The Parable of the 10 Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the New Testament are familiar to most readers of the Bible. Each one teaches a valuable lesson about faith. They teach that the faithful will be watchful and prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Reading them together in Matthew 25, it would be easy to assume that they all reinforce the same lesson: watch and be ready. Yet the Master often said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). Reading those parables one after another in my most recent journey through the New Testament, I gained a new insight: they not only reinforce the lesson of faith and obedience, but taken together they also teach us an important principle of spiritual progress. They show how feeding our faith helps us grow into beings prepared for eternal blessings.
The Parable of the 10 Virgins teaches about five wise ones, prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom, and five foolish, caught unprepared. This story isn’t about believers versus nonbelievers. The 10 are all apparently believers—people who have been exposed to or have committed themselves at some level to the teachings of Christ. They had equal opportunity to be fully prepared, but five of them did little or nothing to develop their faith. When the wise virgins do not share their oil with the foolish, this might seem selfish—if the parable were only about oil. But it is about faith and obedience, qualities we must develop within ourselves by exercising them. No one else can simply give us faith we did not nurture through a life of obedience. The virgins acceptable to the bridegroom are those who have nurtured their faith through consistent daily obedience.
The Parable of the Talents likewise teaches about taking the opportunity to nurture and develop what we have been given. We are not told whether the master traveling to a far country gave his servants any special instructions about what to do with the riches he entrusted to them—only that he entrusted various talents to them according to their ability (v. 15). When the master returns, he asks for an accounting, and two of the servants give back what he entrusted to them, plus more that they gained. But one servant has not improved on what was entrusted to him. The two who increased what they were given have done it not for themselves, but for the benefit of their master, and for this they are rewarded. The fate of the third servant—he loses everything—may seem harsh, until we remember that we are not talking about tangible goods. We are talking about development of spiritual strength and capabilities. If in this mortal life, we do nothing to develop what we are given, it will be too late when we stand before God at the judgment. On the other hand, those who have developed what they were given by putting faith into action will be prepared to handle more of the Master’s gifts.
Christ calls us to action. He calls us to “ask” and “seek” and “knock” and we will be rewarded, blessed with answers that will shape our lives. God, our loving Father, will surely give us good gifts when we ask in faith. (See Matthew 7:7-11.) All the gifts He gives when we seek and ask and find, we can magnify and give back to Him as our offerings. What we become is the only thing we can give to Him that He did not already have.
The third parable tells us that when our great Shepherd and Redeemer comes, He will sort us into His sheep, on His right hand, and the goats, on His left. The sheep will be those who have served their fellow men and women as He would have done if He had been there. His sheep will have become like Him. The goats will be those who were so little concerned about others that they did not see the needs of those around them.
The sheep—those He will take into His kingdom—will be those who stored up the oil of faith and obedience, put their faith into action to become something more, and grew to be more Christlike.
Many years ago, my wife and I were privileged to travel in the Holy Land with a group of religious educators. One afternoon we sat on top of a hill near Bethlehem and looked out over the area known as Shepherds’ Fields. While we read about and discussed the events that had taken place there on a night some 2,000 years earlier, a local shepherd walked through our scattered group followed closely by his sheep. They followed him unhesitatingly toward the sheepfold. They were not compelled or somehow mesmerized into following. There was grass nearby where they could have turned aside to graze. But they followed him because they knew him and knew that with him was safety and security. They knew he would nurture them.
As we diligently build our stores of faith, develop our spiritual strength at every opportunity, and learn to do as He would do, we will be prepared for a place at the right hand of our Shepherd when He comes again.