Leadership requires the willingness and capability to speak the truth in all situations. This becomes more important when the economic, cultural, and situational conditions worsen. Recently, I was studying the parable of the ten virgins in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew. Like many passages, I had read this parable several times, but the prompting of the Holy Spirit has made me meditate here for several days. This passage contains a leadership lesson pertinent for God’s people who lead, whether in family, government, education, business, media, arts, and entertainment, especially His ekklesia (church).
Speaking the truth has implications for health and well-being in the natural and eternal implications in the spiritual. For example, those of us with children would advise them to do or not do certain things to keep them safe. In my business career, I would advise organizations and those reporting to me on how best to handle situations for their and the organization’s benefit. Christ did the same thing for His followers in this parable. He did so in anticipation of difficult times with eternal consequences.
The statement that the Kingdom of Heaven will be “likened to” (NKJV) ten virgins is the old English translation of the original Greek Word for “compared” [to]. The ten virgins represent the church here on earth, made of wise and foolish believers. When the Bridegroom—Christ— comes, the ten virgins are to serve Him. These girls, by tradition, were to go out and meet the bridegroom, light the path, and attend to any needs as they led him to the wedding feast (Henry, 1706/1994). This tradition of Jewish weddings in Biblical times would be a familiar example to Christ’s audience.
Similarly, the modern church is to be prepared to light the path for the rest of the world to attend the wedding of Christ to His bride, the church. The lamps signify the believers’ profession of faith and commitment to Christ and show the light of truth each person in the church should represent. This example refers to Matthew 5:14-16 where Christ told His listeners that they were to be the “light of the world” and to let their “light shine before men.” This light is expected to be truthful, without hesitancy, and fully displayed by our fruits.
Christ points out that there were five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. The original Word translated as “wise” can also be considered prudent or thoughtful. Christ is trying to communicate that the “wise” virgins were not necessarily more intelligent than everyone else but were aware of their situation and prepared. These wise virgins brought their lamps and ensured they had extra oil to keep them burning if the bridegroom was late. The foolish virgins brought their lamps but did not bring extra oil. They were not adequately prepared for the conditions they may face. This situation identifies the modern church. Many in the church have made the academic decision to follow Christ but have not embraced everything that the decision requires. They have a burning lamp, professing that they have made a decision. However, their light will burn out over time without additional oil to fuel it.
The oil in this scenario represents the spirit that fills the believer who truly seeks after God. The spirit leads to daily consumption of the Word of God, meditation, and prayer. All activities aim to weather the storms of life by refilling the lamp and being prepared to meet Christ when He returns. The foolish virgins—foolish/hypocrite believers— have not prepared for the storms of life, delays, and struggles. These believers fall away over time when life becomes too hard or they do not see a return on their investment of time and effort. As Christ said in Luke 8:13 & 14, these believers will hear and embrace the Word but fall away without developing deep roots. The wise virgins have oil to replenish their lamps. These believers stay in the Word, pray, and work to help others and are known by their fruit. They may sometimes become weakened in their service, but they have the oil to replenish their lamps because they consume the Word of God and stay in prayer.
Christ realizes the human audience He is addressing and tells them that while the bridegroom was delayed, “all” slumber and sleep (vs. 5). The wise and the foolish church may stop being watchful and become lazy. They may let sin enter their congregations, accept ungodly behavior, or not challenge those living in sin. We have seen this behavior in today’s church, which weakens or ignores the message about sin, accepts LGBTQ in the church and even in the pulpit, and may hold antisemitic beliefs or embrace Baal worship in the form of a pro-abortion stance. The difference is that the wise church has the oil to replenish their lamps and get them burning brightly again. The foolish church has no reserve spirit to call upon, so their lamp goes dull and eventually will go out. These are the church members spoken of in Hebrews 6: 4 & 5 and 2 Peter 2:20; once they have tasted the heavenly gifts, been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and then fallen away, it is difficult or impossible for them to renew these gifts. It would have been better that they never became acquainted with the law.
What is the impact of the churches’ decisions and preparation? The wise church can enter the wedding feast with Christ and become a part of His Kingdom. The foolish church continues to search in vain for what will make them acceptable. The eternal consequence is that the foolish church and its members are closed out permanently. The door to the feast will close to protect Christ’s chosen (Revelations 3:12) and keep those unworthy from entering. The closing of the door on Noah’s Ark is another example of the permanency of this closing door. Verses 11 and 12 of the chapter tell us that many protested and said they professed a belief by carrying a lit lamp and calling on Christ’s name, but they did not know Him as Lord of their life. They did not follow Him or obey in all they did. When they knocked, He told them, “I do not know you.” How many in today’s church will hear the same message?
As leaders, we have the duty to tell our followers the absolute truth regardless of how positively or negatively the message will be received. My doctoral dissertation explored management styles and their impact on the retention and engagement of employees during a merger. The result was that management style did not matter. The most important thing a leader can do is tell the truth and remain in communication frequently (Boggs, 2022). How much more important is that when there are eternal consequences? Christ gives us a prime example.
Boggs. K. (2022). A qualitative journey from the influence of leadership style to the importance of communication on engagement & retention of employees in a healthcare organization during merger and acquisition [Doctoral dissertation, Columbia International University]. ProQuest.
Henry. M. (1706/1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.