If we want light in our homes today, we just have to turn a light switch and the lamp comes on. Back in Bible times, though, a lamp involved fire. You had a container for the oil, a wick to carry that oil, and when the wick was lit the fire gave light. In the familiar parable of the 10 virgins, the reason they needed to have oil was to keep the fires in their lamps burning.
In this parable, 10 virgins take lamps and go out to meet the bridegroom. I assume they were friends of the couple, probably the women who watched with the bride as she waited for her groom to arrive on an unknown day at an unspecified time (in keeping with Jewish tradition). The five foolish virgins took lamps, but not extra oil. The five wise ones had lamps and extra oil. When the bridegroom took longer to arrive than they’d expected, all ten of them fell asleep.
When the shout announcing the bridegroom’s arrival woke them, the wise virgins had enough oil to keep the flames in their lamps burning but the unprepared women’s lamps were going out. In the time it took them to run out and buy more oil, the “bridegroom arrived and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut.” When the other virgins showed up and knocked, they did not get in. They weren’t even recognized (Matt. 25:1-13).
Jesus ends this parable by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.” It’s one of the kingdom of heaven parables (like we talked about last week) which teaches us something about what we must do if we want to be citizens of God’s kingdom. In this case, one thing it teaches is that we need to be prepared, with our lamps burning and properly fueled.
We’re Supposed to Shine Like Lamps
The idea of Jesus’s followers having or being light comes up more than once in the gospels (Matt 5:14-16, to mention one). We’re supposed to shine as lights, having been illuminated by Christ’s light.
“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness. Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part in the dark, it will be as full of light as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”Luke 11:33-36, NET
Jesus’s intention after “lighting” us is not to hide us in a cellar or snuff us out with a basket or bowl (NET footnotes). He wants us visible, shining with His light. Therefore, we need to be constantly watchful to make sure the light in us does not become darkness (the “therefore see to it” instruction is an ongoing, “present imperative” [NET footnote]). Like our eyes take in light to let us see, our minds take in Christ’s word to let us live in His light. Internalizing His words puts light inside us too, so it can shine out. If we internalize other (especially ungodly) things, though, that can change the way we shine. What we let into our eyes, hearts, and lives matters to God and it can affect the way our lamps are burning before Christ’s return.
Fueling our Lamps with the Word
If we want to fill our eyes with light and keep our lamps well fueled, we have a source for light readily available. Whether you use print Bibles, apps, or search online, for most of us in the modern world God’s word is right at our fingertips. The more time we spend with His word, the more exposure we get to the Light.
Your word is a lamp to walk by,Psalm 119: 105, NET
and a light to illumine my path.
Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.Psalm 119:130, NET
They give insight to the untrained.
For the commandments are like a lamp,Proverbs 6:23, NET
instruction is like a light
One of the ways that we fulfill Jesus’s instruction to shine as lights in the world is by internalizing the light that God has given us through His word. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” so if we want to walk with Him in the light we need to listen to Him (1 John 1:5-7, NET). Getting “dressed for service” and keeping our “lamps burning” as we watch for the Master’s return (Luke 12:35-38) involves filling our minds with God’s commands, instructions, and teachings while asking Him to help us understand His mind through His spirit. It is only by spending time in God’s Light that we can be light (Ps. 36:9; 43:3).
Clothed With Jesus’s Light
When writing his second letter to Timothy, Paul urged him “to rekindle God’s gift” because “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6-7, NET). The spirit in us is like a fire, and we can either stir it up (i.e. rekindle) or let it die down to coals. That’s up to us. God gives us His spirit and His word, but whether or not we are on fire for Him is a choice we get to make.
And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.Romans 13:11-14, NET
The statement “our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers” is as true for us today as it was for Paul’s first readers. The work God the Father and Jesus began in us will come to completion either with our deaths or at Christ’s return (Phil. 1:6), and that time is getting closer each day. We mustn’t waste any more time before we put off darkness and clothe ourselves instead with the true Light of Jesus Christ (John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). The more time we spend with Him and becoming like him, the more we will shine as lights on fire for God.
Featured image by Hans Benn from Pixabay