“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.”
Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV)
I’ve had this passage on my heart for a long time now but have hesitated to write about it. I hesitate because even though the point that has sunk in is important; it isn’t the main point of this parable. The main point is that we must be prepared for Christ’s return. We don’t know when He’s coming back, but we know we want to be ready to meet Him when the time comes.
But today, I’m not talking about the return of the King, our bridegroom. I’m talking about what confused me about this parable. The response of the wise to the foolish seems to counter all the teachings about generosity. Lessons such as:
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Hebrews 13:16 (ESV)
And yet, the wise are welcomed to the feast while the foolish are turned away. Do we ignore this verse as just part of the story? Or is there something important for us to integrate into our lives? I have wrestled with this and put off writing to you about it for fear that I would be promoting selfishness. So when I tell you that sometimes we should say “no” when others ask for our help, please don’t stop reading.
I can no longer ignore the prompt to write to you on this subject. I’m also trying to be careful to listen to God as I struggle through this post. What I think we can learn from the wise virgins is how to set appropriate and healthy boundaries. Many of us struggle with saying “no”. But sometimes “no” is the right answer.
Know Your Limitations
For all the givers out there, setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit. It feels unnatural and unkind. But the wise virgins knew how much oil they had and how far it would go. They knew that they would disqualify them from the feast if they spread their resources too thin.
What resources do you have that others are asking for? Your time? Your energy? Your money? And what happens if you say “yes” to every request for a piece of your finite resources? Eventually, your lamp will run out of oil. God calls us to give sacrificially, but He also calls us to be wise stewards.
It’s ok to set boundaries on our time and resources. We must be prayerful when deciding when to give and when to keep. You can’t pour from an empty cup and your lamp can’t light the path when you have no oil.
Know Who is Asking
The next lesson we can learn is to consider who is asking for our resources. In this case, the foolish were asking for provisions they had time and money to get themselves. Plus, if you read the passage, you may notice they didn’t really ask. They demanded, “Give us some of your oil.” These ten women had spent the day and evening together. The wise knew the foolish weren’t good stewards of their resources. They had the money and means to buy more oil at any point, but they chose not to prepare for the delay.
At some point in your life, someone you love will ask for something. And it may not seem like a big deal, but you know in your heart that if you don’t make them take care of it themselves, they’ll continue to spiral into bad habits. Remember that sometimes “no” is the kindest answer, even if it is the hardest answer.
Only God knows the heart of the one asking for help. We must take the time to seek His will in every situation. This is the only way we can do what is best for the person in need. They may think they need you to give them a handout, but God may know what they really need is a hand up.
Know What God Wants
The wise knew the groom was coming. They knew He wanted them to attend the feast. They knew the best choice was to be ready for His return. And they knew that missing His presence would disqualify them from entering the feast.
When someone asks for our help, our first inclination should be to say, “Yes, I’ll help you.” But we must also remember to check with God. Ask Him if this is the best choice and listen, especially if you feel a check in your Spirit.
Some requests for help require time in prayer to know how to respond. If you are struggling with whether to help someone, pray until you hear God’s direction. Are you hesitating from selfishness or is God trying to teach the other person something? Do they need to learn to better steward their resources? Do you need to learn to be more generous? Listen closely for the answer.
Know Where to Find Oil
It took a long time for me to catch on to what the oil represents to us today. I can be a slow learner. The oil is the Word of God. Commentaries will say it represents the Holy Spirit, and I agree that it does in context of the wedding feast. But as Christ-followers, we always have the Spirit with us. And His Spirit never runs out. We sometimes forget to keep God’s Word open. We take the lamp (our spirit) but forget to take the jar of oil (the Bible).
Do you ever go long periods of time without reading the Bible? You may be letting your lamp run low. I’ve been guilty of leaving my jar at home thinking I had plenty in the lamp for the day ahead. And I usually regret it. Keep your Bible close, keep the pages (digital or paper) readily available. Open it up and let the Word refill your lamp.
Remember, generosity and wisdom are both praised. They go hand in hand. We share generously, we share wisely, we honor God with our resources. Keep your lamps burning bright with the light of God’s love.
Father, we thank you for each lesson you teach us. Help us discern your message to us when we read your Word. Teach us to keep our jars full and our lamps trimmed so we can be lights that point to you. When faced with hard decisions, show us Your will so we act honorably and do what is right. Thank you for your wisdom and guidance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Spread the spark of hope everywhere you go,
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I want to follow Jesus! How do I get started?
“This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.
1 John 4:13-15
If you are ready to join the family of God, simply believe and ask. You can choose your own words or pray the prayer below. God hears your heart, simply confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and let the Spirit lead you.
“Father, I want to be yours. Forgive me of my sins. I believe that you sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die in my place. I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and thank you for the gift of salvation through Him. I invite the Holy Spirit into my heart and surrender my life to You. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Feel free to spend time just talking to God and sharing your heart with Him. Let Him speak to you and listen as He leads you forward into new life. Welcome to the family.
Need to talk or have questions? Feel free to reach out and contact me.