Our guest preacher Sunday, Darin McWatters, taught from John 3, specifically about John the baptizer’s answer to his followers who were jealous because so many people had gone over to Jesus.
They undoubtedly felt a bit betrayed. After all, they’d been THE game in town when it came to repentance—until Jesus showed up. Then, in part because of John’s identification of and endorsement for Jesus, people were not hanging out any more, asking John and his disciples to baptize them. They were across the Jordan where Jesus was. So John’s men came to him and said, Look what’s happened!
John’s answer was classic. First he pretty much said, Well, of course they’re all over with Jesus. I told you myself, I’m not the Messiah. He is! I can’t claim a following that God hasn’t given me.
Next John said that the role of the star wasn’t his. He gave a metaphor to illustrate this point. He painted a picture of a bridegroom and his friend—who would likely be the best man in our culture. John said his part in the wedding was that of friend, not groom. His part was not to get people to look at him, but his part was to stand to the side and rejoice with the groom and his bride.
John concluded his answer by saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
That phrase has become fairly well known, but Pastor McWatters identified three ways we read those words incorrectly. I think all three of these are particular temptations in our culture of celebrity. We Christians play right along, and in some ways we should. This is the culture in which God has placed us. But we also need to be aware of the temptations that go with ministering in this climate.
First, some say, I must increase but He must decrease. That one seems clearly out of line. We’ve made ourselves to be in God’s place, made ourselves the star instead of deflecting the spotlight on Christ. That’s a form of idol worship.
Second, some say we must increase so that He may increase. In other words, we seek fame and wealth and power auspiciously so that people will learn about Jesus. We all want to be Tim Tebow or Tony Dungy or Clayton Kershaw with a platform that allows us to tell people we believe in Jesus as our Savior.
But again, as John said, having a following is not up to us. God is the one who gives to each of us.
In one of the parables Jesus told, a certain king gave ten talents to one servant, five to another, and one to another. His choice who received ten and who received one. Our job isn’t to purse ten. It’s to handle however much we’ve been given to the best of our ability, depending on God for the wherewithal to get it done.
The third misreading of this phrase is, He must increase so that we may increase. In short, some simply want to use Jesus Christ. They want to see Him honored and respected so that they can enjoy the fruits. If more people believe in Him, then we His followers will have a better time. We’ll avoid persecution, have more power and influence, more respect. So the motive here is still selfish, though on the outside what people see is us trying to “win people to Christ.”
Pastor McWatters closed by saying that we the church have bought into the idea, in our contemporary western society, that we can market Jesus the way we do a pair of jeans: Here are the advantages and this is why you will be so happy with your purchase, so step on up and give Jesus a try. (Changing room optional).
But Jesus says His followers are to die to self, that they are to take up their cross daily, that they will only save their life if they first lose it. It’s not a marketing plan that promises a high yield!
In fact, it’s not a marketing plan at all. Marketing plans don’t involve decreasing. But it’s exactly what Scripture calls Christians to: we are to give Jesus His rightful place, we are to deflect praise to Him that He might increase.
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:18)
Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11)