In the parable of the ten virgins, half of them were ready and half of them weren’t. The groom, who represents Jesus, is delayed.
5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Notice that it is not foolish to sleep. All ten slept, not just the foolish. This is not sleeping on the job of life. Sleeping is part of life. Sleep here represents the ordinary activities of life. We are not called to go up on a mountain and do 100 all-nighters in a row as we gaze up into the sky waiting for Jesus. We are called to do our work. Then rest. Then do some more work. All ten slept because sleep is part of the normal rhythm of life that we should follow as we work and rest and wait for Jesus.
Why is he delayed? Simple answer. He wants to give more time, more chances for people to turn from their sins and place their faith in Christ. The five virgins who were ready for the groom had oil in their flasks. The oil represents the Holy Spirit. They were born of the Spirit. What about the other 5 who were not ready? They lacked the oil.
6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’
The shout goes out. At night. Rather unexpectedly. The bridegroom is right outside the door. Those with oil are ready. They are saved. The proof is the oil. They have been born of the Spirit. They are legitimate brides of Christ. What do the virgins without oil do when the groom appears? They ask to borrow some oil. Those with oil sound a bit selfish because they say there is not enough oil to go around. But the point is, faith is intensely personal. You can’t borrow faith from someone else at the last minute when Jesus shows up at the door.
I can desperately want my sons to come to faith in Christ, but it has to be a personal encounter with Jesus. They have to encounter Christ for themselves. They have to repent themselves. They have to surrender and place their faith in Christ themselves. I can’t do it for them. Though I wish I could. No matter how much I want to share my faith with them, give them my oil, I can’t. It is not because I am selfish. It’s because faith is intensely personal.
You can be a faithful member of the Hill or some other church for your entire life. But you won’t be saved because of your membership here. You won’t be saved because you know me or you are close to a pastor who can vouch for your faith. All of us will stand before the Master on Judgment Day and the only thing that matters is, does the Master know you?
12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’
These are terrifying words at the end of the age when Jesus comes back. “I do not know you.” You were part of the church—one of the ten virgins—not part of the world. You had lamps. You had religion. You had form. But you took no care for what was inside. You kept your lamp shiny. Others looked at you and assumed you had life, faith, that you had an inner reality that matched your outward confession. How tragic if all you have in the end is an empty lamp.
You could be banging on the gates of heaven, let me in, Jesus I know you, I spent my whole life at church and reading your word. If a stranger knocks on your door, you won’t open it and let the person in unless you know the person. In the same way, Jesus will only open the door if you have oil, if he knows you by name, if you are genuinely saved.
13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.
Nobody knows when Jesus will return for his bride. Therefore, be alert. What does it mean to be ready?
“Be alert” does not mean look out the window at night. It does not mean go up on a mountain and wait in fasting prayer. Even the wise virgins slept when it was time to sleep. Be alert means–Be spiritually awake! Be alive and alert to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that he gives now. Use all the means God has given you to know him and love him and trust him. Be filled with the oil of faith and joy and hope.
In 1897 Charles Spurgeon, one of the most well known preachers of his era, taught on this parable. Here is what Spurgeon had to say–
“A great change has to be wrought in you, far beyond any power of yours to accomplish, before you can go in with Christ to the marriage. You must, first of all, be renewed in your nature, or you will not be ready. You must be washed from your sins, or you will not be ready. You must be justified in Christ’s righteousness, and you must put on his wedding dress, or else you will not be ready. You must be reconciled to God, you must be made like God, or you will not be ready. Or, to come to the parable before us, you must have a lamp, and that lamp must be fed with heavenly oil, and it must continue to burn brightly, or else you will not be ready. No child of darkness can go into that place of light. You must be brought out of nature’s darkness into God’s marvelous light, or else you will never be ready to go in with Christ to the marriage, and be forever with him.” ~Spurgeon
Spurgeon’s quotation above could be summarized by saying, being ready means being saved! Readiness is found through faith. Faith is receiving what God has done for us in Christ. This is passive. Salvation is a gift. It’s all grace. There is nothing we did, nothing we can do to merit salvation. All we can do is to receive it. In that sense we are passive.
The next two parables, however, stress the active side of the Christian life. Starting in v14, there are 3 slaves given varying amounts of talents. One slave received 5 talents, another 2 talents and another 1 talent. A talent was an amount of money. It was between 58 and 80 pounds. It could be 58-80 pounds or talents of gold, or silver or copper. It was common to see a talent valued in those days at 6,000 denarii, or about 20 years of wages for a laborer. 20 years of wages at $30 K a year, that’s $600,000. The precise amount is unimportant. What’s important is that you’re supposed to walk away with an impression that the master left his slaves with a tremendous amount of money!
These 3 slaves were expected to work with the capital to make the business grow. And when the master returns, he expects those whom he entrusted to give him a higher return on his investment.
v16 – the man who had received five talents went to work and he earned five more so 10 talents in total. v17 – the man who had received two talents went to work and he earned two more so 4 talents in total. v18 – the man who received 1 talent dug a hole in the ground and buried the talent.
There are a few things we can notice in this parable. First, the master is not concerned about who makes the most return on investment. He is not concerned with who had the highest total. He is equally happy with the 5 talent person who ended up with 10 talents AND the 2 talent person who ended up with 4 talents.
