ďHe Must Increase, I Must DecreaseĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† November 2, 2014
INTRO:† I was having lunch with another Cullman minister this week
†††and he commented that we ought to swop pulpits one Sunday.
That way, he said,
††† you could preach to the people who have left your church and joined mine,
†† and I could preach to the people who have left my church and joined yours.†
We chuckled about that.†
But then the conversation turned more serious
†† and we talked about how we do respond to people leaving our church.
We agreed that in the early years of ministry, we tended to respond
†† with a mix of discouragement, self-recrimination, anger, and envy.
But then in later years, we developed a thicker skin,
†† and suppressed those problem emotions with cynicism and fatalism.†
We say things like:
†† People are bound to leave.†
†† When people left other churches to join ours, I didnít complain.
†† You canít please everybody.
Or we say things like:†
†† People are just looking for entertainment, thatís what popular churches give them.
†† If they donít want my faithful preaching, then donít let the door hit on way out.
I had that conversation Tuesday at lunch,
†† but it wasnít until Wednesday that I settled down to study this passage in John.
†† And when I read it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
†† I imagined John the Baptist joining our lunch conversation the day before.
Because this is the very thing that John the Baptist faced on a grander scale.
†† Ever since he started preaching, his star had been rising and rising.†
†† His influence was increasing.† The crowds were growing.†
Then suddenly, things changed.
†† People were leaving him and following someone else.
†† His most loyal followers were saying:† Rabbi, this isnít right.
But his response had not a shred of discouragement or self-recrimination
†† or anger or envy or cynicism or fatalism.
Instead John responded with grace and humility and even with joy
†† towards events that were diminishing his influence and usefulness.
Itís an amazing response that every single one of us needs to learn.
†† Jesus himself once said that there is no one born of woman greater than
†† John the Baptist, but the least in the kingdom of God could be greater than John.
What that means is that if you can get our arms around what John was
†† telling his disciples, then you will be able to face tremendous difficulties
†† and disappointments with the same supernatural grace.†
Iím going to use a lot of church and pastor illustrations in this sermon
†† because studying it brought to mind lots of things Iíve experienced over years.
But Iím sure you will be able to make the jump to your life and see
†† that this is not just about pastors losing church members or church life per se.
This passage is really about things that doesnít go your way.
It applies particularly to all of those events and circumstances that diminish your
†† influence and usefulness in the spheres of life that matter to you.
How do you respond when changes occur so that the influence and success
†† you enjoyed in your family, your church, your school, your workplace,
†† your social circlesówhen that influence and success declines?
And how do you respond when the people loyal to you say:
†† It isnít right what you are going through.
†† They ought to treat you with more respect.
†† They donít know what they are missingólike they said to John?
What do you feel rising up in you in those moment?
†† Anger, envy, self-pity, resentment?
John the Baptist demonstrate how, by Godís grace,
†† you can respond instead with stability and joy.
†† So letís get right down to his teaching.†
Now as you know, Iím a three-point or two-point sermon man.† 99% of them.
†† But I canít do better than John the Baptist, and he has four points.
†† So thatís what Iím going to do, and Iím going to follow his wording.
Here are the points for how you handle seasons of declining influence and success.
1.† A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
2.† I am not the Christ.
3.† The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
4.† He must become greater, I must become less.
Letís look at each.†
When Johnís loyal followers said:†
†† People are leaving you and going to that other person.
†† Johnís first response was:
MP#1† A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
What did that mean?†
†† It means God is sovereign.† It means God is directing my life.
†† He gives me particular things and he gives other people other things.
What I have is from heaven, and what they have is from heaven,
† †so I ought to appreciate that and not compare myself to other people.†
A few weeks ago I had to call an old seminary friend about a matter.
Whenever I see this friend or talk to him, Iím struck by how much more talented
† †he is than me.† He has a PhD in historical theology.
