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Removing the Competition of Ministry

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 3:19–36

If we know Jesus Christ by faith and are growing in our understanding of who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing, we cannot help but humbly acknowledge that He must increase and we must decrease. John the Baptist provides us a wonderful example of such humility.


In our last Wisdom Journey here in John 3, we listened in as Jesus explained to a religious man—a curious man—named Nicodemus that being born again is necessary to enter God’s kingdom. Being born again is a spiritual birth, the Lord explained, when you trust Him as your personal Savior.

Now the Lord tells Nicodemus here in verse 18 that those who reject this message of salvation are condemned. And in verse 19 He tells him why: “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” In other words, people reject the light of salvation because they love the darkness of sin.

You can bring a little lamb into your house and a little pig into your house and give them both a bath and scrub them clean and tie ribbons around their necks. But as soon as you let them loose that pig is going to go find a mud puddle, and that little lamb will go lie down in some green grass. That’s because they have different desires—different natures.

The Lord is comparing the nature of an unbeliever with someone who has come to faith in Christ. He elaborates in verse 20: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” He loves the mud puddle of sin.

Do not misunderstand; even saved people can fall into that mud puddle. But Jesus is describing the difference between someone who trips and falls down in that mud puddle with someone who wants to live down there.

We do not know how Nicodemus responded to this; in fact, he disappears, so to speak, into the night. But don’t count him out just yet—he is going to show up later on.

Meanwhile, we read in verse 22, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.” John 4:2 will clarify that Jesus’ disciples were the ones baptizing people, while Jesus no doubt was doing the teaching. Keep in mind that this baptism was identical to John the Baptist’s, which was immersing repentant people in water, as they publicly prepared for the coming Messiah.

Remember that even though we are in the New Testament Gospels, we are still technically in the Old Testament days. The Old Testament system with its priesthood and sacrificial system is still in effect. It is not until the Lord ascends back to heaven and the Holy Spirit descends and creates the church in Acts chapter 2 that the New Testament era officially begins.

In John 3:26 we find John the Baptist and his disciples baptizing people. Some anonymous man shows up and informs them that Jesus’ disciples are also baptizing people—and they are drawing a bigger crowd!

This report makes John’s disciples a little jealous; they have a little competition going on here, and they are not happy that Jesus and His disciples are evidently scoring more points than they are!

But John the Baptist responds differently. He says here in verse 30, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” Essentially, he is saying, “We are not in competition; we are in cooperation with the message of Jesus.”

Let me point out a couple of characteristics of humility we see here in John’s reply; and let me tell you, we need more of this humility today.

The first characteristic is this: Humility refuses to promote personal achievements.

John answers his disciples in verse 27: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” In other words, “What are you fussing about? Our ministry—whatever it is—is from God. We are nothing more than what God has made us, and we cannot receive one thing unless God gives it to us—and that includes ministry results.”

I have often thought that the most competitive field is not baseball, or basketball, or football—it is ministry. We compare budgets, attendance records, baptisms, and programs. And that is exactly what John’s disciples are doing here—comparing the number of people following them with those who are following Jesus.

Let’s be clear: the breadth and growth of someone’s gospel ministry is determined by God and given as a gift by God to that willing servant. Verse 27 emphasizes that: You cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to you from heaven.

Of course, that does not mean we can be lazy or sloppy in ministry and then blame God when nobody shows up. But it does mean that while we work hard with what we have, we give God the credit for whatever happens.

Frankly, God has not given us all the same abilities or gifts. Most of us are never going to be able to preach with the eloquence of Charles Spurgeon, and I certainly was not given his photographic memory. Sometimes I can’t remember where I parked the car. But look, if we complain that we do not have what he had, we are giving in to the temptation of pride—and more than that, we are discrediting the wisdom of God, who formed us and equipped us for the role He wants us to have. Instead of comparing, we ought to be cooperating with the plan God has for us.

The second characteristic of humility we see in John the Baptist is this: Humility refuses to emphasize personal importance.

In verse 28 John says, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” His disciples are wanting to elevate his significance, but John wants to downplay his importance.

He continues in verse 29:

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete.”

John compares himself to the friend of the bridegroom. In this culture that meant he was the best man at the wedding. He made the arrangements for the wedding ceremony, and he served as the master of ceremonies. For a time, everyone would listen to him and follow his directions. But when the bridegroom stepped onto the scene, the friend of the bridegroom would step aside with rejoicing.

That is what John the Baptist is saying here: “For a time, everybody has been listening to me. I have been making preparations for the nation to meet the bridegroom—their Messiah. But He is here now, so it is time for me to step aside with joy.”

In the next few verses, John tells us two truths about Jesus. First, he makes it clear that Jesus is the ultimate eyewitness. Notice, he says in verse 31, “He who comes from heaven is above all.” Then in verse 32 he adds, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.”

It is as if John is saying, “Look, I can tell you some things about God the Father and the glory of heaven, but Jesus has come from there—He has seen it all! He is the ultimate eyewitness.”

Second, John declares that Jesus is the eternal authority. He says in verse 35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” In other words, only through Jesus, God’s Son, can a person have eternal life.

And with this, the curtains are about to close on the wonderful, faithful, and humble ministry of this man called John the Baptist. And with this response of humility, John will have no regrets.

Today, beloved, let’s live the same way, as we say with John, “We must decrease, but Jesus must increase.” Let’s magnify Jesus today.

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