Let me start by saying to all the sensitive Christians out there that by “working out your own salvation” I do not mean that we are saved by our own works. No, that is not what I am saying in this article, I will explain what I mean in a bit. However, all I can say for now is that the bible instructs us to do so (Philippians 2:12) but I will show you what it means by that in the parable of the ten virgins.
We all know how the song goes, “they were ten virgins when the bridegroom came”… “the five of them were wise when the bridegroom came”… “the five of them were foolish when the bridegroom came”… and it goes on and on. This isn’t just a catchy song, the parable has so much meaning for us today and it is not restricted to the Christian but to everyone else as well.
You can find the parable in Matthew 25:1-13.
Before I get into the issue I really want to get into let me first perhaps summarize the parable. There are ten virgins all waiting for the bridegroom. The two things that these ten virgins all have in common is their lamps and the fact that they’re all waiting for this bridegroom. Five of them decide to carry some extra oil and the other five are content with the oil that they have. Now for some reason this bridegroom is delayed but then he finally arrives. When he does, everyone is woken up so they could all go and meet him. Fortunately for the wise five their extra oil allows them to go out and see him. The foolish five on the other hand have run out of oil so that means they can’t go out and meet the bridegroom. Realizing their predicament they ask to borrow some oil from their five fellow virgins. Their request is denied and out of emergency they rush out to go and purchase more oil, but by the time they arrive back, the doors are shut. The bridegroom turns out to be a Lord. Who would’ve thought! They ask if He could open and He responds with an “I do not know you”! Cold, right? Well lets see.
The real issue
If you’ve read the parable prayerfully or if you’ve been to church for long enough you know by now that what the whole story means is that: we are all waiting for Jesus Christ to return, we all have lamps (our lives, hearts, body vessels) but not all of us are wise enough to carry enough oil (the Holy Spirit, relationship with God, faith, endurance) to last us until He comes. We are told that He will come and that He will seem to tarry. If you’re like, “ohh, is that what it means” and if you didn’t know then there, now you know. But having read this passage many times over, God showed me something new about the whole plot, something I have never discovered until now and something I’ve never heard in church. I want to share my discovery with you.
It all starts in verse eight of Matthew 25 when the foolish virgins make a request; “give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out”. At this point it seems like a fair request. Yes, they were foolish, they should’ve carried extra oil like the rest of their friends but it couldn’t be helped, they never did that. So you’d expect moral law to kick in right? “Well, lets just give them some, we’re all going to the same place to see the same person anyway” and besides “we’re friends and family, how can we say no” right? Err, I hate to break it down to you but no, the other five virgins refused and told their whatever-they-were-to-each-other to go and buy more oil.
Now I know, some of us must be thinking “how petty could you be, it was just a little oil”. I understand where you’re coming from, I felt the same way until I saw it in a different way. What made me think a little more about the whole situation was the response given by the five virgins. They said, “no, lest there should not be enough for us and you”. Can you start to see something interesting? Not yet? Let me try and explain.
Each man for himself, God for us all
In case you’re a feminist, by man I mean humanity. Man is a term also used to describe every human being (Genesis 1:27) so we’re together ladies. Now that I got that out of the way and perhaps unnecessarily, let me get back to the point and bring this article to a close because I feel it is starting to get too long.
Firstly, note that we are dealing with virgins here, waiting for a bridegroom. So it is obvious that there was some type of wedding going on here. For most of us this type of wedding setup is strange but I learnt that this is how the Jews do their weddings. The groom would make his intentions known to the bride, then leave for an indefinite period of time while he “goes and prepares a place for her” (John 14:3). He would then return at an unexpected time in which “no man knew the day or hour” (Matthew 24:36) and then come and meet his bride, letting her know he was there with a shout. When he arrived the bride would journey with her bridal team to his home where the rest of the festivities took place. Sound familiar? And did you see what I did there with the bible quotes hehe? So long story short, Jesus is describing a Jewish wedding, which makes sense because they were Jewish.
