He must increase

November 5, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news from John 3:22-30.

After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned. Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings. So 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 everyone is coming to him.” John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”

None of the commentaries I have are able to make sense of the dispute about ceremonial washings as it may regard baptism. Why did that prompt John’s disciples to come to him to settle the argument with this unnamed Jew about purification? Then, it seems that the issue isn’t addressed at all. Perhaps there was a mistake in copying from one manuscript to another. Whatever meaning there may have been for us has apparently been lost.

“He must increase; I must decrease.” It takes a remarkable amount of humility to believe and say those words. He was well attuned to God’s word and always proclaimed that he was not the Messiah, that there was one to come who was greater than him. God’s desire for me is once again demonstrated by John; He wants me to be a humble servant, serving Him and His people. That means that I have to let go of my pride, let go of my desire for recognition and acclaim, let go of my need for superiority.

There is always someone coming behind me who is greater than me. Someone younger who is ready to take over leadership from me. Someone stronger who can outperform me. Someone more creative or eloquent who can communicate more powerfully. It reminds me of the words of Ecclesiastes, which Pete Seeger wrote and the Byrds popularized with the song Turn! Turn! Turn! “There is an appointed time for everything.” At each point of my life I am called by God to be His instrument in some way, but then there is a time when I am also called to step aside for someone else. I must decrease so that another may increase.

That can be really hard. Giving up a position of power, authority, influence whether in business, in family, in an organization is not easy if it’s a source of my identity or my sense of worth. I can resist for a long time and I can resent the one who is increasing while I decrease. John, though, shows me what God desires at these times. John rejoiced; his joy was made complete. He not only listened, he hearkened to the word of God. He found joy in the fulfillment of God’s word. Nothing could make him happier than acceding to Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

I am meant to let go, to decrease. That is what Jesus taught all through his ministry — to let go of my stranglehold on my possessions, of my delusion of control, of my insistence on my will being done, of my need to be superior. Instead I am meant to let Jesus increase in my life. As I am able to do so, my joy becomes more complete. I can be the best man for the bridegroom, Jesus.



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