An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
You can almost hear the panic in the voices of John's disciples. They're concerned that John (the prophet and teacher to whom they have dedicated their lives) is losing his influence. By reading between the lines a little, you even sense a small amount of disdain toward Jesus and His ministry. "The one you testified about," they say. You were so gracious to Him. You honored and exalted Him and now He is encroaching on your turf! He is baptizing and people are going to Him instead of you. This, of course, presents a real problem for John the Baptist. He is kind of pigeon-holed into a certain type of ministry now. He is called John the Baptist after all.
John's response to his disciple's is truly remarkable. Like Job he acknowledges that all he has in life comes from God and ultimately will return to God. John points out that the same is true for Jesus. "If Jesus is receiving influence as mine is waning, then it is because God has chosen to take it away from me and give it to Him," John says. He continues with a wedding metaphor. "Jesus is the groom," he says. "I'm the best man." Does it make sense for the best man to be angry and jealous that the groom is getting married? No! The best man should rejoice and be happy for his friend. So too, John says, "That joy is mine, and it is now complete."
John knows that this isn't his story. He isn't the main character, but he can find joy in playing his part well. He dares not try to steal the lead role from Jesus. "He must become greater; I must become less," John says. In other words, "It's not about me!" What John wanted more than anything was for God's kingdom to advance in this world. Everything else in life was secondary to that goal, even his own personal fulfillment and social standing. His disciples had momentarily lost sight of that.
We sometimes do as well. We work so hard to get ahead at work, to build a life for our family, to build a program or Bible study at church that before we know it we get caught in the trap of thinking that life is about us or our ministries. We make the mistake of thinking that these things are the end goal themselves. They are not. They are merely a means to the end of bringing glory to God and advancing the gospel. Sometimes the gospel advances when you are transferred to a lower paying position or when your hopes for your family are thwarted or even when your church doesn't keep pace with the growth of the church down the street. In those moments how will you respond? Are you willing to decrease so that Jesus might increase? Will you continue to serve Him faithfully even when things aren't going your way? Do you serve God to advance the cause of Christ simply because God deserves your faithful service or are you just trying to make a name for yourself?
Drawing nearer to God almost always requires some form of self-denial. It requires taking up our cross and dying to our selfish desires so that He might use us more effectively for His glory. Are you willing to decrease so that Jesus might increase in your family, office, or church?
For further reading...
- Job 1:1-2:10- Job understood his place in relation to God.
- Mark 12:28-30- The greatest commandment requires that God hold first importance in our lives.
*A version of this post was originally published on this blog under the title "What is Your Life About?" on 12/14/11.