Scripture: John 3:22-30
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. ’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The more I read these short snippets about John the Baptist in the beginning of this gospel, the more I’m convinced that the author intended for John to be his model for what a true disciple of Christ looks like. Though John was a Jew who was never actually called by Christ to be a disciple, John’s constant awareness of his role in relation to that of Jesus is exemplary. John doesn’t devalue his abilities or his position, but he also doesn’t mistake himself to be God because of his importance to the story of Jesus. John has found the perfect balance between pride and despair. He has found joy and humility.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” This powerful phrase has two different meanings. First, it addresses the very tangible reality that John’s influence will diminish because of Christ’s presence. John’s followers will leave him for Jesus. John’s disciples show their worry about this exodus of followers when they draw attention to the fact that everyone is now going to Jesus instead of John in order to be baptized. In the absence of followers, John could’ve found despair at the approaching end of his ministry. But instead he finds joy in fulfilling his role well.
The second meaning is less tangible and more metaphorical, but it is similar in nature. John’s decreasing symbolizes an overcoming of pride. Rather than finding despair in his lessening influence, John could’ve become prideful at the fact that he was the one chosen to announce the coming messiah. He was the one to recognize Jesus, first. He was the one who essentially got Jesus started in ministry. John understands how important he is. He reminds his disciples of his predictions and calling. However, he doesn’t do it in a way that would draw attention away from Jesus and onto himself. John could’ve let pride dictate his response. He could’ve clung to his pride and constantly reminded people just how special he was. But instead he expresses humility at the opportunity to serve Christ. He avoids saying or doing anything that would pull attention off of what Christ was doing and onto himself.
John’s example of discipleship should guide us all. Like him, we must decrease in order for Christ to increase. This proposition is one that is more difficult than we might first imagine. We must be willing to discern those places where our presence is no longer drawing attention to the coming Christ, but distracting others from the Jesus who has already come through and proceeded elsewhere. We must learn to find joy in those times we’re called to lead and humility in those times we’re simply asked to follow.
God of wisdom, help me to see clearly my role for this season in spreading your kingdom, and grant me the humility to see when that season is changing. Allow me to change with it gracefully. Amen.
Thought for the Day:
Our place in the Body of Christ is fluid just as the movements of the Holy Spirit are fluid.