Old and New Wineskins
In Jesus’ illustration of the wineskins, I see the wine as representing the Spirit of God. The new wineskin would be a pliable, teachable heart, a life that is able to flex and move as the Spirit of God moves. A stiff old wineskin would be when man fossilizes things to the point where, when the Spirit is trying to move, they respond, “No, this is the way we do it. It can’t be that way. It needs to be this way.” We see this kind of response all around. For example, people form personal convictions that they consider to be very important, obviously. “This is good, so let’s make this as a standard for everyone to follow.” That’s like developing that rigid wineskin. But having one person’s conviction put on everyone isn’t the way the Spirit of God works. He moves within each heart and He motivates each life. We can also fossilize a system of principles. “Here is a good fundamental principle. This is what we build on. This is our structure.” And we start constructing our little building out of these principles. But we’ll find that God is going to push on those, for God can’t be confined within that framework.
Sometimes we may look at the way God has blessed in the past, and think, “That’s it. That’s how God works, and that’s the pattern set down throughout the ages. God is going to do it like this.” But that’s not the answer. Yes, He worked in that way in those people’s hearts and lives in that situation and that circumstance. And now He wants to work in a new circumstance today in our lives. It is true that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8)NKJV and His unchanging character will always be demonstrated in how He works, but the manner and methods are not always going to be exactly the same.
Consider again the disciples of John who came to Jesus. He didn’t tell them, “Oh, you fast and mourn? That’s bad. Don’t do that.” He just said, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Mark 2:19)NKJV He was shedding light on the situation that His disciples were in. The Bridegroom was with them, and it was a time of rejoicing! It wasn’t the season for fasting. And yet He does say that there will be a time in the future when they will fast. How would they know when that time would be? They were to be led and taught by the Spirit. And so you can’t just take this form of fasting and plug it in and say, “This is what true, committed disciples do.” Jesus says, “No, that’s not how we operate.” But neither does He say, “What you’re doing is wrong.”
Let’s look a little more at these rigid wineskins. They are attractive to us because they’re predictable. We can find security in them. There are any number of reasons why we naturally like these things. But if we’re going to walk with the Lord, we need to have a flexible, teachable, pliable heart. As God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)NKJV That doesn’t mean a fleshly, carnal heart. It means a soft, pliable, sensitive heart. He says, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes.” (Ezekiel 36:27)NKJV That’s how God works—His Spirit working with that soft heart, the heart that’s filled with the love of God. In Revelation He told some people, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)NKJV We have to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21). We have to be receiving continually from Him, letting our heart be softened by the love of God. Just like shoe leather, you know. Leather can get hard. But if we continue to soften it with some sort of oil or conditioner, it remains pliable, soft and supple. And that’s like the Lord working in our hearts—a relationship with God of continually going to Him, asking Him, seeking His heart, Him searching our hearts. And it keeps the heart soft and sensitive. When the Spirit of God says, “Do this,” or “Don’t do that,” or “Stop doing that,” we’re sensitive and open to His adjustments. That’s how I want to be.
The flesh can take what I’m saying in the wrong direction and think, “Oh, yeah, we don’t have any rules, we’re free. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do.” I’ll read a scripture about that in Galatians 5. In verse one Paul says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)NKJV Yes, you’re free. “Do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” You don’t have to follow all these rigid guidelines that have been set up. But then look down in verse thirteen: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:13-15)NKJV
The soft heart that we’re to have must be filled with the love of God. That’s what keeps it soft. If we lose the love of God, our hearts will grow cold and hard. We need the love of God to continually be warming and nourishing our hearts. And then, in everything we do, we’re motivated by love for God and love for others.