“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, then the wine will burst the skins and the wine is lost and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.” Mark 2.22
Jesus made this statement in response to John’s disciples who asked why Jesus and his disciples weren’t fasting (perhaps implying acting as religiously serious) as they (and the Pharisees) were. Their question showed (un)healthy doses of judgmentalism, smugness, and rapid rejection of anything new/different from accepted practice – in other words, all the things you would expect to find when members of a religious group encounter others with very different practices. Jesus gave a direct response by pointing out the major difference between the groups – his own presence made his group unlike anything that had come before.
This verse often gets interpreted as marking the difference between Judaism and Christianity, but I think that takes a rather limited view (ignoring both the value Luke’s version puts on the old wine, and Jesus guarantee that later his disciples will indeed fast). I think Jesus had a wider and longer vision in creating this axiom. Whenever God is doing a new thing (as God often does), we cannot expect that new thing to conform to old forms and structures (as we often do). That doesn’t turn out well as both the new content and old structures end up destroyed. The early Christian fellowship didn’t look like Temple worship, even though all the Christians were Jews. The Gentile house churches that grew up next didn’t look like the Jerusalem church. The same has been true ever since. The new wine doesn’t fit in the old skins and bad things happen when we force it. I also think Jesus’ axiom also applies to life in general, not just to churches or ministries.
So if God has put something (examples: ministry, truth, idea, desire to do something for the kingdom, direction – big or small – for your life) on your heart (as God often does), just do it and don’t expect it to look like anything else. In fact, you should ask concerning every part of the new thing if you are doing that because it fits well into your vision (the one God has given you) or because ‘things have always been done that way.’ That is old wineskin thinking right there and chances are those things that resist change are the very things that will kill your vision and spill your new wine.
If God wants to do something new in your life/ministry (as God often does), you should expect that to come with some degree of structural change. Be open to it. Don’t resist it. Don’t try to cram the new wine (can you cram liquid?) God is giving you (as God often does) into those old wineskins/structures/habits/life-patterns that you hold so dear (as we often do). I know it can be hard/scary/scary-hard to let go of things/structures but the new ones will hold the new wine better (like a bowl holds soup better than a colander). We tend to think that certain things are holy/sacred, like John’s disciples did about fasting. But structures/practices/wineskins are always means to an end, to be used when appropriate, but not revered/chosen over the move of God.
Reflect and pray this week about what new wine the Lord has for your life and/or ministry (as God probably does), where you might have old wineskins getting in the way (as we probably do), and how the Spirit might be is nudging you (as in right now through reading this) to introduce new wineskins/structures/ways-of-doing-stuff to hold that new wine. Ask for clear direction about new wineskins. The Spirit will give it to you if you ask, as the Spirit often does.