See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. – Isaiah 1:21-23
In this passage there is a very real sense that the “wine” that God provides can become diluted. In the new testament wine represented Christ’s blood which took away the sins of the world. So to dilute the wine is to dilute the saving grace offered in Christ’s blood.
The “faithful city”, presumably Jerusalem or perhaps the nation of Israel, is compared to a prostitute. The perception of a prostitute, at least at this time, is a woman who has sold out her virtue and body for money or material things. This is what this passage is accusing the Israelites of doing, selling out their souls for material things.
“Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water”. This is saying that something that was once pure and beautiful has been contaminated with impurities, or in the case of the wine with water. Normally water has been used to denote good things like the living water provided by God. I think in this case it is used to “extend” the wine by adding more liquid without the flavour and complexity of the wine.
What can we glean from this passage spiritually? Maybe nothing, but as I chew on it occurs to me that the spiritual analogue to “adding water to wine” would be watering down the gospel. This is something some people and churches do when they make the message Jesus came to share more palatable by ignoring some of the hard teachings, such as loving your enemies. It also happens when we try to make gathering together in community very comfortable and convenient. I sometimes wonder whether some of the conveniences we have come up with in churches like espresso bars are a watering down of the essential reasons we are called to gather together.
It seems to me the reasons we gather in community with other followers of Jesus are to: 1) discuss our journey and the Good News of Christ; 2) encourage and pray for one another; 3) learn from each other how to love one another and God; and 4) serve one another. These things represent the “wine” of our “city”, the church. If anything we are doing detracts from achieving these things it would be considered “water” that dilutes our main purpose for gathering. So the questions we should ask ourselves is does having an espresso bar dilute any of these four reasons for gathering? If the answer is yes it should probably go, along with anything else distracting us from faithfully following God together.
Prayer: God help us to gather together for the right reasons and with a proper perspective so that we do not dilute the Gospel.