This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.
We return to the story of John the Baptist and an interesting account of an earth-based perspective versus a heaven-based perspective. This contrast in perspectives is featured prominently throughout the gospel of John. There is life versus death, light versus darkness, spirit versus flesh, above versus below. The side we fit into among these contrasts results in the nature of the life we live. While there is a lot of room for choice in the Kingdom of God, there is not a lot of space for compromise. As Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me.”
A Dispute Over Purity
The passage opens with notice of a dispute that arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and the Jews regarding purification. Don’t overlook that information. Recognizing what is being disputed is important because everything that follows in this passage suggests they argued over the rise of Jesus’s ministry and the decline of the John the Baptist’s ministry. That discussion, however, is within the context of a dispute on purity.
In his response to the end of his ministry and the rise of Jesus’s ministry, John the Baptist clarified a personal posture of purity for the people of God. That posture centers around the statement in verse 30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Decreasing versus Increasing
John the Baptist was faithful to his calling. He completed the work given to him by God. As we saw in a previous study, he changed the people’s hearts in Israel and Judea, preparing the way for Christ. The reward for all of that faithfulness was the end of his ministry. He did not get promoted. He did not go on to greater things. As we learn in the other gospels, John the Baptist was eventually imprisoned and beheaded.
These results are not the evidence of a productive life in the world’s view of success. But John the Baptist saw the world correctly, purely, and in line with the Kingdom of God. When the people brought to John the Baptist a concern that Jesus was now baptizing and gaining many followers, including many who previously followed John the Baptist, the prophet responded – “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ,’ but, I have been sent before Him.”
John the Baptist was not immune to feelings of insecurity, temptations toward competition, and the seductive thoughts of “I deserve better.” But when those thoughts came, John the Baptist calculated the truth against the lies. He considered the thoughts that came from above versus those that came from below.
We can almost hear his inner dialogue as he comes to the conclusions voiced in this passage. “This was the point of everything, wasn’t it? My ministry was always meant to be the foundation for His. It was never about me but always about Him. What right do I have to be offended and slip into such impure thoughts?”
Even the sincerest and most committed believers will face moments when wrong thinking, deceptive justifications, and a concern for our own rights could hijack the purity of our lives and mission. That is what John the Baptist faced at this moment. His answer to such temptation came in the form of a simple spiritual calculation. What is the answer to everything in the end?
The answer to everything is this – Christ must be glorified. If Christ must be glorified, then whatever happens to me is of little consequence. He must increase. I must decrease. My joy and fulfillment are not found in my circumstances or reward but in Christ glorified.
As Paul explained to the church in Philippi:
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. Philippians 3:8-9 (NLT)
If everything else is worthless, then only one thing is profitable – Christ. The more His presence and revelation increases in and through me, the more profitable I become. My ego, my self-image, my sense of what I deserve, all of these things must get out of the way so that He can arise in and through me.
When we already know the answer to the question, “What is it all for?” Then our ability to answer that question when it strikes us in moments of weakness and insecurity finds a heart with greater resolve. We don’t have to be tortured by the questions. We only have to be convinced, committed, and concerned about the answer.
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