People are containers. This is not an insignificant biblical metaphor. We are jars, wineskins, pots, cups, vessels of one kind or another.
As containers, we can be filled with all kinds of things: fear, wisdom, sorrow, wrath, power and so on. However, the writers of the Bible often use this metaphor to contrast two important alternatives with which one might be filled.
The first is wine. I am not talking about literal wine – a good Merlot or something like this. Rather, the biblical authors use wine as an image of God’s wrath against sin.
For example, the prophet Jeremiah announced to a depraved generation that they would be filled with the wine of God’s wrath to the point of “drunkenness” (that is, their destruction; Jeremiah 13:12-14).
Or, the prophet Isaiah wrote to people who had experienced God’s wrath, “who are drunk, but not with wine … I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more” (Isaiah 51:21-22). In other words, God is now removing his wrath from them and no longer making them drink his wine.
To be filled with this “wine” is to be an object of God’s wrath.
Alternatively, one might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many people in Scripture are said to be filled with the Spirit: Bezalel, Micah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Peter, Paul and all the disciples of Jesus. You can either be filled with the Spirit, or you can be filled with God’s toxic wine.
Wine and the Spirit are often pitted against one another. When the father of John the Baptist was told he would have a son, he was also told that John was not to drink wine but rather that he would be filled with the Spirit (Luke 1:15).
On Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus were preaching in tongues when bystanders accused them of being drunk; Peter went on to announce that this was actually the pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2). In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells the church not to be drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
On one level, each of these examples is about the consumption of alcohol. It is not fitting for God’s people to be so filled with booze that we lose our inhibition and self-control.
But in each of these examples, there is a deeper contrast being made. It is the contrast between two ways of being in the world. On one hand, we can live as objects of God’s wrath and drink the wine of his judgment. Or we can live as vessels of his Spirit, leading lives of peace, joy, loyalty to Jesus, love, mercy, patience, gratitude, integrity and gentleness.
One way of describing the good news about Jesus is that he has drunk the cup of God’s wrath for us and with us (Matthew 26:39). As a result, we who were by nature objects of wrath and vessels of wine may become objects of mercy and vessels of his Spirit.
You are a container. What will you be filled with?
The Rev. Parker Bullard is senior minister at Poncha Springs Church of Christ.