He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease
John 3:22-30 MKJV After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea. And He stayed there with them and baptized. (23) And John was also baptizing in Enon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. (24) For John had not yet been cast into prison. (25) Then a question from John's disciples arose with the Jews about purification. (26) And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, He who was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, He baptizes, and all come to Him! (27) And John answered and said, A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from Heaven. (28) You yourselves bear witness to me that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. (29) He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Then my joy is fulfilled. (30) He must increase, but I must decrease.
Ministry transition is tough. When missionaries hand over to the new national church, or a pastor retires and hands over to a successor or when the ministry moves to a new CEO – it is tough. It is easy enough to say that Jesus must increase and I must decrease – lets hope that resolution came at conversion or soon after! But its tough to say Jim or Jane or Frederick must increase and I must decrease. It is difficult to let your success and your disciples go to another. But it is a sign of great maturity when it is done properly.
John the Baptist read the anointing on Jesus and knew that Jesus was the greater man. In fact that he was unworthy to untie the latch of Jesus’ sandal. He knew that the sheep would follow the leader that most met their needs and Jesus could meet them in a far deeper way than he could.
John the Baptist mentally positioned himself correctly as “the friend of the bridegroom” – this eased the transition, retained some significance and dignity, and allowed him to let Jesus take His proper starring role as the Messiah.
John stands in complete contrast to all-too-common ecclesiastical envy and jealousy. He does nor call Jesus a “sheep-stealer’ but rejoices in His success. John actually had his joy “fulfilled” by seeing Jesus’ success. John was more concerned about being a good player on God’s Team than with his individual success.
Key to this is a phrase tucked away in the middle of today’s passage: ”A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from Heaven.” This is a common gospel thought and Jesus even says something like it to Pontius Pilate: John 19:11 MKJV Jesus answered, You could have no authority against Me unless it were given to you from above. Therefore he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.
In other words Heaven determines the course of our lives and our ministries, our level of success and our level of authority. Paul even says that of the human authorities in Rome: Romans 13:1 MKJV Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God.
The pastor down the road gets his ministry and power and authority and larger congregation – from God. Therefore envy, jealousy and backbiting are utterly fleshly and inappropriate.
Galatians 5:15 MKJV But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.
Our own sense of fairness tells us that it is wrong for so-and-so to be better off than I am. But underneath this sense of fairness lurk other thing such as bitterness, envy and jealousy – sins that held Simon magus had when he tried to buy the anointing of the apostles (Acts 8).
Freedom from envy is a sign of spiritual greatness. In early 1997 my website Eternity Online Magazine was doing well and I began to see 1 million readers a week – online and offline, through article reprints in print publications and on radio etc. When I (perhaps foolishly) shared this only one other pastor congratulated me on this – the rest looked askance. That man who rejoiced and said “that is the best thing I have heard in a long while” was a true Christian gentleman.
Let us be team players on God’s team, lets work together and rejoice in one another’s success as coming from God. Lets not envy what God in His goodness gives to another.
Ministry can seem insignificant. So we cling to status symbols – titles, church attendance numbers, offerings, TV appearances, books, disciples and diplomas to boost our feelings. When these are threatened what little fragile status we have in this world seems to be taken away and carnal reactions may result.
The thing is – if we survive the test, we may well be rewarded as a good and faithful servant. Remember God wants to bless you!
Blessings in Jesus,