Decreasing And Increasing

Darin McWattersOur 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.

Football-Prayer1Second, 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)

Published in: on July 11, 2016 at 5:32 pm  Comments Off on Decreasing And Increasing  
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Increasing And Decreasing

CBS logoHuman nature seems to push us toward selfishness as I noted in “The Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature.” If in doubt, watch CBS’s 60 Minutes video for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:

Lesley Stahl: Sounds to me like the experiment show[s] they [the babies who were the subjects of the experiment] are little bigots.

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: I think to some extent, a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. (emphasis added)

The Bible doesn’t equivocate when it comes to human nature. We are self-deceived and wicked at our core—primarily because of our bias to favor ourselves. We want to win, to be noticed, admired, loved and praised. We want our fifteen minutes of fame, and if we can stretch it out to a half hour, all the better.

The problem for the Christian is that when we push ourselves forward, we are actually stealing the limelight from God. He’s the star, after all, the One who deserves the accolades, who produces the show, who works behind the scenes to hold it all together, who assembles the cast, who writes the checks, and who takes center stage. So when the curtain comes up for the credits, for whom is the applause greatest? The actor playing the page who carried the king’s sword, or the king himself?

Clayton_Kershaw_(8664742364)We live in a celebrity culture. Consequently Christians often flock to “famous Christians,” like Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin or Russel Wilson or Clayton Kershaw. And isn’t it a good thing when people of all stripe, even people of other religions or people of no religion, recognize a “famous Christian” for their talent and intelligence and good deeds?

That’s what the Bible seems to say. We are to let our light shine so that people see our good works (Matt. 5:16). It’s the last part of the verse that I think 21st century Christians seem to have trouble with: “… that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis added). The goal isn’t that they might glorify the Christian, but that they might glorify the God whom we serve.

John the Baptist articulated the principle well. One of his disciples was troubled that the crowds were leaving John and flocking to Jesus. Here’s his answer:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of 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. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:27-30)

In other words, John’s popularity was a gift from God. But he was not the Messiah. He was the second, the best man, the squire. Understanding his role, he rejoiced to see Jesus get all the attention. That’s what he lived for. To decrease, that Jesus might increase.

In some ways, it seems a person must first increase to get to the point that he can decrease. I mean, if John didn’t have a following, would he ever have been able to say, I must decrease?

But what about the widow who gave her last coin in the temple. She had no following, and she was still willing to decrease that God might increase.

I think our current Christian culture has it wrong. We should not be working to be known so we can make God known. That’s upside down. The widow gave to God because she knew God deserved her very last coin. As a result, God spread her fame down through the ages, to every tribe and tongue where the gospel is preached. She wasn’t after fame, but God gave it to her as a result of her willingness to decrease.

I think too of Boaz and the anonymous relative who could have married Ruth. In that day, a widow had no protection unless a relative of her deceased husband married her. She was also tied to the property her husband may have owned. So Boaz, wanting to take Ruth as his wife, first had to find out if the relative who was closer would step up and do the right thing.

Boaz started by asking the man if he wanted to buy the property which had belonged to the deceased. The relative said, sure. OK, Boaz said, but you know, of course, that means you’ll also have to marry Ruth. Oh, the man answered. Forgot about her. You know, on second thought, this marriage and property purchase isn’t going to work for me after all. It would jeopardize his own inheritance, he said—something about the child of their union would be known as belonging to the first husband, and his land reverting to that side of the family at the jubilee.

It’s a bit too legal and technical for me. But I bring it up because this man who wanted to guard his inheritance is no longer remembered by name. Boaz, however, and Ruth are both recorded in the ancestral record of the Messiah. The one who wanted to increase, didn’t. The one who cared for the widow, who served and protected a foreign woman in need, received recognition throughout the ages.

He must increase. And I must decrease.

My devious mind immediately goes to the idea that, yes, the way for me to get noticed, like the widow Jesus praised, like Boaz, is to put Jesus on display. But that misses the point. God can use even that wrong attitude, as Paul says in Philippians, but the right perspective is to see the way things really are: God, the high and exalted King; I, the servant holding the edge of His train.

Shockingly, this life is really not about me. It’s about God—serving Him, loving Him, listening to Him, abiding with Him, and above all glorifying Him. Seeing Him increase.

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