23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized, 24 since John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Then a dispute arose between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. 26 So they came to John and told him, “Rabbi, the one you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing—and everyone is going to him.” 27 John responded, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I love this look into the heart of John the Baptist. So many of us have built ministries through the years, poured ourselves into certain people or circumstances, and seen the Lord working in and through that ministry. What a beautiful thing! But sometimes our hearts can get tangled in the ministry, even in seemingly good ways, and we lose the understanding that all of it—all of it—is from God, and done in the power and permission of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His purposes.
John had no such worldly illusions. The situation in this passage provided an opportunity for pride to rear its head, for John to say, “How many years have I ministered in the desert? How long have I been a faithful servant as people come out to see me in the wilderness? Now they are deserting me?” NONE of that is in this passage. With clarity of purpose and identity, John understood his job was to point to Christ, to turn those who would follow him to follow Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These words show the arc of ministry. In anything we do, people should not walk away impressed with us. They should walk away praising God for His greatness.
We see issues with this in ministry all the time. In the time of Christ, a new role of teachers of the law had arisen during the time of exile and return, and some of the Jews would take the word of the teachers of the law over even Scripture. We see that today—the words of pastors, preachers, and evangelists are often promoted over the Word of God. That’s very dangerous. While good teaching and preaching are important, they should never point to themselves, but only to Christ, the Word made flesh.
Especially in this time of advent, our focus easily drifts from the purpose of the season. May Christ shine brightly for you while the things of the world fade during this season.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How tangled is your identity in your ministry? Is it Christ in you doing the work and being credited with the results, or is pride seeping in to steal and destroy?
- Look at the churches and ministries you follow. Do they promote the Word of God on social media and in their communications, or to they promote the words of their personalities? Again, proper teaching and preaching edifies the body, but it does not make a name for the messenger. Instead, it lifts up Christ. He must increase, but we must decrease.
- Are your heart and mind focused on Christ in this season or are they distracted by the cares and concerns of the world?
Play a game of following directions with your family. Write everyone’s name on scraps of paper. Fold the names and put them in a basket. Draw two names from the basket and give those individuals a direction to follow, such as “Walk over and touch the door” or “Jump three times.” Let the person who finishes first draw two more names and give those individuals a direction to follow. Continue until all the everyone in your family has had at least one turn to follow the directions given. Remind everyone that John knew his job was to tell people that the Jesus was coming. God gave John this job, and John did exactly what God created him to do. When Jesus arrived, John’s job was finished.
As we celebrate the advent joy of the anticipation of the Christ child this week, pray for our global workers to experience deep joy as they celebrate the season far from extended family and impact their adopted cultures with the good news of Jesus.