Second, his response in the case of the 5 talent person and the 2 talent person is the same. v21 and v23, to both slaves, the master says, Well done, good and FAITHFUL slave. You were FAITHFUL [there’s that word again] over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. When the master sees faithfulness, faithfulness in multiplying 5 to 10, or faithfulness in multiplying 2 to 4, his response is identical. He is greatly pleased and he entrusts each of the first 2 slaves with greater responsibilities. If you prove yourself to be faithful in what God has given to you right now, He will entrust you with more in the future.
This is a Kingdom rule–whoever has been faithful in small things will receive greater responsibility in the future. This principle is certainly at work in our family. Timothy, he’s almost 10 years old, and he’s the oldest and so I expect the most out of him. In the mornings, he starts packing lunch for himself and his brothers. I don’t have to tell him. He just does it. He’s been doing this for several years. Jeremiah is younger so if he gets himself ready, I’m happy. On top of that, if he gets along with Timothy and helps pack the lunch by getting the water bottles, I’m thrilled. For Elijah, if he wakes up and his bed is dry, I’m like, YES. If he listens by the third time, I’ll take that. If he gets his own socks and puts it on, I couldn’t be happier with him.
How are you being faithful with the little things God has given to you? People complain, God hasn’t given me a calling so I am waiting for that lightning bolt from heaven to zap me. Or, I’m waiting to receive that tap on the shoulder from God to know what I need to do next. And when people say this, I like to ask them, how have you been faithful right now in the small things? In terms of loving God and loving neighbor? We focus so much on the specific will of God for MY life and we ignore the universal will that God gives to all believers–to love God, to love neighbor and to make disciples. Are you faithful today in these small things? God looks for faithfulness today.
This relates with the third slave. He received 1 talent, but instead of working with it or investing it, he dig a hole and hid the money. The master returns and asks, what happened? Here is the response in v24–
24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’
The man says, he didn’t do anything because the master is a difficult man. In light of the context, chapters 24 and 25, we have to see right through these words. The man is blowing smoke. This is a flat out excuse. If he were honest, he would have said, I wasn’t ready. I thought I had more time. I didn’t know you were returning today. Otherwise, I would have prepared. I was too busy taking care of my own affairs and so I couldn’t do my job.
His failure to do anything reveals a lack of love for his master, which he is trying to mask by blaming the master. This happens all the time. When you sin, instead of repenting, you point the finger to the other person. I did this because you did this and this and this. You are making excuses. He should have just come clean and repented and begged for mercy. Bottom line–he wasn’t ready for the master’s return. Period. No excuses.
Our lives as believers ought to advance the kingdom of God. Because we are working for our Heavenly Master and when he comes back, he expects his investment into us to yield a higher return. This is not works salvation. Salvation is a gift. It is all grace. The evidence of salvation is the oil, the Holy Spirit, deposited in our hearts. At the point of our conversion, all we could do was thank God and passively receive Christ’s death and resurrection with open hands and open hearts.
But the grace of God never condones a life of selfishness and irresponsibility. If God has given me the task to preach and I was winging it up here every Sunday and not spending the appropriate time in study and prayer, then that’s irresponsible. If God has called me to shepherd and lead and I spent my entire week on our church website and I canceled all my appointments with people who wanted to meet, that would be irresponsible.
This parable also encourages a proper self-assessment. If I am a one talent slave and I keep comparing myself with the five talent slaves out there on youtube, then I might feel like I am always falling short. Look at that guy, he is multi-talented, he is a gifted speaker, look at how people flock to her, wow, she wrote how many books? God doesn’t want us to compare with others. Because comparison often causes us to shut down and we end up burying our talents. I can’t do this as good as this sister does it. I can’t lead like him. I can’t teach or preach like these celebrity pastors. And we see others who are objectively better, the five talent brothers and sisters and we become insecure. Why should I try? Let the other person do it.
The one talent person – that’s often where the danger lies. The person who realizes he has a great musical gift, 5 talents of musical talent, will more often than not develop his gift and seek to use it for the good of others. But the person who says, I can’t sing, I can’t preach, I’m not social, often buries his one talent, whatever it might be.
We all have been given at minimum one talent. You can’t say, I have no talents. No abilities. I can’t do anything. Really? Can you change a diaper? Our toddlers could use a hand. Can you listen? There is an elderly home in my neighborhood with 20 grandmothers who would love spending time talking to someone. Can you share your testimony? Why not spend this summer on a mission trip instead of research? You and I can do so much.
God expects our lives to advance the kingdom of God. He expects the lives of his people to impact the world leading to less injustice, more mercy, more souls being saved and God’s name and renown spreading to the ends of the earth. Making disciples of all nations. God’s expects every single believer to use their gifts, their resources, their time and invest in kingdom business.
What are specific talents that God has given to you and to me? Everything can be a talent. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our intellect, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church, our advantages as possessors of the complete Bible and the million biblical resources out there—all of these are talents.
It is not enough for Jesus’ followers simply to “hang in there” and wait for the end. We must see ourselves for what we are—slaves who owe it to our Master to multiply what He entrusts to us. This doesn’t mean we need to all quit our jobs. The virgins slept. This represents day to day activity. The normal rhythm of life. If you are a professor, use your vocation to advance the kingdom. If you are a student, get out there and promote the name of Christ on your campus among your friends. If you are working for a company and earning a salary, use your income to advance the kingdom.