: the leper who alone approached Jesus (8:1–4), the centurion with the paralyzed servant (8:5–13), the paralytic and his friends (9:1–8), the ruler whose daughter was ill and the hemorrhaging woman (9:18–26), and the two blind men (9:27–31). In four of the six situations, we are explicitly told that Jesus responded to the individual’s faith—as it was manifested in risk-taking—by granting each what he or she desired.
We see this same emphasis on “faithful risk-taking” in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Both the five-talent and the two-talent servants went “at once and traded with” the talents that had been entrusted to them. In other words, they put those talents at risk for potential loss. But the one-talent servant did not do so. Fearing loss and shunning risk, he buried his talent in the ground where he knew it would be safe from all loss. Tellingly, the reason he did this was because he did not really know the master (v. 24) and was a “wicked and slothful servant” (v. 26). The five-talent and two-talent servants knew the Master differently than the one-talent servant. They knew him in such a way that they did not hesitate to take a risk with his property. And in each case, we are told that the master blessed their faithful risk-taking with 100 percent returns. It is interesting that the five-talent servant earned five talents in return, and the two-talent servant earned two in return—a 100 percent increase, though I do not want to read too much into this. Jesus’ point would have been unaffected if the five-talent servant had earned only three and the two-talent servant only one. But the 100 percent return seems to suggest what Matthew 8–9 also teaches, that God responds to faithful risk-taking not just moderately but overwhelmingly and abundantly.
But how far should we push this? Is there ever a point when our risk-taking can become foolish? And, if so, how do we recognize that point? Quite simply, I think, the key lies in faithful risk-taking. It is not risk-taking to which God responds. It is faith. God responds to faith that manifests itself in taking risks and stepping out by trusting Him. If our risk-taking is faith-full, it cannot be foolish—no matter how incredible the risk or unlikely the outcome (see Matt. 21:21–22).