“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:22-30
Ministers often tend to focus on themselves and their work because of their selfish and sinful flesh. Ministers come out of college or seminary with hopes and dreams of great success in the ministry (often measured in human standards like numbers and followers), and ministers even become somewhat jealous of the successes of others in the ministry.
Ministers might even count themselves to be more diligent and wonder why people are not flocking to hear the words of their sermons or coming to them to be baptized.
I think we see this in the opening verses of this Bible text. Disciples of John the Baptist voiced concern that Jesus and His disciples were also baptizing, and more people were going to Jesus for baptism than those coming to John.
John’s answer provides a true lesson for all of us. “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.”
Not only do ministries given and entrusted to men come from heaven; the fruits of ministries — their successes — are God’s working and His blessing upon the humble labors of faithful ministers of the Gospel.
John reminded his disciples: “Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.” John had clearly told his disciples and hearers that he was not the Messiah but only a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the people for Messiah’s coming. And John had pointed His disciples to Jesus, saying in John 1:29-31: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”
As we see in John, chapter 3, John the Baptist told his disciples: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Instead of being upset or even jealous because of his decreasing ministry and the fact the people were now following Jesus and going to Him to hear His Word and to be baptized for the remission of their sins, John rejoiced and said these astounding words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Is that how those called to be ministers of the Gospel conduct their ministries? Do ministers rejoice when their hearers no longer follow them because of who they are and what they do and say but instead follow Jesus and cling to His Word because of who He is, what He has done, and what He teaches and reveals to us?
Remember John the Baptist’s words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Dear Lord Jesus, grant to ministers of the Gospel humble hearts and a willingness to faithfully preach and teach Your life-giving Word in whatever place they are called to serve. And grant that they rejoice when their hearers follow Christ Jesus, the Savior who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, and grow in His Word. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]