New wine into new wineskins

'No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no-one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.' (Mar 2:21–2)

A parable is a short story, or statement, based on events in everyday life that teaches a spiritual lesson, and the events Jesus chose to use in this parable would have been readily understood by his listeners:

Jesus spoke those words two thousand years ago and was referring specifically to the religious system of his day. But God has incorporated them into his eternal Word, which means they are relevant to every Christian in every age.

2Ti 3:16–7 tells us that

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So what message do these words of Jesus hold for Christians today?

Tradition

Judaism, by the time of Christ, had become a rigid and inflexible system that was incapable of holding the new wine (manifestation) of his Spirit that God was about to pour out at Pentecost. But what had made Judaism so rigid and inflexible? The main reason was that it had become a religion that was based largely on tradition.

Jesus told the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law that they had let go of the commands of God and were holding on to the traditions of men (Mar 7:5–8). And, unfortunately, there was no way that situation was going to change because the leaders didn't want it to change.

Jesus spoke a profound truth in Luk 5:39 when he said:

'And no-one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, "The old is better." '

Many people, even Christians, prefer things to remain as they are; they feel comfortable and secure with what they know and have got used to. Change often involves stepping out into the unknown, and not everyone is willing to take that step.

But God doesn't stand still even if we do, and his church must be flexible and open to the leading of his Spirit if it's to fulfil its purpose on earth.

Flexibility

In Jesus' day, the treated hides of small animals (usually goats) were used extensively for storing and transporting liquids, especially wine. However, wineskins eventually lose their elasticity and become brittle. Such skins are suitable for storing old wine, which is no longer fermenting, but not for storing new wine.

New wine was wine from the most recent harvest, whereas old wine was wine from the previous year which, through age, had matured and was considered by many to taste better.

When new wine was placed into a wineskin it continued to ferment, so it was essential to put it into a new, flexible, skin that would expand as the carbon dioxide gas (a by-product of fermentation) was given off. If new wine was placed into an old wineskin, the gas would burst the skin and both the skin and the wine would be lost.

Similarly, everyone knew what would happen if an unshrunk patch was sewn onto an old garment. When it was washed, the new patch would shrink and pull away from the garment leaving a bigger tear than before.

Jesus used these illustrations to show the people that the outpouring of his Spirit, which was about to take place at Pentecost, would have to be put into a structure that would be flexible enough to contain it, ie the New Testament church, rather than the old, inflexible, wineskin of Judaism.

Change

What lessons can we learn from this? There are two:

The parable of the wine and the wineskins is about putting new wine into a suitable vessel or container, and there are two vessels, or containers, the Holy Spirit dwells in today:

The church

Don't you know that you yourselves [the church at Corinth] are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? (1Co 3:16)

Every Christian church is a temple of the Holy Spirit and it's the responsibility of its leaders to provide a suitable framework for the Holy Spirit to move freely within that church. It's also the duty of Christians to find a church where that framework exists.

The believer

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body. (1Co 6:19–20)

Every Christian, also, is a temple, or vessel, of the Holy Spirit. How flexible or malleable are we in the hands of our Lord? Do we resist the moving of his Spirit within us?

Is Jesus totally Lord of our lives or have we retained control of certain areas, such as our finances for example? As the old saying goes: If he is not Lord of all, then he is not Lord at all.

Patching up the old

Luke records some other words of Jesus on this subject:

'No-one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.' (Luk 5:36)

No one would dream of taking a new coat, cutting a piece out of it and sewing it onto an old coat, would they? Or would they?

There is only one person who would do that: someone who cherished the old coat so much they would be prepared to ruin the new one in an attempt to save the old—and that, unfortunately, is what is happening in some churches today.

Think about it. If you loved an old garment so much—if it was your pride and your joy—you would take the best part of the new garment to patch up the old one. Similarly, some churches are taking what they like best from the current move of the Holy Spirit and incorporating it into their fellowships.

Some have accepted new worship songs and are using modern instruments to accompany their worship. Others are allowing clapping and exuberance in their meetings, but they won't allow prophecies, messages in tongues or other manifestations of the Spirit. However, we cannot be selective with God—we can't take from him what we want and leave the things we don't want.

Rules for meetings

Paul gave instructions for church meetings in 1Co 14:26–33:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to strengthen the church (1Co 12:1,4–11) and should be desired and welcomed by every believer and fellowship (1Co 14:1). Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18) and we can be sure he will build it according to his own will and purpose. He will not allow our likes, preferences or traditions to stop his work.

Remain flexible

Judaism began as a religion based on God's commands and desires, but by the time of Christ it had degenerated into a religion based on man's desires and traditions. Similarly, any New Testament church can begin as a new wineskin, supple and flexible in the Lord's hand but, with time, can become rigid and set in its ways.

People often wonder why new churches are being formed while existing churches are falling into decline. Could this be because the churches our Lord moved so freely through in the past, have now become rigid and incapable of holding the new wine (current move) of his Spirit?

Church history has shown that every new move of God has resulted in new churches being created because the existing churches were unwilling to embrace what God wanted to do.

Many churches are founded on a vision from God and subsequent leaders are often zealous in adhering to that vision. But God moves on and his will can change: what he wanted to achieve through a church yesterday may not be what he wants to achieve through it today.

We must remain flexible and open to the moving of God's Spirit, both in our own lives, and in the life of the church.

Michael Graham
August 2002
Revised March 2017

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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