AGCC Sun. a.m. 9/23/2001
#3 (The MUST Series)
"HE MUST INCREASE -- I MUST DECREASE!"
TEXT: John 3:22-4:3
INTRO: Maturity is a must both physically and spiritually. As is so often the case, the principles of the physical realm and the spiritual realm are often in conflict with each other, or work in opposite directions. When we mature in the physical realm we INCREASE in size. However, in the spiritual realm maturity means we DECREASE in size!
It is so easy to get trapped in promoting self rather than God, our needs often drive us to do whatever we need to do to lift "ME" up first.
ILLUS:Christian Herter was running hard for reelection as governor of Massachusetts, and one day he arrived late at a barbecue. He'd had no breakfast or lunch, and he was famished. As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate and received one piece of chicken. The governor said to the serving lady, "Excuse me, do you mind if I get another piece of chicken. I'm very hungry." The woman replied, "Sorry, I'm supposed to give one piece to each person." He repeated, "But I'm starved," and again she said, "Only one to a customer." Herter was normally a modest man, but he decided this was the time to use the weight of his office and said, "Madam, do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state." She answered, "Do you know who I am? I'm the lady in charge of chicken. Move along, mister." This is a woman who knew her position and wasn't about to be intimidated. Do we as Christians recognize the significant position in which we stand because of Christ? -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 297.
The goal of spiritual maturity is to die to self, to promote Christ
a process that fights against our pride and sinful nature! To fail to do this means having a childish relationship with God that is never satisfying. We are to be "child like" in our faith, but not "childish" in our walk with God.
Even the pursuit of humility can be difficult
ILLUS:Humility is a most strange thing. The moment that you think you have acquired it is just the moment you have lost it. -- Bernard Meltzer - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 6006.
PROP. SENT: The Word of God calls us to spiritual maturity, having Christ increase in us and through us while having "self" decrease as we walk with God. This is a "must" if we want something greater than a weak faith or an immature relationship with God.
I. HE MUST INCREASE! 3:22-30
A. Priority! 3:22-26
1. John the Baptist was enjoying his highest level of success in ministry, notice the kind of responses he was getting in this verse: (3:23) "Now John also was baptizing
and people were CONSTANTLY COMING to be baptized." (emphasis mine)
a. Results of ministry were at its greatest point in John's ministry!
b. At the same time Jesus' ministry was just starting to take off too.
c. Jesus' disciples were beginning to see a large number of people coming for baptism, in fact, a switch-over was just beginning
people were coming to Jesus INSTEAD of John now.
2. John's ministry of baptism had peaked and was just starting to wane in light of Jesus' ministry.
a. How would John's disciples see this new development? They felt threatened by Jesus' success.
(1. Even good and godly people can wrestle with success.
(2. We all want to succeed, even in ministry!
b. How tragic that such good men could lose the focus about ministry
but how often do we do the same thing today?
c. It is still easy to get wrapped up in numbers and the outward appearances of success
even while doing God's good work!
ILLUS:I don't think God is interested in our success. He is interested in our maturity. -- Fred Smith, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 3.
3. John's disciples came to him concerned about the decreasing crowds for them to baptize and the increasing crowds for Jesus and His disciples, as they put it: "
well, He is baptizing, and EVERYONE is going to Him." 3:26b (emphasis mine)
a. You will note that jealousy exaggerated the truth, they said "everyone" was going to Jesus
yet in 3:23 it clearly said that they were still enjoying constant crowds of people coming to be baptized by John and his disciples! "
and people were constantly coming to be baptized."
b. Clearly their focus was on the success of their own ministry
and in looking at numbers they made the error that so many preachers and religious leaders still make!
c. But it can be more than just religious leaders idea of success at stake here
any measures of success that don't take into account our maturity can be sidetracked issues, instead of numbers it could be money, or power.
4. It is easy to get comfortable doing God's work when it takes care of our own needs, so much so that we don't like to change the routine if we don't have to.
a. John had preached about repentance, he had baptized, and he had pointed to the coming Messiah Jesus Christ
this should be a time to celebrate now that Jesus was coming to the forefront, but it meant a huge change for John's disciples.
b. They forgot an important aspect of ministry
we aren't doing it for US, we are doing it for HIM!
c. Outward trappings of success mean nothing if it is not supported by a true inward grace.
