Please read Matthew 25:14-30 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
After counting the cost, faith takes risks.
Freakonomics is a franchise of enormously successful books authored by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The books enjoy worldwide popularity because they ask more pertinent questions and arrive at unusual answers that they substantiate with hard numbers.
For example, in one chapter of the book they ask, “If crack dealers are so rich, why do they live at home with their mothers?” The answer, it turns out, is that gang membership, like many legal businesses, enriches the people at the top of the organizational chart, while it impoverishes people at the bottom. They calculated that a street dealer in Chicago made just $3.30 an hour.
Why do they live with mom? Because at that rate of pay, it’s an economic necessity. I mention this because even though a study of risk versus benefit of crack dealing falls heavily on the risk side, there are people lining up for those jobs. This is a horrible example of ignoring the risks and misperceiving the benefits, with tragic results.
Our subject this morning is risk. Why are churches so averse to risk? How should people of faith look at risk versus benefit when making a decision? This is not merely a mathematical equation, but also pays attention to spiritual factors that can’t be expressed on a balance sheet. For us, the bottom line is discerning the will of God, arriving at a shared understanding of what God wants us to do. After determining a direction, we rely on God to supply us with courage and perseverance to follow through on our decision.
Jesus addressed the issue of risk in the parable of the Talents. Whenever we look at a parable, the question we must ask is, “What is the one main point of the parable?”
THE ONE MAIN POINT OF THIS PARABLE: The risk-takers pleased their master; the safe-player did not.
1. The “$5 and $2 Servants” did bear fruit.
We’re not told HOW they did it, but the results speak for themselves; the first two servants doubled their master’s investment. By means of contrast with the single-talent servant (whom I’m referring to as the “Dollar General”), we can infer that the $5 and $2 Servants were not WICKED or LAZY like the $1 Servant had been.
Two facts support this interpretation. One, verse sixteen plainly tells us that the $5 Servant put the master’s money TO WORK. Money at work is money at risk. You’ve heard “you have to spend money to make money?” Investing money or exercising it as capital to fund a business venture both require some risk of loss. You simply can’t do business without it.
Two, the fact that they GAINED money implies that they were willing to take some measure of risk and used the master’s money to make more money. Success comes to those who take risks; those who refuse all risk will never know success. This is true financially and in every other aspect of life as well.
The two servants received the same reward and the approval of their master. The servant entrusted with $5 made $5 and therefore earned more money than the servant who made $2. However, the master made no distinction between their rewards. Both servants received the same reward and the same commendation.
The reward both the fruitful servants received was a promotion: “YOU HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL WITH A FEW THINGS; I WILL PUT YOU IN CHARGE OF MANY THINGS.” This makes it sound like the master was testing the servants to see if he’d rightly evaluated their abilities. As verse fifteen states, the master apportioned his money to each of the three servants ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY.
Therefore, he believed the $5 Servant was the most ambitious and talented one. The master therefore put greater trust in him. The $2 Servant was not as ambitious or talented, but he still merited the master’s trust. However, the master suspected the $1 Servant was unreliable and didn’t put much trust in him at all. The master’s judgment was vindicated in all three cases.
The servants who pleased their master received the reward of a promotion and an enthusiastic commendation. The master said, “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT! COME AND SHARE IN YOUR MASTER’S HAPPINESS!” He called them GOOD AND FAITHFUL servants, commending their character and achievement. Notice the master goes beyond mere business and makes a personal invitation to join him in the HAPPINESS a successful business brings.
2. The “Dollar General” refused risk and was unfruitful.
We are told exactly how the unfruitful servant failed his master: he just buried the money. He was unwilling to take any risks.
In fact, he was so “risk averse” that he didn’t even entrust his buck to a bank, where it might’ve earned a few pennies of interest. He protected his master’s money but that was not the purpose of this little exercise.
He said he was AFRAID: his master knew better. He might’ve very well been AFRAID, but that’s hardly a good excuse (he may have been afraid of failure or rejection, these are genuine fears and/or excuses we have all experienced) and the master saw through it immediately.
Whether he was sincerely afraid of his master or not, the Dollar General attempted to shift the blame for his fruitfulness from himself to his master. He complained, “YOU ARE A HARD MAN,” and effectively said, “You expect others to make money for you.” This is what the redundant lines, “YOU…HARVEST WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SOWN” and “YOU…gather WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SCATTERED SEED.”
The master was unwilling to accept fear as an excuse and was unwilling to accept the blame for the Dollar General’s failure. The master threw the Dollar General’s own words right back in his face. He exposed the fallacy of his excuses by saying, “If you were really afraid of me, you should’ve at least deposited the money in the bank, but you didn’t even do that!”
The master condemned the $1 Servant. He exposed his true motives: wickedness and laziness. It sounds to me like the WICKED servant resented his master’s wealth and power. That was why he was willing to insult his master and be defiant at the time of reckoning.
The master also condemned the Dollar General as LAZY. He didn’t want to bother with the bank or anything else, he simply made sure he didn’t lose the dollar entrusted to him.
In verse 30, the master condemned the $1 Servant as WORTHLESS. These are three strong words of condemnation. We must not gloss over the severity of the master’s condemnation and use them to motivate ourselves - if necessary - to avoid deserving similar condemnation from our Heavenly Father, our true Master.
The unfruitful servant also suffered two stiff penalties. One, the TALENT he returned was taken away and given to the ten-talent servant. In this way, the master encouraged fruitful service. He said, “FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS WILL BE GIVEN MORE; HE WILL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE. WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, EVEN WHAT HE HAS WILL BE TAKEN FROM HIM.”
Two, while the fruitful servants were welcomed into the master’s HAPPINESS, the unfruitful servant was thrown OUT of the master’s presence. He was thrown INTO THE DARKNESS; darkness being a symbol of sin in the Bible. He was to be cast out of the master’s presence, into a place WHERE THERE WILL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH; signs of extreme regret, anger, and despair.
When taken in tandem with the other parables in Matthew 25 and Jesus’ introduction of them with the words AT THAT TIME (verse one), this part of the parable is clearly a warning of Judgment Day, when all of us will be called to account for how we used the resources God entrusted to us.
After counting the cost, faith takes risks.
Typically at this time of year, we inventory what God has done FOR us and are appropriately thankful. When did you hear someone being thankful for what God has done THROUGH them? When are we grateful for what God has done WITH us?
God has not called us to be “risk-averse.” There is no virtue in seeking a “risk free” life; indeed, there is no such thing. Risk is part of life; it is unavoidable. What we can do is attempt to minimize risk or manage it, taking on risk in order to accomplish more. We need a change of mind and heart on this point: we need to consider risk to be a tool we use to determine and do God’s will. If we never do more than we know we can do, we will never experience what God can do
To help motivate this mind-set, I will close by telling you about three churches I knew in a state in which I have previously served, all of them closed. Without ever running out of money, they ran out of people and ceased to be a church.
In one church, a single family ran off the rest of the congregation. The church never officially closed, but now it’s only used for family functions. They even put new carpeting in the sanctuary after they stopped holding worship service. Today it’s a doll house; a plaything for the family that makes up the membership.
Another church ceased operations, selling their building. It became a restaurant and bar.
A third became a hay loft; you can see the bales of hay through the windows.
I suspect these churches were populated by “dollar disciples” like the Dollar General in Jesus’ parable. As a result, none of them survive to our time as houses of worship.
What this age and this culture demand are daring disciples; people who will take on risk in order to have a witness and a work in our community. There is nothing less than survival at stake.