Before beginning this study, it would good to review an incident that happened with Joshua as he was leading Israel into the Promised Land. As the Israelites entered the land, the fear and dread of the Israelites affected all the inhabitants of the land. The Gibeonites realized they would not survive a fight with Israel, so they devised a plan to get them out of harm’s way:
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.”
Josh 9:3-6 (ESV)
Joshua and the elders of Israel were suspicious at first, and they were unwilling to make a covenant with them because they might be inhabitants of the land. The Gibeonites then told their story of distant origins and showed the evidence:
Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.”
Josh 9:12-13 (ESV)
Joshua and the elders looked at the Gibeonites and believed what they saw:
So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
Josh 9:14-15 (ESV)
Three days later Joshua found out that they really were inhabitants of the land, and that the Gibeonites had deceived them. Since they had sworn to let them live, they could not raise a hand against them. There is a principle here that we must not overlook. Appearances can be deceiving, and this is especially true in the last days. Jesus warned His disciples that: “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” Matt 24:24 (ESV). If God’s own people could be deceived if it were possible, what chance do people outside the church have of distinguishing what is true from what is false?
Since our eyes can deceive us, as the story of Joshua and the Gibeonites illustrates, we need is an objective and totally reliable source of information that can see through even the most well-crafted deceptions. The Lord knows all things, and He is the one who can help us distinguish the good from the bad; in order to do this, we must “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” Prov 3:5-6 (ESV). This simple formula is very important; we cannot get our lives straightened out and expose deceptions unless we follow His rules.
Paul compared our lives to competing in a race. There are rules for running a race as well as in living for God, and if you don’t compete according to the rules, you will be disqualified. The foolish virgins neglected the rules, and they were disqualified when the Bridegroom came. We must take precautions against being disqualified. In order to do this, we must make sure our hearts are right before God.
The issues of life are in the heart, but “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jer 17:9 (ESV). Even though we are new creations in Christ, it does not mean that our old nature is dead and buried. The heart is sick and afflicted with our old nature; this old nature constantly wants to reassert itself in our lives. We still have to fight against its influence every day, and if unchecked, the old nature will reassert itself. If you have any doubts about this, consider these examples: The Corinthian church had to deal with jealousy, strife, division, and sexual sin. When Paul met Cephas in Antioch, he condemned Cephas for hypocrisy when he and the Jewish believers separated themselves from the Gentile believers (Gal 2: 11-14). Demas was once a coworker with Paul (Col 4: 14), but he loved the world and returned to it (2 Tim 4: 10). Paul had such a sharp disagreement with Barnabas about bringing Mark with them that they separated from each other (Acts 15: 36-41). These examples should be sufficient to show that we must always be on guard against the old nature reasserting itself. The problem is that there is a real danger that it may be asserting itself and we may not be aware of it. Consider the case of two churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.
The Lord addresses the church of Ephesus:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.’
Rev 2:1-3 (ESV)
This sounds very encouraging. The Ephesians are working hard, and they won’t put up with evil. Any deceivers who wanted to masquerade as apostles avoided this church. They held up under trials and endured patiently, and they didn’t grow weary. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to hear this from the Lord? The problem is, this isn’t the whole story, and one word changes the course of the report:
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Rev 2:4-5 (ESV)
One has to ask, how can it be that a church is laboring for the Lord and persevering under trials and yet they were in danger of missing the mark? How can they know when a false apostle is in their midst, but by the same token they didn’t know their own condition? It’s because they were unaware of their true condition. They really were doing some things right, but they mistook that to mean that nothing was amiss, and because of this they didn’t realize that they had drifted away from the straight path. They had abandoned the love they had at first, and because of this they were in danger of having their lampstand removed! They looked alright and they may have felt alright, but they needed serious repentance. Unfortunately, when everything looks alright, no one thinks to ask the Lord if everything really is alright.
The address to the church of the Laodiceans makes the point very clear:
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’
Rev 3:14-17 (ESV)
The Laodiceans also thought everything was fine; they didn’t realize that they were really “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The common thread that runs through these cases are people who mistakenly believed everything was in order which negated a need for self-examination: “Aren’t we are doing Lord’s work? Since this is so, what could be wrong? There is no need to ask counsel from the Lord” Those who depend on their own understanding (e.g. Joshua and the Gibeonites, the Ephesians and Laodiceans), or who don’t think they need anything are already drifting into the camp of the foolish virgins. Looks can be deceiving. If we have faith to move mountains, and if we have endured under trials, and even if we have cast out devils and have done many wonderful things, it still doesn’t mean that everything is acceptable to the Lord (Cf. Matt 7: 21-23).
The foolish virgins thought they were ready. They were also waiting for the Lord, but the fact is they were not ready, and they didn’t realize the error until it was too late. Remember this: there is no harm in asking the Lord to verify our true condition, but there could be eternal loss for not asking the Lord to help us understand our true condition. If He says we are blameless, then we really are. But if He reveals hidden faults, we must make the necessary corrections while there is still time. Don’t be a foolish virgin and put things off.
It is the Lord’s will for us that we walk before Him and be blameless, but as we have seen, it is possible to think we are alright when we really aren’t. I don’t want any of my brothers and sisters to be disqualified from the race; I want everyone to receive a full reward and hear the Lord say “well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Oh Lord, I am not aware of faults that I may have, but this doesn’t mean that I am blameless. There is no darkness in You, and since I am created in Your image, I ask You to examine me for any hidden faults and show me anything about me that may be offensive to You. I want to please You and be free of any faults. I confess that I can be fooled, but You are good, and You know all things. You know what’s really going on. Help me to understand my true condition. I ask You to forgive me if I have grieved You in any way, and I ask You to create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. I put my trust in You, and I will not lean on my own understanding. Make my path straight, according to Your word.