The New Testament is riddled with stories of disciples of Jesus stepping into vulnerability. Twice Jesus sends his disciples out on missions, two by two, “like lambs into the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3), with no food, money, or extra clothes. Each time they come back testifying to the amazing work God has done through them. Acts describes an early church where members sell all their possessions and hold them in common, a risky move. And Acts also tells us that there is not a needy person among them. Peter and Paul face one danger after another, from arrest and imprisonment to long journeys on dangerous roads and in treacherous waters. Both ultimately die for the sake of the gospel. This is what it looks like to follow the one who walked resolutely into Jerusalem, knowing that crucifixion awaited him.
This willingness to risk safety and security for the sake of the gospel doesn’t end with Acts. Sociologists suggest, for example, that one of the reasons Christianity spread so quickly in the early days was the disciples’ willingness to risk their lives in the face of plague. In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark described how, when a plague hit, most people quarantined the sick, leaving them for dead in an attempt (which often failed) to avoid becoming sick themselves. These plagues could wipe out as much as a third of the population. Christians, not fearing death, didn’t abandon those who became sick but instead provided intimate care for them, risking infection. Those who received this kind of care were much more likely to survive these frequent plagues, and survivors gained immunity and then could nurse others back to health. Christians, willing to lose their lives, survived at much higher rates, and the rest of the population, seeking to save their lives, were more likely to die.
If the testimonies of Scripture and the early church are to be trusted, then clinging to this world is not only a sign of unfaithfulness, it is also a threat to our very lives.
If the testimonies of Scripture and the early church are to be trusted, then clinging to this world is not only a sign of unfaithfulness, it is also a threat to our very lives. In my own life, coming to know and love those who are truly vulnerable has shown me how addicted I am to my worldly security. While others have faced significant illness with little or no healthcare, I find myself afraid to go without health insurance, even as a young and healthy person. While others spend their days and nights surrounded by danger, I am afraid to open my home to folks I don’t know because they may pose a threat to my safety or possessions. Sometimes I think I am simply incapable of voluntary vulnerability, and I doubt I am the only one.
Those who love me most almost always reinforce a safety-first mentality. Well-managed risk is acceptable—but never without a backup plan or a safety net. I tend to give out the same kind of advice. Do what seems most likely to end well for you, and don’t do anything too risky. We say these things because we want the best for those we care about, but where is the radical, self-sacrificial love that has characterized the church at its best? Is the American church training disciples who are willing to step into serious vulnerability for the gospel, or are we simply trying to teach people to be healthy, happy, and well adjusted? How can we learn to loosen our grip on safety in order to entrust ourselves to the dangerous calling of God?