Leadership and administrative talents, put to use in two large, influential churches.†
†† We are the same age.† We went to the same school.†
†† But when it comes to talents, he has things I donít have and wonít ever have.
Why?† Because God doesnít treat his children all the same.
†† He doesnít give us all the same blessings.† Some Christians smarter than others.†
†† Some are more handsome and more athletic and healthier than others.†
Some Christians are born with more advantages than othersó
†† family connections and opportunities others donít have.†
Some are more financially successful than others.†
†† Some have better marriages and better children than others.†
Some Christians go from one success to another success throughout life
†† while others go from trouble to trouble.†
Some Christians find it easier to grow spiritually than others.
†† They donít have to fight huge battles with self-control and self-discipline.
†† On the other hand, some Christians have to fight for every step.
The Lord makes all of these distinctions.† He gives from heaven what he chooses.
Someone once said that God deals all his children different hands,
†† but he expects us to play by same rules.
And he wants us not just to accept the hand he dealt us,
†† but to be happy with the hand he has dealt us as part of his good plan.,
†† and to play our hand to be best of our ability.†
And sometimes, this is what the Lord does . . .
He brings into our circles someone better suited or more gifted than we are,
†† and in doing that he diminishes the scope of our influence or audience.
Thatís what he did to John the Baptist.†
Now, you might say:†
†† For goodness sakes, people were leaving John the Baptist for Jesus Christ.†
†† I wouldnít mind having my influence diminished by Jesus.
But thatís not the point.† The point is how John responded.
†† He didnít compare himself to Jesus and say:
†† Heís so much better at me at preaching and baptizing, what do I have to offer?
Instead, John recognized how much greater Christ was but he kept working.†
†† He kept preaching and baptizing, even though people were leaving him.
†† And he was able to do so because he believed that his abilities, his calling,
†† his place of service, were given to him from heaven.
And because of that, he kept at it.† And you should too.
Hereís how James Boice put it:
ďTo recognize that all spiritual insight and advance comes from God is to be freed from jealous efforts at comparison.† It is to recognize that all Christ-centered and totally committed service, whatever the results, ranks equally with God.† Any task done for God is necessarily a great work.Ē
When your success or influence is diminished by other more talented people,
†† remember a man can receive only what is given him from heaven and keep at it.
But John doesnít stop by just reminding his disciples about Godís sovereignty.
†† He makes another important point that every one of us needs to be reminded of.
MP#2† I am not the Christ.†
John reminded his disciples:† You yourselves can testify that I said,
†† ďI am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.Ē
Now this is a word that every one of us needs to be reminded of.
When you are experiencing a diminishing influence and success, tell yourself.
†† I am not the Christ.† I am not the Messiah.† I am not the Savior of the world.
†† All of us have a tendency toward a Messiah complex.†
If the people at my job or in my family or in this circle where I have standing
†† would only listen to me everything would be better because I have it all right.
†† When you think that way you end up running roughshod over folks.
But the flip side, as John the Baptist shows us, is that when you are able to say
†† from the heart:† I am not the Christ, Jesus isó
†† then that opens up the possibility of wonderful things happening in those
†† distressing seasons of diminishing influence and success.
I know a pastor, a PCA minister.
†† He is very smart, very precise, and very opinionated.
One of his particular opinions that he held very firmly and argued for was that
†† youth groups and youth ministries cannot be justified biblically.
Separating people in the church by age, especially separating teenagers,
†† is bowing to the spirit of the age and therefore bad for the church and its children.
The key to spiritual success is the family, especially the father.
†† Everything has to be done in the family with the father leading.
†† Family worship with the father as the head of the homeóthat is the key.
He wrote and published family devotional material that stressed these points.
†† He had a sizable number of subscribers to his devotional material.
Then his teenage son rebelled.†
†† And all the influence he had over his son evaporated.
†† All the family worship with dad leading could not even keep his son at home.†
Now, hereís what happened.† His son ended up staying in the home of a friend.
