Risk and the Cause of God

Be of good courage and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.

My subject this morning is risk and the cause of God. I define risk very simply as an action that exposes someone to the possibility of loss or injury. If you take a risk, you can lose money, you can lose face, you can lose your life. And what’s worse, if you take a risk, you may endanger other people and not just yourself. You may lose their money. Their life may be at stake.

Will a Wise and Loving Person Risk?

Will a wise and loving person, then, ever take a risk? Is it wise to expose yourself to loss? Is it loving to endanger others? Is taking risks unwise and unloving?

Maybe. But maybe not. What if the circumstances are such that not taking a risk will result in loss and injury? It may not be wise to play it safe. And what if a successful risk would bring great benefit to many people and its failure would bring harm only to yourself? It may not be loving to chose the comfort of security when something great may be achieved for the cause of God and for the good of others.

Risk Is Woven into the Fabric of Our Finite Lives

Why is there such a thing as risk? The reason there is such a thing as risk is that there is such a thing as ignorance. If there were no ignorance, there would be no risk. Risk is possible because we don’t know how things will turn out.

“Choosing comfort may not be loving when something great can be achieved for the cause of God.”

This means that God can take no risks. He knows the outcome of all his choices before they happen. And since he knows the outcome of all his actions before they happen, he plans accordingly. His omniscience rules out the very possibility of taking risks.

But not so with us. We are not God; we are ignorant. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. God does not tell us what he intends to do tomorrow or five years from now. Evidently, God intends for us to live and act in ignorance and in uncertainty about the outcome of our actions. He says to us, for example, in James 4:13–15,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.”

You don’t know if your heart will stop before this service is over. You don’t know if some oncoming driver will swerve out of his lane and hit you head on as you go home. You don’t know if the food in the restaurant may have some deadly virus in it. You don’t know if a stroke may paralyze you before the week is out. You don’t know if some man with a rifle will just start shooting at you at the Southdale Mall. We are not God. We do not know about tomorrow.

And therefore risk is built right into the fabric of our finite lives. You can’t avoid risk even if you want to. Ignorance and uncertainty about tomorrow is our native air. All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways.

Exploding the Myth of Safety

My burden this morning is to help explode the myth of safety, and to somehow deliver you from the enchantment of security. Because it’s a mirage. It doesn’t exist. Every direction you turn there are unknowns and things beyond your control.

And the tragedy is that in the deceptive enchantment of security (where we take risks for ourselves every day without knowing it!) we are paralyzed to take any risks for the cause of God, because we are deluded and think it may jeopardize a security which in fact does not even exist.

The way I hope to explode the myth of safety and to disenchant you with the mirage of security is to simply go to the Bible and show you that it is right to risk for the cause of God.

Joab and Abishai

Our text is 2 Samuel 10, especially verse 12. The Amalekites had shamed the messengers of Israel and made themselves odious in the sight of David. To protect themselves they had hired the Syrians to fight with them against the Israelites. Joab, the commander of David’s forces, found himself surrounded with Amalekites on one side and Syrians on the other. So he divided his troops, put his brother Abishai in charge of one group, and took the other himself. In verse 11, which we have looked at before, they pledged themselves to help each other. Then came this great word in verse 12:

Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.

May the Lord do what seems good to him. What does that mean? It means that Joab had made a strategic decision for the cities of God and he did not know how it would turn out. He had no special revelation from God on this issue. He had to make a decision on the basis of sanctified wisdom. He had to risk or run. He did not know how it would turn out. So he made his decision and he handed the results over to God. And this was right.

It is right to risk for the cause of God.

Esther Before King Ahasuerus

Consider another example with me, this time from the book of Esther, chapter 4. You recall that there was a Jewish man named Mordecai who had been carried away into the Babylonian exile. He had a younger cousin named Esther whom he had adopted as a daughter because she was an orphan. She grew up to be beautiful and eventually was taken by King Ahasuerus to be his queen.

Haman, one of Ahasuerus’s chief princes, hated Mordecai and all the Jewish refugees and persuaded the king to decree that they be exterminated. The king did not realize that his own queen is a Jew.

Now, what did Esther do? She knew the law that anyone who approached the king without being called would be put to death unless he lifted his golden scepter. She also knew that her people’s lives were at stake. In Esther 4:13–14 Mordecai asked her to take the risk and approach the king on behalf of her people and the cause of her God. Verses 15–16 give Esther’s answer.

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

If I perish, I perish. What does that mean? It means that Esther did not know what the outcome of her act would be. She had no special revelation from God on this issue. She had to make a decision on the basis of sanctified wisdom and love for her people. She had to risk or run. She did not know how it would turn out. So she made her decision and handed the results over to God. “If I perish, I perish.” And this was right.

