Keeping Our Lamps Full With the Oil of God’s Grace

You know, enough cannot be written about God’s grace. To me, grace is the most supreme gift that our Creator has ever given us; greater than life itself. Why? Because we cannot even hope to live lives full of love without grace. It’s grace that turns the most hardened sinner to a righteous way of life. It’s grace that allows the prideful to admit when they have been wrong. It’s grace that elevates us beyond the status of reasoning apes to that of loving human being. Yet, grace is the most maligned and misunderstood doctrine in Christendom. I believe it’s grace that keeps me from losing faith completely. Without grace and completely grace, I could not have faith at all.

Grace is not something I can take hold of myself. It’s not something I can CHOOSE tolamps have in my life. Grace is entirely a gift. It is a gift of the presence of God in our hearts. In the bible, many people try to work around this entirely free gift by making the scriptures say something they do not. Grace, while an overt concept in some Epistles, is an implied concept in the Gospels. In the Jewish Scriptures it is called chesed, or “lovingkindness.”

In the Jewish Scriptures, grace is represented by hospitality and the key ingredient to hospitality in the Middle East is the precious commodity of olive oil. Interestingly, olive oil plays a key role in the building of the first temple to God. In today’s reading of the One Year Bible the Israelites are given detailed instructions in Exodus 26-27 about building the temple and the altar of the Lord. At the very end of the chapter 27 we read,

20 “You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.

The lamp represents the eternal presence of the Lord in and before his tabernacle, just as the pillar of fire represented his presence before the tabernacle was built in a semi-permanent place. Hence, oil was absolutely necessary to keep this lamp burning. Oil and the grace of God’s presence are synonymous in the bible.

In the New Testament, the Greek charis literally means “gift.” Jesus is the supreme gift of God’s presence. In the Gospel of John, John writes,

Joh 1:14 ESV
(14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Literally, God “tabernacled” among us. God has erected his Temple in the Word, which is Jesus. And that Word is full of grace and truth. God is instructing believers on building His dwelling place in the new Christian era. Our hearts, where Jesus dwells, is the new tabernacle or temple of God.

John 1:16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

The great New Testament commentator, John Gill, describes this grace received from Jesus Christ:

Faith is the hand which receives Christ, and grace from him; and the act of receiving, being expressed in the past tense, seems to regard first conversion, when faith is first wrought, and along with it abundance of grace is received; for a believer has nothing but what is given him, and what he has, is in a way of receiving; so that there is no room for boasting, but great reason for thankfulness, and much encouragement to apply to Christ for more grace, which is the thing received,

While Jesus did not utter the word “grace” himself, his parables clearly taught the concept of grace to those who were not entirely ready to receive it. He taught of those people who have God’s grace and those who think they do, but don’t. He is talking about those inside the Kingdom and those outside the Kingdom.

Today’s readings in the One Year Bible illustrate this point. The parables of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 does not speak to those who do not comprehend Jesus’ meaning about the kingdom. It is a secret teaching and has a secret meaning, meant only for his disciples to interpret rightly. The hidden meaning is for them; it is for those “in the know,” those who receive His grace,

Mat 25:1-13 ESV
(1) “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
(2) Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
(3) For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
(4) but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
(5) As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
(6) But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
(7) Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.
(8) And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
(9) But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
(10) And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
(11) Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
(12) But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
(13) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

VirginsThe key words are “foolish” and “wise.” Who are the wise? Those virgins (pure in heart) that believed what Jesus said and were prepared by having oil in their lamps (became believers). The foolish are those, who at the last minute see which way the spiritual wind is blowing and try to ride the coattails of true believers into the kingdom. They have no oil for their lamps. They never did have the proper oil. They did not have the grace of God in their hearts to begin with. They are outside the Kingdom and it’s too late to enter in once He has arrived. Jesus says to them, “I do not know you.” What awful words to those who want only the reward of the Kingdom without having prepared for it by receiving God’s grace through faith. Many of these kinds of parables are not about working for our salvation. In many of Jesus’ parables, you either have oil, talents, pay for a day’s work, etc. or you don’t. You are either a sheep or a goat. You have taken the seed in when it was sown, or you haven’t. There’s no middle ground. Just as there is no middle ground today. You either believe by the grace of God, or you don’t.

I thought long and hard about this passage this morning. To the Christian, there is no greater gift than the gift of God’s presence (grace) in the temple of our hearts (Ephesians 2:5-9). We receive it, when we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead for our salvation (Romans 10:8-10). The veil of the physical temple in Jerusalem has once and for all been replaced by the altar God wants us to have in our hearts as a place of spiritual worship, through the High Priest, Jesus Christ (Mat. 27:50-51; Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 9-10). This altar is erected as soon as God draws us and gives us the grace to believe (John 6:44). So I had to ask myself, “Is my lamp lit?” Is there any evidence that God’s grace is in my heart; that God changed me from the way I was before? Although I’m not saved by works, evidence of God’s grace in my heart, as shown in my deeds, reveals the sate of my soul, my salvation. Can anyone see that I am saved?

As Lent approaches, almost too quickly, I feel led to make my calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). I feel led to stop trying to extinguish the (by now) smoldering wick of God’s presence in my heart (Isaiah 42:3). I need to stop trying to blow the light out in my heart or stop hiding it under a bushel (Mark 4:21). I don’t want to be one of those 10 virgins that scrambles at the last minute trying to find God’s grace and discovering that I never had it to begin with. May God grant us sufficient grace to keep our lamps burning, not necessarily in a full, metal melting blaze of obnoxious spiritual pride, but just enough to weakly navigate the corridors of our salvation in humility and fear and trembling.

May you receive the oil of grace this Lenten season.