Humility Deflecting (John 3:22-30)
Topic: John Passage: John 3:22–3:30
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
April 17th, 2016
I. The Worst Best Man
I recently came across an article that provided very important advice to anyone who was slated to be the best man in an upcoming wedding. The advice was specifically targeted at that element of the wedding reception for which the best man is responsible: the toast.
So in addition to suggestions like, “Be prepared”, “be appropriate”, “quality not quantity”, and not surprisingly, “don't mention the ex”, there as also this important bit of advice:
Don’t steal the spotlight: You have a big job to do on the wedding day and a lot of people will be watching you, but that doesn’t mean the day is about you. Never try to steal the spotlight from the wedding couple by exaggerating or talking about yourself. Don't use your speech to break any news like a guest being pregnant. Nobody wants to watch a Kanye West style spotlight stealing moment!
Wouldn't you be horrified if you were sitting at a wedding reception and the best man was, in some way, stealing the spotlight?
Keep that in mind as you turn in your Bibles to John chapter 3. As we continue our study entitled “Humble Pie”, we will be looking together at verses 22-30. Humble pie! As we've talked about in our past lessons, when you are living on a diet of God's 'humble pie', things change in your life; you live differently. And it's those expressions of genuine humility that we want to understand better.
II. The Passage: "He Must Increase" (3:22-30)
We talked last time about humility reaching out to God, that is, how humility drives us to God in dependence. Listen to what John tells us here about the humility of another John...
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.  John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  (for John had not yet been put in prison).  Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification.  And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”  John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  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.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”
So I see three critical ideas in this passage, three critical ideas woven right into the words of John the Baptizer. Now as we just saw, John doesn't speak until verse 27. So why are verses 22-26 important? Well, those verses set the stage for John's words. Those first five verses help us make sense of why John was saying what he was saying.
John was correcting his disciples. Why? Because they saw Jesus as the competition. Now that Jesus was beginning to baptize, they thought He was or was going to steal all their 'customers'. But to clarify, if you look ahead to 4:2, John wants to make it clear that Jesus was only overseeing His disciples as they carried out these baptisms of repentance.
The point is this: John's disciples believed in his work and they were deeply concerned that Jesus would steal the spotlight; that the attention would be diverted from all the good they were doing. So it is this concern that John is addressing. And he addresses this concern by explaining what he understood about himself and Jesus.
What do I mean? Well, for example, consider this about John: John understood...
1. His Reliance on Christ (v. 27)
We see this so clearly in verse 27. Look at it again...John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
John’s disciple wanted John to deal with what seemed to be a threat to his ministry. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, John was extremely popular with the people. He could have tried to cling to his success; he could have milked his notoriety for all it was worth.
But John knew he his success, his notoriety, all of it was from God. Not even “one thing” was truly of him. He relied on Christ. It was like the question of plagiarism. Would John give credit where credit was due? John wouldn’t even have a ministry were it not for God’s plan to send His Son. His position didn’t make any sense apart from Jesus. Is that true for you? Is Jesus an essential ingredient in the definition for why you exist. Anything you have, anything I have that is praiseworthy has been given to us “from heaven”. The Apostle Paul wrote:
...What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Corinthians 4:7)
James, the half-brother of Jesus touched on this same truth: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
As we do the work of Christ, there are so many opportunities to give credit to Christ if we will take them. But John goes to show that, in the same way, he also understood....
2. His Relationship to Christ (vs. 28, 29)
John is clarifying in verses 28 and 29, isn't he. He's clarifying the nature of his relationship to Jesus. He says, “Guys...first of all, you most certainly know that...
...‘I am not the Christ, but...I have been sent before him.’ What exactly does that look like? Well, 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.
Though the disciples of John wanted to keep the spotlight on John, John deflected that praise. Why? Because he understood it wasn't his day. It wasn't about him. It was the groom's day. It was Jesus’ day, because Jesus was and is the groom. John was only the “friend of the bridegroom”, that is, he was the best man. And we already talked at the outset about how weird, and wrong, and horrifying it would for the best man at a wedding to attempt to steal the attention from the bride and groom.
