The population of the world is about 7 billion. If we were to lump together all groups that claim Christ in some sense, they would amount to 33% of the world’s population. But we would have to confess that this amalgamation is not one in the sense that Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one (John 17:11). Yet, the Great Commission has not been revoked. It still reads: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 ESV).

The task seems staggering. But before we allow ourselves to become discouraged, we need to consider the power of multiplication. The legend of the chessboard is a famous way of doing this.

In the story, the mathematician named Sessa presents the game of chess to a king. The king is so impressed with the game that he grants the mathematician the right to name his prize. Sessa requests that his prize be one grain of rice on the first square of the board to be doubled on each subsequent square of the board. The king, unaware of the power of multiplication, grants Sessa his prize.

After a week, the king is upset with the treasurer of his kingdom, because the prize had not yet been granted. The treasurer protests that it has taken the week to do the calculations. There are, after all, 64 squares on a chessboard. But the king’s displeasure soon turns into horror. The amount of the prize is greater than his kingdom’s assets.

The math puzzle is this. Place one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard. Place two grains of rice on the second. Place four grains of rice on the third. Keep doubling the amount of rice on each subsequent square until you have gone through 64 squares. How many grains of rice would you have on the entire chessboard (if it could hold it, which it can’t):

18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice

Most of us only have occasion to consider millions, billions, and trillions. We hear of billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and the U.S. federal budget is measured in trillions. After trillions comes quadrillions, and after quadrillions comes quintillions. The answer to the chessboard math problem is over 18 quintillion grains of rice, and it all started by doubling one.

The solution to the staggering task of the Great Commission is simple. We plant the seed, and God gives the growth. God wants us to multiply


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