Mind blowing right? I mean I am learning some of these things as I am writing this article. Thank you Holy Spirit. You can read more on the Jewish wedding culture here.
But the question still remains: why be so petty and be stingy with the oil? Lets think it through.
So you know how when you’re using a lamp it is sort of a one person per lamp situation? The bible says “thy word is a lamp unto MY feet” not OUR feet. When I picture walking in the dark with a lamp I see that light only being able to properly light my path. Add another person and I don’t know, I feel like it would be a struggle. To me then, it makes sense why each virgin had to have their own lamp. Remember with me now how they had to walk back to the grooms home. I am guessing it wasn’t always close by so if they had to traverse a certain distance with oil that had already been spent in the wait then sharing would inconvenience everyone. They had to deliver the bride safely to her groom and if they all fell into darkness on the way how would they get there? Are you starting to see where I am going?
So even if they wanted to share they couldn’t because they had a mission- to deliver the bride. If part of the bridal team slacked and did not have enough oil, well they had to reap the fruits of their unpreparedness and get more oil for themselves.
It makes sense to me at least. I am no theologian nor am I a perfect man but I can see the justice in all of this when I look at it this way.
So, imagine you’re getting married and everything is planned out to the last detail. Guests start to arrive and the proceedings start. The whole place is then closed off. Then after a while those foolish virgins rock up. You know those people who always come to church late like when the sermon is almost up? What about those people who always arrive late to a party? I am sure we all know someone like that and perhaps we do the same. I am not judging, it happens to the best of us.
Anyway, back to the story. This is your wedding. Are you going to allow any late comers to interrupt your perfect wedding? Everything is going so well. Never! I mean why should you? Everyone thought the event important enough to come prepared except for those five who were too cool for time. Understandably, the groom is like, “err, sorry, I don’t know you”.
Interpret the intensity of his words however you like but I am sure you can see where the groom was coming from.
But, what does this all have to do with me?
Well, here’s the short of the long, let me try and take you to church. We are all waiting for Jesus Christ to come. He is the Bridegroom and His church or His people are the groom (or we are part of the bridal team I guess, it works interchangeably see here). In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul pretty much sums up the whole bride and bridegroom thing. He seems to see himself as part of the bridal team. This is one for the ladies, hoohaah.
The oil, biblically, can represent the Holy Spirit (see here). It then makes sense to me that only the right amount of Holy Spirit presence (if I can call it that) in your life can help you endure the wait because it does seems like Jesus Christ is tarrying (2 Peter 3:9). In Jewish culture the bride had to endure the wait. She did not know when he was coming but she had to be ready when he did.
Shucks we’re almost at 2000 words. Alright let me wrap up. But kudos to you for making it this far.
The Holy Spirit is not something we can share with one another. It can’t be put into us by man. He is God. He is a being. I know some will use the incidents in Acts to justify this notion but a deeper study will show otherwise. I am not prepared to speak on that now but lets engage in the comments.
Parables were analogies and we have already discovered that Jesus was teaching us about His people waiting for Him. Our own personal relationships with God will determine how much “oil” we have. We cannot share our personal relationships with God, we are not saved in groups but as individuals (that is why each virgin had her own lamp). The bible tells us to work our our OWN salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). If some of us decide to be late comers and slack, then the rest of us cannot share our oil lest we all end up lost in the dark and not arriving at the party and NO ONE wants to miss the party. Not me.
This speaks to many things:
- Don’t be someones spiritual crutch, they will only drag you down.
- Do not use church services as a crutch, you will only end up dry.
- Don’t be unequally yoked in whatever way, with a believer or not, with someone with a different vision or goal, just don’t do it.
- Don’t wait for the last moment to do what you need to do now.
- Don’t expect sympathy if you foolishly neglected your duty.
- Don’t unnecessarily inconvenience others.
The list goes on but you get it. Work out your own personal relationship with God and then you and others who have done the same can head on over to the party and dance the night away.
One more thing, don’t be afraid to say NO.
I’m done! drops mic