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Jesus Only . . . our source of courage

Achieving God’s purposes involves taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. Heb. 11:6

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The story is told of a lowly soldier in Napoleon’s army. The emperor was reviewing the troops when suddenly the reins fell from his hand and onto the neck of his spirited horse. The steed bolted off at a gallop while Napoleon held desperately to the saddle. A private in the ranks stepped into the path of the charging horse and seized the bridle. The surprised horse stopped, and the private placed the reins back into his emperor’s hand. “Thank you, captain,” Napoleon said. “Of what regiment?” asked the private with a salute. “Of my own guards,” Napoleon said with a smile.

The solider took a risk, and it worked—promoted to an officer among elite troops. But the soldier’s risk might just as easily have failed. It might have cost him his life.

We too take risks. Some are small, some are large, some noble, some self-serving. But we all take risks, and we do it on a daily basis. People in the teaching profession take a risk when they enter the classroom. Farmers take a risk when they put their seed into the ground. Investors who put their money in the market—or take their money out of the market—take a risk. Anyone who decides to get married takes a risk.

Jesus pointed to one such risk-taker. The rich were putting their gifts into the temple treasure alongside a poor widow who put in two very small coins. “‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’” (Luke 21:3–4).

I have never been able to shake this example. She put in all she had? When have I risked in such a way? No one does that today. I am not thinking of stewardship here. I am thinking about righteous risk-taking, which goes far beyond stewardship. I am thinking of Jesus as the “all-or-nothing” Messiah. I am thinking of exact Christianity rather than approximate Christianity. I am thinking of “seek first the Kingdom,” of “only one thing is needed,” of the “greatest commandment.” These are high-risk statements—and Jesus uttered each to force us into a position. Will we trust Him?

The rich young ruler in Luke 18 could not do it and represents to this day an example of the person who decided to pass on the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13). He simply would not risk it all. It saddened him—perhaps he suspected that the verdict of eternity would be Jesus Only. Still, he looked the Messiah in the eye and would not take a risk.

We must be careful here. Just because we take a risk does not mean it is a righteous risk. Just because we take a risk does not mean that our courage comes from Christ or that our purposes are God’s purposes. We must be careful indeed, for we are prone to foolishness, pride and self-deception. For example, we can “take a risk” and succeed in building an earthly kingdom with the arm of flesh, but our success doesn’t prove that the risk was of God. On the other hand, just because the risk fails—in earthly terms—does not mean it lacked God’s sponsorship. Bonhoeffer could have sat out World War II in America but instead risked it all and returned to Germany. He was hanged just a week before the conflict’s end. This, nevertheless, was of God, and His purposes were accomplished.

Living biblically is a risk most of us compromise. I was experiencing warm hospitality in the home of a church leader when I quoted Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The leader jumped out of his seat and almost shouted “NOT in MY business!” “What?” I asked. “Not in my business,” he said. “I’d get killed.” There you have it—a mirror for us all.

Jesus once asked “‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?’” (Luke 6:46) My first response was “Well, Jesus, have you listened to yourself? What you say is impossible! You set the bar far too high. Nobody can do the things you say. You are being completely radical, and no one will risk this much deviation from the norm.” Later I happened upon 1 John 5:3: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Oh.

Missions are a risk—but the Word says it is not burdensome. Witnessing to your neighbor is a risk—but not a burdensome one. Service, sacrifice, suffering are risks. So is rest. Love is perhaps the greatest risk. Sometimes it is deadly. But God is the Judge, and as long as God adjudicates, love always wins—even if it is killed.

“‘However, I consider my life worth nothing to me,’” Paul said in Acts 20:24, “‘if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.’”

Shall we commit to this “risk” together, to “complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us”? He will give us the courage, and He will redeem the sacrifice.

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