He Must Increase but I Must Decrease (a devotional on John 3:26-30)

And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 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. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:26-30 (NKJV).

I think this is one of the hardest things that people have to deal with; when someone is getting more attention or acclaim than they are. John’s disciples saw the rise of Christ and His following and their leader’s correlating decline in people who came to him. This distressed them and it came out into the open. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

I love John the Baptist’s reaction. It has much merit and much wisdom. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” Everything that we are and have are gifts from God. To some servants God gives more and to some less. Things like opportunities, abilities, availabilities, timing, stewardship, God’s sovereign choice, and so much more go into why someone is doing well at any given point and time and why others are either in decline or are at a plateau. We could spend quite a bit of time talking about each one of those listed above. For the purposes of this discussion, I will leave them as they are for now.

I must say that if the church growth experts were present, they would blame John for this and admonish him on how he could mirror or even eclipse Jesus’ success. Unfortunately, for those who have experienced a decline or plateau in their lives or ministry, the church growth people can only point fingers. Yet here, as is so often the case in real lives and real ministry, John is not to blame. In fact, nobody is. John had his moment, God-given, glorious and wonderful and now he needed to be at peace with his place in God’s sovereign plan. You might object that you never had your time in the sun and resent that. Perhaps it would be helpful to zero in on John’s understanding here.

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’”

In other words, John is letting his followers know that he knows the role that he was to play. The prophecy regarding John the Baptist that was given to his parents was that he would be the forerunner of the Messiah. His place would be under the One that followed him. He would announce the greater One to come. So it was no surprise when Jesus’ ministry increased and John’s decreased. That was the plan from the beginning. Too often in our vocations or ministry, we lose sight of our role and because of that we can fall prey to the spirit of John’s followers and get jealous or object at the unfairness. God chooses our roles; Jesus is the Head of the Church and we serve at our Master’s pleasure. There is no better place than the one divinely appointed to us. The Bible tells us that the Spirit distributes gifts as He wills. Who are we to say to our Potter, “Why have you made me like this?”

So John’s first bit of wisdom to us is that everyone’s place in this world and the opportunities that come with it are the province of Heaven. Secondly, he states that he understood his role and embraces that as the will of God. Next, John stated that he wasn’t in competition with Jesus but that Jesus was and is his friend.

“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. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled,” John explained. This isn’t a competition; we are on the same team, guys. He’s my friend. And I am happy for him.

When God prospers a friend while we seem to languish or tread water, it is a time of testing to be sure. Friendships have ended over such things. Yet that need not be. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. We are all members of the same Body of Christ and are not to wish we were another part of the Body that gets more attention or acclaim but rejoice that God has made us part of this wonderful creation He calls the Church. Each part is necessary and therefore valuable.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” Perhaps you are an older man or woman and you are seeing more ministry or vocational advancement behind you than before you. Younger, more energetic, more talented or attuned to the times individuals are on the fast track while you are in decline or going nowhere fast, at least, not anymore. Can you be happy for them? Will you say to God, “If this is your will, I embrace it. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease?’’’ Growth experts in the church and in the world would scream don’t give in but we need to be content with our place in God’s plan. If God is to advance you, He will do so, and if so, it won’t look like someone else’s track at all. It will be as individualistic as you are. Yet, if this is all there is, can you be at peace with it? John could and he was.

Would you take the time to dwell on John the Baptist’s wisdom as revealed here? 1) Everyone’s place in this world and the opportunities that come with it are the province of Heaven. 2) Understand your role and embrace that as the will of God. 3) We are not in competition with fellow servants and so someone else’s success and your lack of it (from the world’s perspective) is no reason to lose a friend, so be happy for them. 4) Be content with where God has you and embrace it. It is only when we do the above that God can truly use us to our full potential in whatever way He deems best.

NKJV: Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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