In Philippians 2:25-30, Paul writes to the church in Philippi to explain why he was sending a messenger-helper named Epaphroditus back to them. He was sick… very sick. Epaphroditus wanted to stay true to his mission of joining Paul in spreading the Good News, but things got serious when it was apparent that death was inevitable unless he went home and got better. Paul was anxious, the congregation was anxious, and Epaphroditus was eager to (cough, cough) keep (cough) going on with (cough, cough)… I just need to lay down for a second. Paul stroked his beard and said brother, you need to recover… and it won’t be here. I’m sending you home.
Epaphroditus had no reason to fear failure or rejection. Paul calls him a brother (in Christ Jesus, we are all brothers and sisters), a co-worker (we are on a shared mission to build the Kingdom) and a fellow soldier (we need each other to guard, to fight, to strengthen against evil). The most glowing words from Paul come in verse 30, saying that Epaphroditus almost died for the work of Christ! He risked his life to help! This is most certainly an honorable discharge.
I imagine that many people were praying for Epaphroditus to get better. Why didn’t God heal him? Well, for whatever reason, the healing was to be had off the mission field. Epaphroditus didn’t tap out, though. He pushed on with the risk, putting his own health — his own physical well-being — on the line. Someone else had to make the call and say “that’s enough”.
What drives a person to do this? Why do people take risks like that? Where is the common sense? What’s Epaphroditus trying to prove, anyway?
Ah, but here’s an even more relevant question for us in the 21st century: are we supposed to take risks like that?
First, let’s just come out and say it: everything in our culture pushes us to be risk averse. We wager our chances of success against our chances of failure/loss and make a decision, hoping for the best. Buy that fixer-upper house? Risky. Take that job offer? Risky. Pursue the new yet untested medical procedure? Risky. The scales come out, others are consulted, and we make a decision. This is called wise living, a method strongly encouraged by the book of Proverbs and others. But how does risk aversion impact our discipleship? Immensely.
Do I take a risk and… trust God with my finances? Trust God with my marriage? My time? My life? How does the profit/loss column look? Too risky? I’d better not. I choose safety over adventure… over obedience, really.
If Epaphroditus chose safety over obedience, his name wouldn’t be in the most famous book ever printed.
If Paul chose safety over obedience, we wouldn’t have an example of a Christ follower who chose joy, regardless of the circumstance. Oh, and… we probably wouldn’t have the church as we know it, either.
If Jesus chose safety over obedience, we’d be lining up the animals for the sacrifice, and my hands would smell like a Levite’s. So gross. But that would be the least of my problems. Where would I be without the Lord Jesus?
In fact, it is Jesus who makes holy risk possible. He’s the Great High Priest who gives us everything we need (Hebrews 7:23-28). He’s the one who calls us to risk, saying Come on out of the boat and walk on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). He’s the one who calls us to a new community of believers who join us as brothers/sisters, co-workers and co-soldiers who push/pull us as we journey together (Philippians 2:28-30). We’re risk averse because we’re afraid of losing what we’ve got. Indeed, this is wisdom. But wisdom also has a component of obedience and faith, and these values run counter to the world at large. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should expect as much.
Wisdom: the way of knowledge + obedience. Risk: the way of obedience + adventure.
Foolish risk: The needle is on E, but I can keep driving until the next exit.
Wise risk: God is calling me to have a spiritual conversation with a coworker. I might be embarrassed or marked, but I have everything I need in Christ.
Foolish risk: I overspent for Christmas, hoping that I get enough overtime in January.
Wise risk: I think God is calling us to sacrifice a bit and give more to the poor.
Confession: I’m really good at making lists of why I shouldn’t do something I think God is calling me to do. I often present this list to Him, just in case He’s not seeing the situation from every angle. Ha! So glad He loves me anyway.
I’m really good at ignoring the whisper of the Holy Spirit in situations where risk is apparent. I always say well, next time… as if God will just keep on trying to use a clogged pipe for His living water.
I’m pretty good at looking to Jesus when I get out of the boat to walk on the water with Him, but I’m really good at noticing the waves and the deep water under my feet. I chalk it up to my motto: safety first! Though I looked away, Jesus did not. He saw me, rescued me from drowning, and then asked why did you doubt? A fair question for a person of faith, as I claim to be.
- Know the voice and face of Jesus. Recognition is vital when it comes to taking holy risk.
- Consider the risks against the reality of knowing Jesus ,not against the values of the world. Jesus has truly met our need. He won’t leave us hangin’.
- Look to brothers and sisters in the church you’ve gotta be an active part of a church) so that you have help in discernment and accountability in obedience.
- Watch for the joy that comes from total trust in Jesus. In this case, the payoff for the risk is joy unspeakable.