We Must Decrease
Read John 3:22-30 (ESV)
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
How do John’s disciples seem to feel about Jesus’ ministry success? How does John’s response demonstrate the humble faithfulness of his heart?
In our culture, our worth seems to be valued numerically—how much money we make, how many people we supervise or lead at work, how much our business has grown, how many square feet our house is, how many letters come after our name, etc. Now, in this social media craze, it’s all about how many followers we have. Even in Christian ministry, it is easy to get caught up in the numbers game—how many followers on social media, how many people are in the pew each week, how many people are on the membership roster, how many people are we able to help and serve…We tend to measure the value of our ministry based on quantity over quality and we compare our ministries to others based on the numbers.
When we read today’s passage, it seems as if in John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ time, it was easy to get caught up in the numbers game. All along, John the Baptist had understood and known that his sole purpose in ministry was to prepare people for the coming Messiah and to point Him out when He arrived. John knew his role and fulfilled it well. He had an incredibly large following.
But for a brief time, before John the Baptist was thrown into prison, their ministries overlapped. John the Baptist was still baptizing but now Jesus and His disciples were baptizing people as well. John understood that this was a good thing. He knew that he was the last prophet of the old covenant and that a transition was going to take place. He knew that he must decrease in order that Jesus Christ, the Promised Messiah, Savior of the World, and Mediator of the New Covenant must increase.
But John’s disciples seemed to be a bit concerned as John’s followers began to switch allegiance from John to Jesus. His numbers began to dwindle, and Jesus’ began boom. Again, John knew this is exactly what was supposed to happen. John essentially responded, “Look, you guys know that I told you that He is the Messiah, I’m not. My job was always to go before Him. In fact, it’s God that gave me this job and made it prosper. Now that He’s here, I’m excited and happy for Him. I’ve done my job. He’s taking over now.”
Friends, like John the Baptist, we need to remember our role. It’s not to gain our own followers, it’s to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We aren’t competing with other God-honoring, Bible-believing ministries. We are on the same team! We are working toward the same goal! When other ministries do well, we should rejoice in what God is accomplishing through them. And our focus should always be quality over quantity. It’s not about numbers. It’s about humble, faithful service. We must decrease. He must increase.
Lord, I confess that sometimes I make my life more about me than about You. Change my heart, God. Remind me of my role. Help me to humbly and faithfully serve You so that my life is about quality ministry focused on making much of You and less of me. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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