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The concept of an old bottle as someone who is inflexible and unwilling to accept change is one that we learned from The Family many years ago. And it is one that we have used orally many times over the years.

The term "old bottle" comes from a parable in the fifth chapter of Luke, where Jesus was being questioned on why he did not teach the same things that John the Baptist taught. He said that you don't put new wine into old bottles, or the bottles will break and the wine will be lost. Instead, new wine must be put into new bottles. And he added that people who have tasted the old wine invariably prefer it to new wine. (Luke 5:36-39)

Here is the explanation and the interpretation of the parable:

First the explanation: "Bottles" in Bible times, were made out of leather. New wine would be put into soft, new leather bottles. But when the wine fermented, it would expand and stretch the wine skin, and the "bottle" would eventually become hard and brittle. If you were to try to put new wine into an old bottle, there would be no further room for expansion, and any further expansion would cause it to break. The only alternative to that would be to continually pour out the fermenting wine as it fermented, giving room for expansion, and then, as the old wine was depleted, pour back in more new wine. Such a process would allow the skin to stay soft and to be continually useful.

Now for the interpretation: Human nature causes us to resist change, especially when we have become comfortable with our lot in life. The status quo always prefers the status quo. It is only those who are not happy with what they have who will respond to an offer of something new. This thought is covered in the statement that people always prefer old wine to new wine. Jesus was coming with something that was so radically different that it would shatter all the old ways of doing things. His chances of convincing the establishment of what he was saying were nil. So he needed "new bottles", or people who were prepared to turn loose of all of their old ways and be totally re-instructed in spiritual matters.

Nicodemus could not see what Jesus was saying (John 3:9), because he was a representative of the system. (John 3:10) He had been a leader of the Jews for so long that he could not grasp the idea of becoming like a little child. (John 3:3) He knew too much, and so he could not begin to enrol in the course of discipleship that Jesus was conducting. There are many religious people like that today.

Notice that none of the disciples were members of the religious establishment, with the exception of Matthew, and even he had apparently sold out to the despised Roman occupation army, and become a tax collector.

The Apostle Paul continued the "new bottle" idea in the first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, when he asked them to examine themselves and see if it wasn't true that God had chosen the despised people of the world to be used to build his new kingdom. He says, "Not many wise, not many great, not many noble people" have been called to build that new kingdom. (I Corinthians 1:26) This is because society's outcasts are not addicted to the old ways.

So, when Jesus said that we must become like little children in order to become a part of his kingdom, he was saying that we must become like new bottles... soft, flexible, ready to expand with each new revelation, whether or not it challenges our preconceived ideas about life, about God, and about right and wrong. Jesus says that without such a teachable attitude, we will simply never make it in his kingdom. (Matthew 18:3)

In this article, I want to talk about an "old bottle" spirit that persists even within our own community. Many of our members have become like the churchies... happy with the old wine, and no longer interested in receiving new wine.

I have often pondered whether the statement, "Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven," is a once in a lifetime condition, or whether God wants us to remain like little children in our relation to him and in relation to the leadings of his Holy Spirit.

Obviously, when God shows us something new, our acceptance of that truth gives us a strong foothold that we are not likely to turn loose of in future. In that sense, we become less "flexible", at least on that one point of doctrine. We are less likely to be tossed about by "every wind" that comes along. (Ephesians 4:14) That is good.

However, God almost certainly has an infinite number of other things that he would still like to teach us, and yet religious people have always tended to make the mistake of becoming inflexible once they have discovered a single truth or revelation. This attitude stumps growth. Each denomination tends to settle down into a rut of monotonous harping about one relatively minor doctrine, which stops them from exploring any further up the mountain toward God's perfection.

This is a very serious spiritual error, and it could end up costing us the entire kingdom, no matter how right we were when we first encountered a new revelation in the past.

In our article called Know-it-alls and in the one called Lest You Fall we considered the implications of the statement "Let you who think you are standing, take heed lest you fall." (I Corinthians 10:12) But how many of our own members heard what the articles were saying?

It seems that the very fact that we have found something genuine from God is what makes so many of us un-open to receiving anything more from him. After all, we already have the truth, so why should we bother to keep listening for anything more? From our supposedly superior perspective, we set ourselves up as the perpetual "teachers" of everyone else, and close the doors to being taught further ourselves. (See also The Pizza Parable.)

It seems to be this very attitude of religious superiority that Jesus most disliked in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were certainly not evil in the traditional sense. They had and did so much that was right. But they did it with the wrong attitude, and because of that, God had to turn to someone else.

Even in the case of John the Baptist, the great forerunner of Jesus Christ, John himself had become so accustomed to baptising people that he went right on doing the same thing after he had met and baptised the Messiah. It wasn't long before he found himself in jail, and sending messengers to Jesus, asking, "Are you really the one we should be following? Or should we be waiting for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3)

John had become an old bottle, drunk on his own message of fasting and splashing, and he had missed his opportunity to hang up the camel skin and follow the feasting Messiah.

Jesus warned the Jewish religious leaders that their own arrogant over-confidence about being the chosen people would result in them losing the kingdom. He said that they would one day weep, and gnash their teeth, when they would see people going into the kingdom of heaven from Africa, Asia, and North and South America, and themselves cast out. Then he says, "Behold, there are some who will come in last who will be first, and there are some that came first who will be last." (Luke 13:28-30) The reason is that those who first see a truth are often the first to become old bottles as a result of it. And it is left to a new generation to lead the world on to yet more truth. Only those who are aware of this pitfall, and brace themselves for it will be able to move on from one new revelation to another.

In The Revelation itself, Jesus calls on us to return to our "first love". (Revelation 2:4) You see, when we first learn something from God there is a spontaneous enthusiasm about it. We share it with others excitedly, wanting only to let the world in on what we have learned. But after we have encountered rejection, hardness sets in, and we content ourselves with just standing out there on the streets with frowns on our faces, as prophets of doom until Jesus returns. We give up hope of winning new bottles, of learning new truth, and of opening new frontiers. "Witnessing" often becomes a series of one put-down after another, as we wield the sword of truth at all of our perceived enemies.

We may, like John the Baptist, continue to serve some small purpose in the overall plan. But the real harbingers of truth are likely to move silently on, leaving us in our bitter disillusionment, and with our stunted vision for the future.

Please, don't let this happen to any of us.

How about you? Have you become a self-satisfied, lukewarm old bottle? Maybe it's time to be born again... again!

(See also Many Paths Up the Mountain.)

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