“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. 4 But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.
5 “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’
9 “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.
11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
“So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”
Growing up, I was very involved in Boy Scouts. Our troop did a lot of camping. Initially, our camping was what I call drive in camping. We would drive to one of the Scout Camps or elsewhere, and set up camp where the cars were near by. I had noticed that, at a camporee, another scour troop had packed kitchen essentials in a milk box. I thought it was a great idea. We had one at home that was not in use, so I determined that on the next campout I would use it. Our next camp out was our first hike in – 5 miles! I would characterize my choice as poor planning. That milk box got awfully heavy by the end of the 10-mile round trip! Be Prepared! But be prepared in the right way.
In the book of Joshua we are told that Joshua was calling for a first decision on the part of God’s people. Amidst competing influences, Joshua affitms his choice to follow God. “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” It was the first step of becoming a part of the family of God – in our case, a follower of Jesus Christ.
It will do us well if we look at the context of our reading from Matthew. It is the middle parable of a set of three. The first is about the slave left in charge. The master put them in charge of giving the household their food. They were to be the leaders. Then, our passage is about the ten bridesmaids, and being prepared. They represent the rank and file follower of God. Finally, the third parable is of the talents. It represents using gifts for the glory of God.
In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we see the literary device is that of allegory primarily. An allegory is where everything in the parable represents something spiritual. The bridesmaids are us, those waiting for the second coming of Christ. The bridegroom is Jesus and his second coming. The tension in the passage is the delay of Jesus’ return. It is important to note that it is not sleeping that is the problem. Both groups of bridesmaids slept. The problem is that of being prepared. That brings us to the oil. What does the oil represent? In Mathew, Jesus would describe the oil in several ways: abstinence from bad behavior, 15:19; love for enemies, 5:44; love for fellows Christians, 24:12; forgiveness, 18:21-35; faith, 21:21; loyalty to Jesus, 10:32; love for God 22:37. All these need to be present in our lives is abundance. We must be prepared to use the oil always. That is a tall order. It returns us to the choice we have to make as evidenced in Joshua
BUT HOW do we remain prepared? How do we insure that we always have enough oil? Our choice requires “persistence, patience and faithfulness for the long haul.”
Persistence – I am struck by the flow of Joshua 24:14-25. This isn’t a simple question and answer. Through Joshua’s prompting, the people affirm three times they will serve the Lord. Joshua challenges them in the face of a simple answer. ‘Will you really do it?’ What I hear from the text is that it is a daily decision to follow God. Let me share with you a principle from marriage. It is the daily decision to love our spouse no matter the circumstances. When I forget to do something important that Janna has asked me to do, it is Janna’s decision to love that paves the way for repentance and forgiveness. It doesn’t come automatically. It is a decision. In Matthew 24:12 Jesus points to a growing problem. “… the love of many will grow cold.” We often start out strong in our resolve to follow Jesus, to keep our oil at the ready. Over time, however, our resolve – our love for God – looses its luster. Our love for God grows cold like the dying embers of a fire.
Our Matthew passage indicates the need for persistence in our preparedness. What that preparedness looks like is alluded to in Psalm 139. Look at the beginning and the end of Psalm 139. Verses 1 & 23-24 “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. … Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” The Psalmist is asking God search out the life of a believer. To re-evaluate how I’m doing. To search out any place where my love is growing cold. It is a way to keep us prepared. Persistence in following through on our decision – “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
Patience – As I began to think about patience, I realized our greatest problem is patience with ourselves. Defeat comes at our own hands when we lose heart and focus. We fail to keep our oil at the ready when we lose heart. Be patient with yourself. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 7: 14-15 & 21-23. Paul says, “14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What a picture of everyday life. It is a struggle! Did it defeat Paul? NO! Paul points us to the realization of the cleansing power of Jesus, his endless patience with us, and how he is always ready to “pick us up, dust us off, and send us out again.” As Paul would say, this is not a license to do whatever we want. The five bridesmaids who failed to be prepared were left out. No, this is an affirmation that, when we daily choose to serve the Lord, God is faithful to uphold us. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Faithfulness – The parable reminds us to bring extra oil! We are to be prepared for faithful action. We are to be prepared to put into practice the faith we have for the God we love. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are encouraged to be prepared to speak of our faith in words and actions. “… but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; …” That isn’t necessarily having a “speech” prepared to ‘play’ when given the opportunity. Instead it is having our connections with God strong, and our hearts open to the Holy Spirit to provide the right words for the right time. My parents, especially as I was coming into high school, taught me to make the decision before hand about what I would do in the face of drugs (or any other influence that could harm or destroy me. Their advice was to be prepared before the situation arises. “Choose this day whom you will serve.” I can remember it kicking in during my first year of college. There was a “beginning of the year party” at a residence out in the country. It was nice. There was drinking, but it wasn’t forced on anyone. Yes, I did my share, but not to an excess. Then I realized that they were beginning to pass around the marijuana. I realized later it was an instinctive reaction on my part. I just quietly left the party and went back to the dorm. I had prepared in advance – years earlier - what my decision would be.
I am struck by the counsel of 1 Thessalonians 5:8 “ Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” We put on faithfulness to face each day. For me it is like putting on my seat belt, I don’t go anywhere without it. There are times when I even catch myself putting on my seatbelt to back the jeep out of the garage so I can get my saw out. I’m only going 15 feet, but the faithfulness kicks in.
By persistence, patience, and faithfulness I reinforce the decisions I make daily to serve the Lord.
How is your passionate love for God holding up? How is your daily decision to follow God coming along? Do you need to renew your decision and your determination to follow through? As for me and my house we will serve the Lord! Amen!