Friday, November 15, 2013

Having Enough Oil

Parables: Learning to do the will of GodThen the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom ! Come out to meet him." Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the prudent answered, "No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves." And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, lord, open up for us." But he answered, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

There are two schools of thought on this parable.  One is that the five wise virgins are those who are believers, and the five foolish are not.  The other is that the five foolish virgins are believers, but are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven because they were unprepared.  I am willing to admit that I may be wrong, but I lean toward the latter interpretation, and I'll tell you why.

Jesus often spoke of the importance of obedience in entering the kingdom of heaven, and he wasn't shy in letting people know that some people will be surprised when they are locked out.   "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:22-23).  Why were they disqualified?  Jesus said it is because they did not do the will of the father.  (Matthew 7:21)

Jesus later told a parable with much the same message. He likened his followers to stewards who are left in charge of a household while the master is away. One steward does the will of the master.  The other, thinking the master will be gone for a long time, begins to beat the other members of the household and get drunk.  When the master returns unexpectedly, the faithful servant is blessed.  "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes" (Luke 12:47).  I think it is important to note here that both servants belonged to the master.  One was only assigned a place with the unbeliever because of the actions he took while the master was away (Luke 12:42-48).  

While this sounds a little frightening, it doesn't have to be.  We aren't talking about doing enough good to earn our way into heaven.  No one can do that; we only have the chance at entering the kingdom because of God's grace and Jesus's blood. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  But just because we can't earn it doesn't mean we can expect to float into heaven while doing nothing. If we keep reading in Ephesians, we discover that we were made to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).  Jesus didn't leave us the option of doing nothing, but He didn't leave us clueless either.  He told us what is required: to do the will of the Father.  In another parable about the kingdom of heaven, he told us what the will of the Father is.

In Matthew 25, Jesus says the ones who enter the kingdom of heaven will be the ones who take care of people.  The ones who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, show hospitality to strangers, and visit the prisoners and the sick will be the sheep on his right hand.  It isn't a matter of feeding people three days out of five to make sure I can earn heaven.  It's a matter of meeting the needs I see right in front of me because then I am serving Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Jesus even tells us what kind of mindset we can adopt to make this task easier.  "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it" (Matthew 16:24-25).   Undoubtedly, there are many reasons Jesus gave this ultimatum, and I think one of them is that if we have this mindset of denying self, we are better able to obey his commands. If we have already given up our money as His, then it isn't so hard to buy food to feed a hungry person or clothes to cover naked person.  If we have given up our right to our time, then it isn't hard to visit the sick or the prisoner.  

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I want to be a wise virgin.  I want to have enough oil in my lamp.   I don't want to be the one surprised at being locked out of heaven because I did not do His will.  I don't want to say that Christianity is easy, but Jesus modeled obedience and denial of self in a much bigger way than he has asked us to.  He took on the sins of the world as he died on the cross.  He only asks me to give back what is His and take care of the people around me.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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