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Preferring the old ways

Faith & Inspiration

There is something to be said for preferring the old ways. Jeremiah writes in the Spirit:

“Stand by the roads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

“The ancient paths,” in this case, would be the ways of truth and righteousness fixed in the heavens from before the foundation of the world, and handed down to us by God for our good and not our harm.

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“… God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

Been there, done that, and my “many schemes” have not panned out as well as God’s tried and true ways.

But sometimes preferring the old ways is not a good thing:

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

What is wrong with saying the old days were better is that sometimes they weren’t. I am not suggesting that there have not been times in history that were more moral than others. But on the other hand, the memory is selective and notoriously unreliable.

Another problem is nostalgia. A brief visit to nostalgia is OK, but you wouldn’t want to live there. There is no life there; it is frozen and unchangeable and robs you of present actualization.

One of Jesus’ more cryptic sayings, for me, is about how we should regard old and new things. The setting is a rebuke from the Pharisees (Luke 5:33-39) that Jesus’ disciples don’t fast whereas John the Baptist’s do. Jesus replies that it is not appropriate for His disciples to fast while He is with them because fasting has to do with temporary self-deprivation, and that is not a good emotional fit with the joy they are feeling around Jesus. After He leaves them, they will fast with more regularity. It’s like wineskins, Jesus said. You have to be careful to put the right age wine in the right wineskin, to avoid bursting the skins.

But Jesus ended His words with this difficult and seemingly disjointed saying:

“And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

The Greek reads:

“And no one having drunk old [wine] immediately [eutheos] desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

What I am trying to figure out is whether this is a positive or a negative statement on the preference for “old” things. Two considerations make me lean toward the opinion that Jesus was cautioning against a certain kind of preference for the old ways. One is that He was in the midst of rebuking the Pharisees for being inflexible in their view of and application of the law; the Pharisees were not open to any new situation or new ways introduced by the coming of the Son of God on the scene. The other indicator is the word “immediately,” which seems to suggest that it takes time for people’s old calcified traditions to give way to a new epoch.

Jesus came and all things were new. Nostalgically holding on to certain kinds of traditions simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not always helpful in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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