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The wineskin or the wine?
- Jacob Ninan
The disciples of John asked Jesus why His disciples were not fasting like them or the Pharisees (Mt.9:14). In reply Jesus said that new wine needed new wineskins and could not be put into old wineskins. Obviously, the meaning was that Jesus was bringing some new things which could not fit in with the old religious forms. To put in other words, the old covenant had its laws, rituals and forms, but the new covenant was something entirely new. The old covenant focussed on external arrangements and behaviour, while the new one turned the focus to the inner man or man's spirit. This was what God wanted all along (1Sa.16:7), but He had to begin at an introductory level with the people of Israel at the time of their leaving Egypt because they did not have sufficient maturity in their knowledge of God (Ga.4:3-5).
But the sad thing is that even under the new covenant, many Christians are focussing more on the wineskin than on the wine itself. Granted, some of them are looking at new wineskins. They study and try to implement the new testament pattern of the church (organisation, order of service), for example, or discuss about what dress or hair style Christians should have, how often we should have communion or how exactly it should be done, how we should adapt our Christianity to the culture around us, what all we are allowed to do and not, etc. It is not that we don't need to look at these things at all; after all, we can't have wine around without a wineskin to hold it. But the point is, are we more interested in keeping the wine's quality or in designing a good wineskin?
One day, when our time on this earth is over and we have been translated into eternity with our glorified 'bodies', how much would it matter what kind of forms and rules we followed here? They would matter only to the extent that they helped in preserving the wine.
The wine represents our inner life, the life of our spirit. God has redeemed us from death and from Satan's hands by paying with the blood of Jesus Christ, and now He is in the business of transforming us into the nature of Christ. That is what will last through eternity. Whether we wore white clothes or we broke bread every Sunday are not going to be so important then. What did all these things we were fighting for with other Christians contribute to making us like Jesus? (Or did they turn out to the contrary?)
"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained" (Pr.29:18). A prophetic insight is needed to put first things first, not neglecting the others (cf.Mat.23:23). If we don't understand God's priorities, it would be easy for us to take off on a tangent with whatever looks interesting to us at the moment. Momentary interests may come and go, but we must never lose sight of our most important goal. The question is not merely if what we are doing is 'right' or not, but if it is the one thing needed (Lk.10:42). What Martha was doing was good, but it was not 'the one thing'.