“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” - Matthew 25:1-5
If you had met these ten virgins coming down the road, you wouldn’t have known there was any difference between them. They were all going to meet the bridegroom, and each carried a brightly burning lamp. As you parted, you would have assumed they all met the bridegroom and arrived safely at the wedding. But you would have been wrong. They all had lamps full of oil, but only five had brought extra oil. Then the unexpected happened.
The bridegroom delayed his coming.
And when the cry finally rang out announcing his appearance, they all scrambled for their lamps, only to find them burned down. The wise virgins quickly added their extra oil, trimmed their wicks, and were on their way. There was not enough to share with the foolish five, who could have brought extra too. And you know the sad ending. While they rushed to buy more, all the wedding guests arrived, and the door was shut…finally.
As the first verse indicates, this was a parable Jesus gave of the kingdom of heaven, and the need to be prepared for its appearance. I’m not interested here in looking for doctrinal truth. I just want to point out one principle and apply it to our lives. It’s the idea that the only difference between these virgins was that half of them were not prepared for a delay in their expectations. They all wanted to see the bridegroom, and they all had oil, but they didn’t all have enough oil to last until the bridegroom arrived.
How well do you and I handle delayed expectations, perhaps anticipating marriage, a move, or a new ministry? What if God in His wisdom chooses to postpone these till later, till we’re older maybe? Or till we’ve given up clinging to them? Have you ever noticed that a third of the nine listed categories of the “fruit of the Spirit” have to do with patience: longsuffering, faith, and temperance. Each of these calls for endurance.
And what of delayed answers to prayer? Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Hebrews eleven talks about a group whose faith received high marks from God, but who didn’t receive the promises they were looking for (v. 39). I have only two things to say about this. God keeps the score; and things are not always the way they look. When Paul said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), he was saying there’s going to be plenty of times when you’ll be tempted to quit. At such times, you’re going to need lots of oil in reserve to keep you praying.
Finally, and more in keeping with the parable, as signs of our Lord’s near return begin to multiply, do you have enough oil to keep your going, if He chooses to tarry (v. 5)? I often say, “I plan to be ready for either: Rapture or Return!” As the old song I love to sing says it, “My lamps are lit; I’ll watch and pray.” First John 3:3 says you can tell the man or woman who truly lives in the hope of the Second Coming by how much he or she strives to live a pure life.
How’s your oil supply of gladness and joy (Psl. 45:7; Isa. 61:3)? Have you got enough to last you…for the long haul, if need be? Are you prepared for delay?
“Delay never thwarts God’s purpose; rather, it polishes His instrument.” – V. Raymond Edmon