There is a detail about the ten virgins’ parable that needs to be examined. The second verse tells us that “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” Matt 25:2 (ESV). This verse reveals that there were two distinct groups; this is important even if it doesn’t get talked about a lot. Groups are important parts of all our lives. The most important group believers can belong to is the body of Christ. We are by nature social beings; it is part of our human nature to want to belong to a group. The desire to be part of a group can be very powerful, and there are two principle reasons for this.
A group creates an atmosphere of acceptance. This acceptance is based on some kind of common ground that the group members share. When we interact with these people, we can exchange thoughts and ideas without sounding out of place. We can open our hearts with someone who knows what it’s like to go through what we are experiencing, and who can say “I have been there.” If the shared experience is especially strong, one might even say “it’s like we have known each other our whole lives.” The saying that “birds of a feather flock together” is true. A group of people who share life’s trials have agreement and harmony; this creates an atmosphere of acceptance (especially if love is involved) that has a very powerful appeal.
A group can also create a sense of security. It is much easier for a person to weather a storm knowing others are there to help, and they are not alone in this. There really is strength in numbers, and Solomon tells us:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Eccl 4:9-12 (ESV)
We can even see this in nature itself. Animals that stay in the herd are safe from attack. It’s the stranglers and loners who are vulnerable to predators. Safety can be a compelling reason to be a part of a group as well; there is a great comfort in knowing that someone is watching your back. Now you may ask, what does all this have to do with the parable of the ten virgins?
Craving the acceptance of the wrong group (or person) can come at the expense of your eternal life. When I said that the desire to be in a group can be powerful, I meant that as a warning because it is powerful. Wise virgins take note! I believe the strongest example of this can be found with Solomon, who was one of the wisest men ever to live. Solomon knew the Scriptures, and what they said would happen if he married foreign women. Solomon followed God, but he also loved foreign women who followed their own gods. Solomon could not have any common ground with his wives without compromise. Even though Solomon was very wise, he did not listen to wisdom when it came to marriage:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2 (ESV)
Notice that last line. Solomon craved love and acceptance from the foreign women he married, but people cannot walk together unless they are in agreement. He had a choice to make. Either he should follow God with all his heart, or he must compromise and turn away from God. Here is what happened:
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:4-8 (ESV)
If a man as wise as Solomon can fall, we should not underestimate the power of love and acceptance to persuade us to turn us away from the Living God. It is always tragic to hear about people who have gotten into abusive relationships, lost money in a romantic scam, or joined cults because they thought these things would give them the love and acceptance they were looking for. We can avoid this trap by remembering the counsel of God: Examine everything under the light of God’s word. For those who will heed this, it will save them from many sorrows.
In this case, the first thing we need to do is define what love really is. If we know what true love is and what its qualities and characteristics are, we can spot the counterfeits. This is what Paul tells us about love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Cor 13:4-7 (ESV)
Let’s compare this with the deal Solomon got from his foreign wives. The price for their love was accepting their gods and rejecting the one true God. This cannot be true love because it insisted on its own way. Solomon’s wives never wanted to serve the Lord God (Cf. Ruth 1: 16-17); they insisted on having their own way and worshipping their own gods (Strike one). Worshipping other gods was also a direct violation of the first commandment. This is wrongdoing of the highest order, but the love his wives had rejoiced in this. Rejoicing in wrongdoing is not evidence of true love (strike two). True love is enduring. It doesn’t present a list of conditions that must be met before it is bestowed. Solomon’s wives offered a conditional love; it would only be given in exchange for meeting its requirements (strike three). This cursory examination shows that Solomon was not being offered true love, but a counterfeit. This brings us back to the virgins.
As I mentioned at first, there were two groups. The foolish group was careless, compromising, and negligent, and given the case of Solomon, it follows that some of the foolish virgins were once in the wise camp. There was something about foolishness that persuaded these once wise virgins to embrace it. Foolishness can be very persuasive in areas we are vulnerable in. For example, if we have had a childhood in which the parents withheld love, or only showed love under certain conditions, we will want to find the love and acceptance we didn’t get somewhere else. If we have had a life where we never felt secure, then we will try to find that security somewhere. Foolishness offers deceptive imitations to satisfy our needs, but since these imitations do not originate from God, they do not have the divine power to affect a cure. They will never be the healing balm we need; they can only bring ruin.
Foolishness has a sweet and pleasant taste at first; it can even be like intoxication. This is deceptive because only later does the taste become bitter, but by that time a person has ingested large amounts of foolishness and the weeds that choke out the word have been sown. The heart becomes hard, and this makes a spiritual recovery doubtful. Foolishness truly has a season when it feels pleasant and enjoyable, but it lasts just long enough for the hook to be set. If Solomon perceived the bitterness immediately, would he have continued? Given Solomon’s case, there are two things we should watch out for: We should never underestimate the power of our need for love, acceptance, and security to draw away into foolishness, and we should never overestimate our power to resist. In other words, we should take the warnings of Scripture seriously:
The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Prov 9:13-18 (ESV)
We should always try to help people recover from the grip of foolishness, but if you are trying to help someone who has been persuaded that “stolen water is sweet,” remember this warning: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” Gal 6:1 (ESV). Watch out that your efforts to help don’t end up snaring you. Don’t become a casualty!
Wise virgins, stay in your group. What kind of people do you associate with? Do they rejoice in the truth? Do they insist on their own way? Are they telling you to stock up on oil while the markets are still open? Or are they saying there is no need to get all radical, there’s plenty of time and the wait for the Bridegroom won’t be that long anyway? The time is getting short, and the Lord will soon return for His people. Do not stop meeting together and encouraging one another while it is still called today. Build each other up and pray for one another. Do not turn away from wisdom:
And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.
Prov 8:32-36 (ESV)
Take care, my beloved.