Trimming the Wick


In Matthew Chapter 25, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding party and the ten virgins, or bridesmaids. When the bridegroom makes his appearance at midnight, five of the ten virgins are unable to join the wedding banquet because they have failed to bring enough oil to light their lamps, a custom at that time. The five wise virgins who came prepared join the bridegroom at the banquet. Some time later, after having gone out to purchase some oil, the five foolish virgins plead to be let in, to which the bridegroom responds, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." (v. 12)

The parable of the ten virgins is a tale of great importance for believers in any age, from the early Christians to today. No one knows the time of their own final hour nor the time of Christ's return. The chilling words of the bridegroom, "I don't know you," is a warning for Christians to be spiritually ready at all times, to submit their lives to Christ -- that is, to store up oil. This warning is echoed in Matthew Chapter 7 when Jesus said:

21 Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 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 perform many miracles?"
23 Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"
But today, the parable of the ten virgins should have eye-opening resonance to believers. When Jesus spoke of the last days, He used the metaphor of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-33). Just as we know that summer is near when the leaves on the fig tree begin to bloom, so will we know the coming of the end of the age via Scripture's prophetic signs. We live in a time when many brothers and sisters in Christ are being deceived. Jesus warned, "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." (Matthew 24:4-5) Believers must be careful not to be swayed by the philosophies of religious men, disguised as Christianity.

Steve Lumbley at Apostasy Watch recently wrote an insightful and powerful commentary on the state of Christianity today. Entitled "God Will Build His Temple," he states that the visible, organized church will suppress the revival of God's Word among the true body of Christ, much like the religious leaders of the day opposed Jesus 2,000 years ago.

There are several dangerous threads in the church today that will rob believers of righteousness in Christ (their storehouse of oil). These threads, which are all very close in nature, threaten to entangle believers and suffocate the life right out of them.

Apostasy: As Mr. Lumbley points out in his article, there is a false revival sweeping through churches today. It comes in many guises and with different labels: purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, ecumenical, and so on. These movements have at least one thing in common. They gratify man's desire for self-righteousness and self-tolerance -- most especially self-justification of his sinful nature. The purpose-driven paradigm generally appeals to a more conservative and evangelical base while ecumenicalism has roots in liberal religious humanism. These differences are superficial since neither appeal to God's Word but rather our predisposed natures.

In the last century, there has been an explosion of cults and impostors, as Jesus warned there would be in the last days. It should be no surprise that Christianity has been stretched like a rubber band to appeal to all manner of man's fleshly desires, for it is Christianity that the enemy is so eager to distort. Consequently, is there any doubt why Christianity has been so relentlessly mutated and syncretized and diluted and deliberately misinterpreted for 2,000 years and that its truth has been so recklessly misrepresented and maligned more than any other with claims to divine inspiration?

Worldliness: More than any other time in the earth's history since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), the world is reaching a unity in purpose -- one that is in defiance of God's law. We live in a time of worldwide communication and shared popular culture. The values of natural man, the spirit of this world (1 Corinthians 2:12), are pervasive and invasive. Many Christians are ignoring the Biblical principle of separation and are seeking identification (i.e. justification) with the world. They are seeking acceptance in a world that hates their values, and so they gradually abandon those values. The elevation of the flesh (intellect/body) over the spirit is the tragic result. A believer's position with respect to the spirit of the world, or Babylon, is thus referenced in Scripture: "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins." (Revelation 18:4)

Materialism: It is not so much the possession of material goods but the love of them that shipwrecks faith. Yet, it is material comfort and possession that causes many to take their eyes off God. In countries where these kinds of blessings are plentiful, people have come to believe that they deserve it (entitlement). Because people feel entitled to these luxuries, they believe material goods are necessary for happiness and fulfillment. While Christians in these countries may be appreciative and "count their blessings," oftentimes they are more appreciative of the gifts than the Giver.

Over at Blogging Truth, there is a very good article on the effects of materialism on the believer. Possessions can definitely weigh down the spirit of believers, particularly when those possessions become an avocation. Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 6:
19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Pragmatism: In essence, pragmatism espouses that "the end justifies the means." It should not be confused with practicalness or realism, though they often converge. Paul Proctor squares off against pragmatism in the church in his excellent article titled "Blessed Subtractions."

While it is in direct conflict with God's Word, pragmatic thinking is nonetheless prevalent among Christians today. The current election year in the United States highlights an example of this. Many American evangelicals are planning to cast their vote for incumbent President George W. Bush this fall. It is a vote for the principles of the man rather than a vote for the platform of his party, which has time and again rebuffed evangelicals in favor of secular moderation. The thinking is, the alternative is much worse; thus their vote is for the lesser of two evils.

To vote for the leader who more closely shares the values of believers does seem righteous, not pragmatic. Yet, in the context of a political machinery (a now mostly indistinguishable two-party system) that is greater than any one man, this kind of vote may only delay the inevitable. For American Christians, there might be alternatives (consider, for example, the platform of the Constitution Party). There is, however, the danger of falling into escapism, the polar extreme of pragmatism. And that hasn't solved anything. Since pragmatism is inherently motivational, it is difficult to detect, and indeed, only the Lord can know an individual's heart (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Hedonism: Craig W. Booth writes about Christian hedonism at The Faithful Word. More often than not, hedonism in the church is not so much a definitive movement as it is simply recidivism. Unfortunately, Paul's words in Philippians 4:8 to think on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" have been misconstrued and abused to qualify the pursuit of pleasure. Paul defines these terms, not through the distorted lens of man's protean sensibilities, but in the context of righteousness in Christ. The appreciation of arts, sports, learning, sensuality, and so on can quickly develop into idolatry in the absence/ignorance of God's Word. We end up justifying men rather than defending God. Rather, Paul is imploring us to seek out that which glorifies God, not simply that which is part of His creation. Hedonism subverts the subordination of the created to the Creator and wrongly implies that appreciation of the creation is appreciation of the Creator.

The end result of these subversive threads in the church is apathy. It is apathy that leaves the five foolish virgins unprepared. Their faith is dissolute. Instead, brothers and sisters in Christ should be awaiting the return of the Lord -- eagerly, earnestly, and unashamedly.

In 1 Peter Chapter One, the apostle Peter wrote to believers concerning Christ's return:
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
9 For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.