†† This friend was a Christian, and he and his parents went to a Baptist church
†† with a youth program.† The very sort of program his father had decried.
And through that Baptist church youth group this rebellious Presbyterian preacherís
†† kid repented of his hardness toward his father, and he went back home, and
†† submitted to his fatherís authority.†
But the really wonderful thing is that his father, this very smart, very precise,
†† very opinionated Presbyterian was humbled to the dust and said, as he never
†† had before, I am not the Christ.
The way he actually put was that he realized God never intended him to be the sole
†† spiritual influence on his children.† That even as their father, he was not enough
†† for his children.† That God had put other believers in their lives.
And that his refusal to recognize the importance of the ministry of other people,
†† and even other teenagers to his children, had been idolatry.†
This is something you need to have under your spiritual belt.
†† I am not the Christ.† Iím not the Messiah.† Iím not the Savior of the world.
†† Jesus is.† And he works in many different ways.
Learn that now, before you go into a painful season of diminishing influence.
There may be a day when your children wonít want to listen to you,
†† or when your opinion in your workplace is disregarded,
†† or maybe you will have financial setbacks or health problems that will keep you
†† from having the say you once didó
What a great comfort to face those times and say:† I am not the Christ.
†† Iím not the Savior of the world.† But I know who is.
†† Better to learn that now than to learn painfully then.†
So the question is:† In what spheres of your life do you think you are the Messiah?
†† Where do you think you have it all right and folks just need to listen to you.
†† Ask the Lord to deal with you there.
But John didnít stop with that.† The next thing he told his disciples was . . .
MP#3† The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
What does that mean?† It means the church belongs to Jesus, not to me.
†† So whether I have influence in the church or feel like I am being useful in
†† the church is not nearly as important as whether or not the church is getting
†† closer to Jesus.
John elaborated on this word picture of the bride and groom.† He said:
†† The bride belongs to the bridegroom.† The friend who attends the bridegroom waits
†† and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.
†† That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
To understand that you need to know marriage customs among the Jews back then.
The big difference between their weddings and ours was that for them
†† the groom was the most important person at the wedding.
†† He was the one that all the wedding drama focused upon.
For us itís the bride.† We barely pay attention to the groom on wedding day.
†† When we have weddings here, the groom hides in that closet over there with
†† the best man.† He has been threatened within an inch of his life by his future
†† mother-in-law and her daughter, Bridezilla, that he canít see her.
Because she wants his first vision of her to be that glorious moment
†† when the doors in the back of the sanctuary open and there she is.
The organ plays, the queen comes down the aisle, and everybody stands.
†† The groom, meanwhile just sneaks out of that closet while nobody looking.
You get the idea.† But in the Jewish wedding,
†† the drama was the arrival of the groom at the wedding party to claim his bride.†
The job of the friend of the groom, the best man so to speak,
†† was to make sure everything was arranged and in order for the big moment.
So John says, the best man is full of joy when he hears the groom shout
†† that he has come, because he knows that itís a great day for his friend.
†† Heís come for his bride, and she is with him.
John compares himself to the best man.
The only job I have is to make sure the wedding goes off without a hitch.
I might get a thank you note, I might not.† It doesnít matter.
†† Because my happiness is knowing those two are together and my friend happy.
Imagine how embarrassing it would be for the friend of the groom to draw attention
†† to himself.† Heís at the wedding reception people are making toasts,
†† and the best man starts bragging about how he is the best best man ever.
And how everybody ought to thank him because if it hadnít been for him,
†† this wedding wouldnít have happened.† That would be awful.
A minister I know had a man in church who taught adult Sunday school for years.
†† Lots of good things happened in his class and through his teaching.
Then another man joined the church with more talent and more intelligence
†† and good Bible knowledge and he started teaching a class and his class grew
†† and the other manís class shrank.
How do you think he responded when his influence began to decline?