ILLUS:What really matters is what happens in us, not to us. -- James W. Kennedy, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 2.
5. What matters most about the ministry God has called you to?
B. Privilege 3:27-30
1. Fortunately John had a clear focus on his own ministry, even if his disciples had temporarily lost it.
a. John immediately addresses their concern about Jesus' popularity growing greater than their own by stating that as long as they are doing what they have been called to do they should not be jealous, in fact they should be joyous!
what a great spiritual principle to grasp here!
c. As John put it: "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven." John simply meant that he was fine with the change because he had done everything given him to do
thus he had succeeded, not failed.
d. This is how we measure success in the Kingdom
have we done what God asked of us, not how many people attend our ministry or know about us!
2. John saw ministry as a privilege
it is a privilege to be asked to do ANYTHING by God, and by doing it he could be pleased and satisfied.
3. This is the spirit of true humility
John has no problem being lower than Christ, in fact, he delights in the emergence of Christ's ministry
this is a humble man, true humility!
a. No wonder Jesus said of John in Mat 11:11 "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist
b. God's appraisal of John had nothing to do with numbers, it had to do with John's heart and the fruit that was evident through his humble obedience.
ILLUS:The branches that bear the most fruit hang the lowest. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
c. John was happy to be in Jesus' shadow.
4. John tries to explain to his disciples that their role was a privileged role
he does this by using the analogy of the "best man" at the wedding.
a. John is merely the "best man"
Jesus is the groom, the people the bride.
b. The "best man" does not focus attention toward himself, it is his role BY PRIVILEGE to do whatever he can to help the groom and bride, to keep the focus on them
this role John happily takes on!
5. John even states that now at the end of his own ministry and seeing Jesus coming into His own has brought him great joy! Notice John's comment here in 3:29 -- "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." (underline: mine for emphasis)
a. Coming to the close of his ministry and life John is quite satisfied to see Jesus getting all the attention
how different from the young disciples who followed him, they were struggling with career plans and success!
ILLUS:When I turned 30 I wanted to build a large church. At 40 I wanted to learn how to preach. But at 50 I want to know God deeply. -- Truman Dollar in Fundamentalist Journal (Nov. 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 5.
b. John was honored and considered it a privilege to focus attention toward Christ
6. John says it clearly in 3:30
and it is still true today: "He must become greater; I must become less."
II. I MUST DECREASE! 3:31-4:3
A. Position 3:31-36
1. John had a good grasp on his place in the Kingdom
and Jesus' place!
a. John was simply a man from earth with an important task, John was NOT the Messiah and therefore did not want the focus on him, only on Christ!
b. Such humility is exactly the kind of spirit we are to have in God's work.
2. John's goal in life was to fulfill the mission given to him, whatever that meant, even imprisonment and death if necessary.
a. He would not deviate from the plan.
b. He would not get lost in the admiration of the Jews for him
and John was quite popular!
c. Even though popular John guarded his heart
and his position, he was a servant, a forerunning, an announcer
not the Messiah!
3. For genuine satisfaction as Christians we must do what we are called to do, not get lost in finding the "best" thing for ourselves.
the story of Dr. Paul Toaspern, a brilliant man, a theologian, who lived in West Berlin. When that stupid concrete wall was going up that divided East Berlin from West Berlin, he could see -- and I'm not trying to pun here -- the writing on the wall. And he knew he would have to go with his young family back to East Berlin -- in the opposite direction from the thousands of refugees who would be coming out -- because he knew that the Lutheran church in East Berlin would need him and his theological expertise and his passion for missions. And he went back.
A year or so ago I went to see him on one of a number of occasions that I've been to East Germany. And as we were driving back toward Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin, where I would cross the border into the West, I asked Paul the inevitable question: "How are your kids doing? Are they at university?" He said, "Oh, they don't go to university," and I thought, This man is brilliant; what gives? He said, "My children are very bright and academically would go far in university, but they will not join the Young Communist League, so they cannot go to university. But praise God, they're all training for the Lutheran ministry." "How about your parents, Paul," I asked as the car drove closer to the gate. "Oh," he said, "my parents are dead. The sad thing is that when they were dying, the government wouldn't let me back to see them, so I had to shout to friends over the wall and ask how they were doing." And then I said, "Paul, is there a tube train that goes from Checkpoint Charlie to the hotel where I'm staying?" With tears in his eyes, this beautiful man said to me, "I don't know, Bob. They've not let me back for twenty-five years." -- Robert L. Roxburgh, "The Right Ambition," Preaching Today, Tape 61.