It is right to risk for the cause of God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Consider one more example from the Old Testament, from the book of Daniel, chapter 3. Again the setting is Babylon and the Jewish exiles. The king is Nebuchadnezzar. He sets up an image of gold and commands that when the trumpet sounds, all the people will bow down to the image. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down. They worshiped the one true God of Israel.

So in verse 15 Nebuchadnezzar threatens them and says that if they do not worship the image, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace. Verses 16–18 give their answer:

“It is right to risk for the cause of God.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

This is sheer risk. “We believe our God will deliver us. But even if he doesn’t, we will not serve your gods.” They did not know how it would turn out. They said virtually the same thing Esther said, “If we perish, we perish.” And they handed the outcome to God the same way Joab and Abishai did: “And may the Lord do what seems good to him.” And this was right.

It is right to risk for the cause of God.

Paul on His Way to Jerusalem

Now consider the great New Testament risk taker, the apostle Paul. First, let’s go to Acts 21. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. He had bound himself in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:21) to go to Jerusalem. He had collected money and he was going to see that it was delivered faithfully.

He gets as far as Caesarea, and it says in Acts 21:10 that a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When the believers hear this, they beg Paul not to go. Here is his response in verse 13,

What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

Then, in verse 14 Luke says, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”

In other words, Paul believes that this trip to Jerusalem is necessary for the cause of God. He does not know what would happen there. Arrest and affliction for sure. But then what? Death? Imprisonment? Banishment? No one knew. So what do they say? On one thing they can agree, “The will of the Lord be done!” Or as Joab said, “May the Lord do what seems good to him.” And this was right.

It is right to risk for the cause of God.

Paul’s Whole Life

In fact, Paul’s whole life was one extraordinary risk after another. He said in Acts 20:23, “The Holy Spirit testifies in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” But he never knew in what form they would come, or when they would come, or by whom they would come.

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 11:24–28. Paul wrote this letter before the events of Acts 21 that we just read. So he had decided to risk his life in Jerusalem with the full knowledge of what it might be like. Look what he had endured — all of it as a result of taking risks for the cause of God:

Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.

What does this mean? It means that Paul never knew where the next blow would come from. Every day he risked his life for the cause of God. The roads weren’t safe. The rivers weren’t safe. His own people, the Jews, weren’t safe. The Gentiles weren’t safe. The cities weren’t safe. The wilderness wasn’t safe. The sea wasn’t safe. Even the brethren weren’t safe — some were false! Safety was a mirage. It didn’t exist for the apostle Paul.

He had two choices: run or risk. And he answered in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” He never knew what the day would hold. But the cause of God beckoned. And he risked his life every day. And this was right.

It is right to risk for the cause of God.

The People of Israel in the Wilderness

What happens when the people of God do not escape from the enchantment of security? What happens if they try to live their lives in the mirage of safety? Do you remember the time it happened? It is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14.

It is less than three years since the people of Israel came out of Egypt by the power of God. Now they are on the borders of the Promised Land. And in 13:1 the Lord says to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel.” So Moses sends Caleb, Joshua, and ten other men.

After 40 days they return with a huge cluster of grapes hung on a pole between two men. In verse 30 Caleb says, “Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.” But in verse 31 some of the others said, “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.”

Caleb is unable to explode the myth of safety. The people are gripped by the enchantment of security. They murmur against Moses and Aaron in 14:2 and decide to go back to Egypt — the great mirage of safety. So Joshua tries to free them from their stupor in verses 7–9,

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.

But not even Joshua could explode the myth of safety. The people were drunk in a dream world of security. And they tried to stone Caleb and Joshua. And that was wrong.

It is wrong not to take risks for the cause of God.

God Does Not Promise Short-Term Success

Is that because God promises success to all our ventures in his cause? No. There is no promise that every effort for the cause of God will succeed, at least not in the short run. John the Baptist risked calling a spade a spade when Herod divorced his wife to take his brother’s wife, Herodias. And John got his head chopped off for it. And he had done right to risk his life for the cause of God.

“When people escape the enchantment of security, they are freed to find and give real joy.”

Paul was beaten and thrown in jail in Jerusalem and shipped off to Rome and executed there two years later. And he did right to risk his life for the cause of God.

And how many graves are there in Africa and Asia because thousands of young missionaries were freed by the power of the Holy Spirit from the enchantment of security, and then risked their lives for the cause of God among the unreached peoples of the world!

What About You?

And now what about you? Are you caught in the enchantment of security, paralyzed from taking any risks for the cause of God? Or have you been freed by the Holy Spirit from the mirage of Egyptian safety and comfort? Do you men ever say with Joab, “I’ll try it! And may the Lord do what seems good to him!”? Do you women ever say with Esther, “I’ll try it! And if I perish, I perish!”?

And what about our church and our future? Is there any lesson here for us as we look out over the next twelve and half years to the year 2000? These are the questions I want to talk about next week.