I wish I could tell you he said:
†† God gave me success in Sunday school for many years.
†† Now itís time for these people Iíve taught to be taken to another level.
†† Iím glad they are excited about this new man and his teaching because itís going
†† to help them get closer to Jesus.† I wish I could tell you he said that.
But he didnít.† He got angry and bitter and left the church.†
†† He was like a best man upset because everybody was giving too much
†† attention to the bride and groom and not enough to him.†
The application of this to church life is profound.†
But I hope you see that the application is broader than that.
†† Christ is the Lord of all of life.† So any time you do your job well,
†† you are doing it for him, to bring him joy.††
So even if you go through a painful time of declining influence or transition
†† that leaves you out of sorts, can know the groom is happy because of your work.
I wish I had time to work this out in more detail.†
But we need to move on to the last thing John said . . .
MP#4† He must become greater, I must become less.
The good old King James Version says it more poeticallyó
†† He must increase, but I must decrease.† What does that mean?†
This is the way John the Baptist expressed his faith in Christ.
†† ďHe must increase, but I must decreaseĒ was his profession of faith.
In our evangelical Christian circles,
†† the way we usually profess our faith is to say something like:†
†† ďI accepted Jesus into my heartĒ
†† or ďI accepted Jesus as my SaviorĒ
†† or ďI have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.Ē
None of those expressions are found in the Bibleó
†† not that there is anything wrong with them at all.
Each one of those statements expresses some aspect of what it means
††† to be a true follower of Christ.
But recognize that those are culturally conditioned statements.
†† All Christians donít use that exact terminology.
†† And sometimes itís beneficial to hear how other believers profess faith.
This is John the Baptistís profession of faith.
†† If you asked him, what to does it mean to be a Christian, he wouldnít have said,
†† It means having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
He would have said:† Hereís what it meansó
†† He must increase, but I must decrease.
Now, if that is what it means to be a Christian, if that is our profession of faith,
†† then it radically changes the way we look at our experiences of diminishing
†† influence and diminishing success and usefulness.
This is how it must be.† I must decrease.† And one day Iím going to decrease
†† so much that people will lead me by the hand and change my diaper and feed jello
But by the supernatural grace of God, through my decrease Jesus Christ is increased
†† and glorified in me and his kingdom advances.† I believe that by faith.†
This is my life.† This is the Christian life.† Christ becoming greater, I becoming less.
But this does not just apply to the circumstances of life that diminish usó
†† the things outside our control.
This also means that as a follower of Christ, there will be some places
†† where you intentionally try to decrease and become less.†
†† Itís your calling to diminish yourself so Christ will be increased.
Men, your selfishness at home, your lack of daily interest in the happiness of your
†† wife, your lack of engagement with your children at the level of their hearts and
†† minds, what is that?†
Itís far too much of you and too little of Jesus Christ.
†† Are you willing to lay your interests down, to diminish yourself,
†† even acknowledge your wrong to your wife, in order to see Christ increase?†
Are you willing to become less and him to become greater in your life?
You womenóyour spirit of complaining, your incessant desire for more, your
†† critical spiritóbe honest with yourselvesówhat is that but far too much of you
†† and far too little of Jesus Christ.†
In how many different ways would your life changeó
†† your attitudes, your behavior, your speech, if the commitment and determination
†† of your life is that you decrease so that Jesus might increase?
Jesus Christ once said:
†† ďAmong those born of woman, there is no one greater than John.Ē
†† It is a greatness that every one of us can aspire to and achieve by Godís grace.
When God brings those seasons of diminishing influence, success, and usefulness,
†† as painful and unsettling as they may beó
Remember that he is sovereign, and has dealt you the hand he expects you to play.
Remember that you are not the Messiah, you arenít the SavioróJesus is.
Remember the bride belongs to the bridegroom, and you are just the best man.
Remember that he must increase and you must decrease.
†† And you will great in his kingdom.