Monday, 2 February 2015

BEAUTIFUL BRIDESMAIDS

They all started out well, eagerly expecting the bridegroom. How did the wedding ceremony end? Revisiting the Parable of the Ten Virgins


                                                                     
Jesus once told a story of ten virgins who were bridesmaids. Carrying oil lamps, they were supposed to light the path as the bridal party weaved its way through dark streets to the bridegroom’s house where the wedding feast was held. 


                                                                        
This story is found in Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13):

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This parable comes just after Jesus’ warning to be watchful in Matthew 24, the well-known Olivet Discourse, where Jesus addressed his disciples (not the world) at the Mount of Olives. So the parable is meant for believers.

Jesus tells his followers to be watchful for no one knows when He will come again, except the Father (Matthew 24: 36). Just as in the days of Noah when sinners were caught off guard and destroyed in the great flood, believers are forewarned to live uprightly in order to escape God’s judgment when Jesus returns.

                                                                         
Let us now explore further Matthew 25:1“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom”. The ten virgins were all believers who were expecting to meet the bridegroom, Jesus. In the Bible, ‘ten’ is the minimum number representative of a congregation. 

What are the similarities between the wise and foolish virgins?

Both the wise and foolish virgins were believers. Why?

First, virgins suggest purity. “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Believers are meant to be presented pure before God one day. Christ is likened to a bridegroom. So we have established that both the wise and foolish virgins are believers. They are pure, called to be saints.

Second, notice how the foolish virgins addressed the groom: ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ (Matthew 25:11). So they had prior knowledge of our Lord; they were not pre-believers.

Both the wise and foolish virgins had oil lamps which gave out light. Just as lamps emit light, believers should let our light shine so that others may see our good works and give glory to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:14-15).

The lamp is a symbol of the Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

The oil in the lamps is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Lamps without oil (Holy Spirit) are of no use to the owner. What’s the use of having lamps which fail to give light? (Revelation 2:5).

What is the main difference between the wise and foolish virgins? It’s their level of preparedness.

While both groups had oil in their lamps initially, only the wise brought extra oil kept in jars in case the groom got delayed in order to keep their lamps burning. The foolish virgins did not make any provision for any vessel to store extra oil.

What can we learn from the folly of the foolish virgins?

The foolish virgins allowed themselves to drift along in their faith journey. They did not constantly seek God to know His will for their lives. They did not seek the continuous infilling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The oil represents the Holy Spirit, the fullness of which they lacked. Notice that they had oil to keep their lamps burning initially, implying that they were once active in the faith. But, later, they became complacent and careless.

Our faith walk is likened to a journey upstream in a canoe. We have to continue rowing in order to advance. The moment we slacken—if we choose to drift along—we will be swept downstream.

It’s so important to be strong and well-rooted in Christ as the turbulence of the end times can only get worse.

  • Rooted and built up

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6–7).

  • End time persecution, deception and falling away from the faith (apostasy)

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24: 9-13).

It is implied by Jesus that if we fail to persevere, if we fall away because of persecution or become victims of deception, we will NOT be saved (Matthew 24:13). A most serious warning indeed.

  • Things that distract or attract

It is equally important that we do not allow the cares, worries, riches and pleasures of the world to distract us and lure us away from the faith, like the seed which fell among thorns in The Parable of the Sower.

“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14).

How to live wisely and thus avoid the fate that befell the foolish virgins?

Paul tells us to live circumspectly, unlike the foolish virgins. That means we should optimise the use of our time and seek to discern God’s will that we might live by it. We should not revel in sensual delights that compromise our morals. Instead we should be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:15-18).  *

Peter tells us, because of the perilous end times, we should live intentional and purposeful lives. Love should be the guiding principle. We should utilise whatever gifts and talents we have been endowed with to serve others. If we do not have high profile gifts like preaching or teaching, we can serve in humble ways through the gift of hospitality (1 Peter 4:7-11). 
* *  

We need a vision for our lives without which we will live carelessly (Proverbs 29:18). Abraham looked forward to eternal reward—the city whose Builder and Maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Similarly, Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:26). He “endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).  These two heroes of faith had a vision which motivated them to live purposefully. And this vision arose out of their intimate relationship with God.

The foolish virgins thought that, once they were saved, everything will turn out fine till the day they gained entrance to heaven. Though once filled with the Holy Spirit (oil), they later became complacent and careless in their faith walk.

Door shut

‘Shutting of the door’ is a picture of judgment. Because the foolish virgins had to go out to buy oil to refill their lamps, they failed to meet the bridegroom and were shut out from the wedding feast.
After Noah entered the ark with his family and the animals, the door of the ark was shut. Shut out from the ark, the sinful world faced God’s judgment, perishing in the great flood.

I do not know you

Failure to discern and do God’s will and presumptuous faith could prove disastrous for many on judgment day. The foolish virgins were shocked to hear these ominous words, “I do not know you”, just like the backslidden miracle workers in Matthew 7: 21-23.  * * * 

In studying this parable, I can’t help but allude to the gross error of hyper-grace and the 
Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) premise.

                                                                        
The crucial flaw in hyper-grace and the Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) premise is that 
it focuses on what God can do for believers and downplays human responsibility.

Furthermore, the theme of judgment is downplayed. In its place, we have ‘feel good’ teaching which tickles itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3).

                                                                     
The camp that overemphasises grace—hyper-grace—states the following (in blue):

The truth is you are saved by grace and you are kept by grace. It’s grace from start to finish! Don’t let anyone frighten you into doing dead works, but rest secure in His finished work. Just as you did nothing to earn salvation, there is nothing you can do to lose it.

God has already forgiven all the future sins of believers and, as such, we should put the ‘sin issue’ behind us and banish ‘sin consciousness’ from our lives. So we no longer need to confess our sins. When God looks at us, all He is going to see is Christ’s blood, not our sins whether it is past, present or future. We merely rest in the "imputed righteousness of Christ".

However, this passage in Titus sets a different tone as it emphasises personal responsibility. It articulates very well how we are to respond to God’s saving grace:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:11-14).

At this juncture, if you are a believer, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • Is this Parable of the Ten Virgins meant for believers? If so, what are the supportive reasons?


  • Is it possible for believers to start out well but eventually get shut out from heaven, like the foolish virgins?


  • Is the Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) premise valid in light of this parable?


  • As believers, how can we live wisely and circumspectly and thus avoid the fate that befell the foolish virgins?

Has it ever occurred to you that out of the ten virgins—whom we have already established that all are believers—only half made it eventually to heaven? Isn’t that a terrifying prospect?

Is getting to heaven as easy as hyper-grace and OSAS portray it? Think again. I mean seriously. It is for your eternal security.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

 “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18).


The point that Jesus wants to drive homethat we are to be on our toes, spiritually speaking, before His returnis well-summarised in this passage:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). 

Unfortunately, many cannot see it though it has been stressed so many times. # #


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REFERENCES

 # #     To impress upon believers the need to be watchful and vigilant in light of His return, Jesus told them several parables. He uses four different illustrations to underscore the 'Be Watchful' theme in Matthew 24.
  • Faithful and unfaithful servants.  Matthew 24: 45-51.
  • Parable of Ten Virgins.  Matthew 25: 1-13.
  • Parable of Talents.  Matthew 25: 14-30.
  • Sheep and Goats.  Matthew 25: 31-46.


*    Walking wisely
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18).

* *   Serving others through our gifts
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

* * *    Warning to backslidden miracle workers
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7: 21-23).


EXTERNAL LINKS TO PARABLE OF TEN VIRGINS
http://bit.ly/1Kn8oxZ

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