4. Opportunity comes from calling, not cash.
a. Humility is the acceptance of the place God asks us to serve, no matter how large, no matter how small.
b. Faithfulness to the call of God is the evidence of a humble heart.
5. John did not see his status of popularity with the people as the same as success in ministry
he saw himself as one servant doing one job
all to direct people toward Christ!
a. In Christ we are all equal as "brothers and sisters"
our jobs will vary but our worth is the same!
ILLUS:Donald Grey Barnhouse told the story (supposedly true) about Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he moved to Washington, D.C., to take up his duties as chief justice, he transferred his membership letter to a Baptist church in the area. His father had been a Baptist minister and he also made a profession of faith in Christ. It was the custom for all new members to come to the front of the sanctuary at the close of the worship service. The first to be called that morning was Ah Sing, a Chinese laundryman who had moved to the capital from the West coast. He took his place at the far side of the church. As the dozen or so other people were called forward they stood at the opposite side of the church, leaving Ah Sing standing alone. But when Chief Justice Hughes was called, he took his place beside the laundryman. When the minister had welcomed the group into the church fellowship he turned to the congregation and said, "I do not want this congregation to miss this remarkable illustration of the fact that at the cross of Jesus Christ the ground is level." Barnhouse commented: "Mr. Hughes behaved like a true Christian. He took his place beside the laundryman, and by his act he prevented embarrassment to the humble Chinese; he showed, too, the love of Christ -- he had this gift of standing by." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 295.
b. Acceptance of our equal worth is important to ward off jealousy about the jobs we do.
6. John's message never changed, when highly successful by worldly standards it was: "behold the lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world" and when he was arrested it was the same, even at the moment of death it did not change, it remained: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (3:36)
7. If we allow ourselves to lift ourselves up we will diminish the focus on Christ
this will always be hurtful to our spiritual development and to others finding Christ.
a. Sometimes we need the gentle nudge toward humility, as did John's disciples here.
b. Sometimes a stronger nudge can be required too
ILLUS:Golda Meir (1898-1978) at one time the prime minister of Israel once said to someone, "Don't be so humble. You're not that great!" -- Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 5998.
8. John was happy to decrease while Jesus increased
this is as it should be!
a. John did not view his own decrease as failure but success.
b. Whenever people are more drawn to Christ than to us we have succeeded!
B. Power 4:1-3
1. As John began to decrease and Jesus began to increase the Pharisees took note of this development
and the beginning of a power struggle kicked in.
a. John's popularity was one thing
he only was a prophet.
b. Jesus' popularity however was more dangerous to them, for He claimed to be God's son
and indeed He is!
2. Jesus was only interested in saving men and women, not in ruling politically
but this meant a conflict with those who misused religion to serve their own ends, like the Pharisees!
ILLUS:God loves us the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. -- Leighton Ford, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.
a. Jesus was not prepared to get in a fight with the Pharisees at this point, there was much to do yet, so he simply leaves the area for the moment.
b. Jesus kept focused on the real needs and the ministry goals He had come for.
c. Jesus was not in competition with the Pharisees or anyone else in the political or religious system
He had come to defeat Satan and sin and to free man from the power of sin.
3. This is what ministry is all about
it is not about us, it is not about numbers, it is not about success in terms of organizational success
it is about souls being won to Christ.
a. He MUST increase!
b. I MUST decrease!
ILLUS:The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul. -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3.
4. May God help us to decrease as indeed Christ increases!
a. Your greatest joy and strength will come when God is the utmost and you are in the humble role of servant
whatever that means to the calling He has for you.
b. As Christ is lifted up He will draw all men unto Himself!
CONCLUSION: Maturity is a MUST
both physically and spiritually. In the physical world maturing means we INCREASE in size and presence, but in the spiritual world maturing means we DECREASE in size so Christ's presence grows. The more Christ increases in us the more powerful our witness for Him. What do people see when they look at you?