Epaphroditus was a gambler. Many believers in the early church were gamblers. But they were esteemed highly.
Paul encouraged the Philippian church “to welcome him (Epaphroditus) in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.” Phil 2: 29-30 ESV
The phrase “ he almost died” in Greek means “to lay down a stake, to gamble.” William Barclay writes that in the early church there was a committed group of believers called as Parabolani or gamblers. They were willing to gamble their lives or risk their lives by undertaking the hazardous work of tending the sick and burying the dead in times of deadly diseases. The church esteemed them as they were not gambling for money, but gambling their lives for the work of Christ and others.
We see countless gamblers throughout the church history who gambled their lives for the work of Christ. In 1832, Adoniram Judson wrote to missionary candidates “Remember, a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.”
Christians in India owe to hundreds of missionaries who gambled their lives to bring the gospel and transformation to our country. That’s why we as a community are high in development index compared to other religious groups.
At the same time, today India ranks first with the largest number of unreached people groups in the world and ranks 119 in Human Development Index among 169 countries in the world.
Why is it? The church has more hoarders than gamblers.
Hoarders selfishly accumulate things and hide them away for future use. The treasure vault found in the Sree Padmanabaswamy Temple in Kerala is the example of hoarding by Travancore Kings. They neither used it nor gave it to others. They just stored it for future thus wasting it. We often forget that hoarding is gross wastage of resources. That’s why Jesus commanded us not to hoard treasures here.
The other problem of hoarding is that our hearts follow it (Mat 6:21). So we always play it safe to risk proof our lives. We forget the warning of Jesus that “For whoever would hoard his life will lose it, but whoever gambles his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24 Paraphrased). As hoarders, we waste our treasures as well as our lives.
So Jesus calls us to be gamblers. John Piper explains it well. “Suffering was not just a consequence of the Master’s obedience and mission. It was the central strategy of his mission. It was the ground of his accomplishment. Jesus calls us to join him on the Calvary road by taking up our cross, and to hate our lives in this world, and fall into the ground like a seed and die, that others might live.”
Gamblers joyfully risk for massive gains. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt 13:44) Jim Elliot, one among the five martyrs among the Auca Indians said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
India is waiting for more gamblers who are foolishly wise enough to risk their lives, career, ambitions and dreams for the work of Christ and others.
Will you be one?