The measure of success for your life this day until your last is that Christ increases and that you decrease. That’s what we’re aiming for. That’s the target. John’s attitude in verse 29, “So this joy of mine has been made full,” shows he lived his life not only out of obedience or deep resolve, but a servant’s joyful heart. Disciples of Christ find their joy not when we are made great, but when Christ has been made great. That is our source of delight and true satisfaction, not the finite things of this world.
Please read John 3:22-36 as a preface to this article
The major religion of our world today is the religion of personal happiness. Our supposed aim in life is to make ourselves as happy as possible as quickly as possible. Financial security, prestige, relationships, and treasures all exists as possible avenues to total satisfaction. Even morality has been subjected to decisions of personal happiness. If you have what you want, you are told you will be happy.
The problem is that our pursuit of that happiness isn’t going very well. We don’t seem to be good at it. Despite all the available forms of wealth and entertainment, people are treated for depression and anxiety at an incredibly high rate. If you’re not happy, take a pill or talk to a professional. We’re not a joyful society. One needs only a quick look at Twitter or Facebook to find a culture that is discontent, disappointed, and often enraged.
For Christians stuck in a “me first” culture, John the Baptist provides a powerful example of one who has found satisfaction.
Find Joy in Purpose, Not Popularity
For those who want to find happiness in importance, John the Baptist is an ancient example of celebrity. Mentioned in all four gospels, John is a prominent man, and particularly because of his role as the forerunner of the Messiah. John stands out; he’s not in the cities or the prominent buildings. He’s out in the wilderness preaching and people are going out to hear him. He has a thriving ministry and people from all over the region are coming great lengths to hear him.
Within the greater context of the Gospel of John, the text I asked you to read is John the Baptist’s last testimony. In fact, the gospel of John doesn’t even mention the account of John the Baptist’s beheading at the hands of Herod, we simply don’t hear from him again in this book. Yet, in this passage we find modern instructions for joy for those who think ease and popularity are the pathway to happiness.
In Matthew 3, even the Pharisees and the Sadducees wanted to come witness this great man. The priests and the Levites wanted to come see this phenomenon. Herod, himself, who was not a godly man, enjoyed listening to John’s preaching. This is a man of influence. This is a man of popularity.
They were very, very popular, but the disciples to question and worry about this Jesus who was more popular than them. The disciples came to John with concern and anxiety because there were more people coming to Jesus than to John.
Jesus’ ministry was growing in popularity, faster than John’s, giving John’s disciples the well-known fear of occupational obsolescence. With Jesus’ ministry growing, the disciples of John worried they were going the same pathway as the blacksmith, the milkman, and of Blockbuster video.
How would you respond? Ho do you respond when your plans fail, and your importance is diminished? Often our response is to get frustrated, defensive, critical, or bitter. But this isn’t the model we saw in John 3. In short, John’s response was this: It isn’t about me.
He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease
What John begins to do is declare that Christ is greater than he is. That his own popularity is of little consequence to him.
In verse 27, John begins by taking no credit for his success. He says a man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. He says to disciples, ‘Friends, we weren’t prominent because we were creative, or smart, or good looking. We were given the position that we were given because God gave it to us.’
Our intellect and skills that put us in a role of influence or respect are from heaven.
Showing deep understanding of his role, his purpose, John says in verse 28, “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of him.'” Saying, “This wasn’t about me, this was about making Him look good. I didn’t get into this for my own gain or for my own influence.”
John sees his ministry as a gift, and he sees his role as a setup man, satisfied and joyful when the spotlight is not on him, but focused on Christ.
He gives his summary statement in verse 30, saying “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I’ve been doing this all for Him. The main point of this section is to show that John’s ministry is going to disappear, and Christ’sministry is going to increase, but it also displays John’s burning passion for the greater ministry of Christ as the Messiah, not his ministry as the messenger.