Your blog challenged me in an unexpected way. I found myself asking: “Where am I in danger of becoming old wineskins in personal relationships?” Had not thought of this previously. Thanks.
Many of us have become deeply cynical about the organizations that fill our world. Here are the headliners:
Many of us perversely even distrust those organizations we rely on the most – Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Netflix, to name a few.
Jesus taught us about structures that facilitate relationships, comparing them to wineskins. He said:
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” Luke 5:36-38
Organizations are wineskins
People are wine, organizations are wineskins. Wineskins work for a season, holding the new wine. As the wine ferments, it creates gas that puts pressure on the wineskin, causing it to expand. In the process, the wineskin loses its elasticity and its utility.
Jesus was talking about how old rule-based religion, for example, rules about fasting, needed to change. When the world changes and an organization fails to adapt, it loses its utility. Organizations – businesses, churches, nonprofits – are founded for a purpose. Because most people resist change, over time organizations often become bureaucratic or inflexible.
As they approach the end of their life cycle, they wear out. Governments get bloated and ripe for revolution. The Acts church becomes the Orthodox church. Myspace dies and Facebook rises up. One day Facebook too will die. Denominations become sclerotic, fail to make room for the prophetic, and like the Pharisees, become opponents of the thing they originally defended, standing in the way of the next move of God.
When we think of a kingdom, we think of government. But Jesus came to establish a kingdom founded on relationships, not organization. He called us to prioritize our relationships, loving one another.
If we prioritize relationships over organizations, we can stay true to the new covenant Jesus gave us – the law of love. Of course people are flawed. The Evangelical church is filled with sinners just like the Catholic church. And of course when we make a commitment, we need to honor it.
But Nicodemus the Pharisee saw something his brethren did not. He didn’t let his organizational loyalty keep him from the pursuit of the truth. He prioritized relationship with Jesus, showing up at key times in Jesus’ life. We need to have the heart of Nicodemus.
So how does this relate to us? We have a cultural problem that makes it difficult for us to follow Jesus in this regard. Social media has accelerated the migration of our culture away from deep, red-blooded relationships. Internet life is founded on virtual relationships and transactional commitments. We begin to see relationships through this lens – “what’s in it for me?” we ask. Our commitment lasts as long as the transaction.
In contrast, churches were made for deep connection – with one another and with God. But our modern churches post job descriptions online and hire and fire our pastors. The average youth pastor lasts less than two years in his role and then moves on. We’re not given models of covenantal relationship.
We’ve grown up in a world of old wineskins and may not even realize it. The technology in our lives may look cutting edge, but it often does nothing to feed our souls. We buy it from people, attaching ourselves to organizational logos and symbols. And so, we confuse loyalty to organizations with loyalty to people.
What do we do?
We love a God of covenants, covenants that memorialize our loyalty to people. It’s time for a revolution in the way we think about people.
Be loyal to people as a first priority – that’s covenantal thinking. Be loyal to organizations insofar as they serve the purpose you’ve committed to.
Maybe it’s time to take an inventory of your loyalties. Maybe it’s time to ask if you’ve become loyal to organizations that no longer serve their purpose. Asking a few questions is a good place to start:
- What commitments have you made in life?
- Are they relational or transactional?
- How loyal are you to people?
- Are there any organizations that you support that no longer serve their purpose?
Such a good question for those of us who are getting older to ask!
Thanks for this, Seth. Its timely in ways you’ll never know!
Thank you for this! I’m meditating on this and finding it challenging. You put into words what we’ve been feeling for some time. And in a way these words have released me of a guilt I didn’t know I had.
Great thought-provoking post, Seth. Maybe it’s because I tend to err on the side of extreme loyalty to both people and organizations long after ties should have been cut that I find the most interesting version of this parable to be in Luke 5 separated from the rest by verse 39.
“And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Ironically, an organization killed Jesus and none of His friends were loyal until Pentecost when he was gone, the new wine was given, and even Peter finally got it right. The Kingdom of God is indeed a covenantal relationship that will be finalized in a marriage and a wedding banquet. That said, apart from Holy Spirit power I don’t know how anyone commanded to forgive someone like me 70 x 7 times is going to make it to that wedding.
I’m inclined to err on the side of loyalty as well. We’ve become so transactional in America – we need to understand how loyal God is to us in order to recalibrate our own sense of loyalty.
What a thought-provoking and challenging post. Thank you Seth.
This is such an eye opening post, thank you Seth barns!!
This post is the answer to a long standing struggle I have had. Thank you and thank the Father for directing me here.
Man this is so good and so challenging. Too many times I find myself assuming I know everything about someone just because of a group they associate with.
Powerful to look at people and organizations through the light of old wineskins – so glad the WR is being poured into new wineskins!
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