John understood all this, and he was overjoyed about the coming wedding when God would reconcile us to himself through Jesus, our heavenly husband. Do you share that joy?
What is your relationship to Christ? Just as with John, the way you define your relationship to Christ affects the way you talk about Him. For some, it is more comfortable to only see Jesus as the baby at Christmas, or the one who called us friends, or, yes, even as the groom who desires his bride. But we hold onto those truths without letting go of the fact that Jesus is also Teacher, Master, Redeemer, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Creator, and God the Son.
True humility is always a response to what is true about God...and that includes the truth about God the Son.
Yes, we are the bride of Christ. But in some sense, we are also, with John, the best man for Jesus the groom. What exactly does that mean? Well, that's precisely where John goes in verse 30. John understood his reliance on Christ, he understood his relationship to Christ, and as we see here, he also understood...
3. His Role for Christ (vs. 30)
As I just said, in some sense, we are, with John, the best man for Jesus the groom. Every Christian stands in that same position in the sense that every Christian is called to that same role of exalting the bridegroom. Isn't that the role of the best man? To stand with and for the groom on the groom's big day?
Look again at how John summarizes his role in relationship to Jesus, the bridegroom; Jesus, the Messiah. He simply states, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Now, in the context here, this is a simple statement about God's historical plan. Remember how John's father, Zechariah, described the mission God had given his son:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins... (Luke 1:76-77)
John knew he was only the forerunner; his work was simply a work of preparation for something much, much greater.
And so when Jesus came according to God's purposes, John knew his ministry was coming to an end. Christ's ministry was going to increase, to expand, to flourish. John's ministry was going to decrease, to wind down. And that's exactly what happened. Was John disappointed? No way! He was thrilled. Jesus was the reason he did what he did, not his own notoriety.
But that's the pattern for any best man, isn't it? The best man has people's attention for a short time. But he has their attention solely for the purpose of directing the attention to the groom. And haven't we been called to the very same thing? Paul expressed it so well...
...as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Invest yourself, invest your heart as a best man for Jesus. At the beginning of each day, imagine that day is THE wedding day; it's the day in which you want all eyes to be on the groom; the day you stand with and for the groom; the day you want everyone to know it's all about him. Like John, that's your role. That's my role.
III. Teflon Believers
You may or may not remember that Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was given a nickname by commentators and critics: “The Teflon President”. Do you remember why that was? It was because, like food on a Teflon-coated pan, a non-stick pan...nothing stuck to him. He was so popular with the people that they often overlooked any questionable actions he took.
This morning, I’d like to suggest that, in a different way, we should be Teflon believers. No, I’m not saying that criticisms should not stick to us, that we should not address and take responsibility for valid concerns. No, instead, I’d like to suggest that what should bounce off of us is not criticism, but praise.
Genuine humility deflects praise.
When we, like John, truly understand our reliance on Christ, our relationship to Christ, and our role for Christ, how could we not acknowledge the grace of God in anything and everything that is praiseworthy in our lives? The Apostle Paul always wanted to encourage believers to strive, to run, to labor, to make every effort for God's kingdom. But even more, he always wanted to deflect praise or any possible praise that would be directed his way. He wrote...
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (I Corinthians 15:10)
When someone compliments you about your children or marriage, when someone is grateful for your generosity, when someone is impressed by your business success or creative abilities, when someone pats you on the back for a job well done, when someone is touched by your words, by your concern, by your thoughtfulness, when you are congratulated for a victory or an award, you have in that moment, an amazing opportunity.
Will you relish the praise, will you give an 'acceptance speech' there in the spotlight, or maybe not say anything at all, OR...or will you give voice to what you know to be true about “every good gift and every perfect gift”? Will you deflect and direct the praise to God?
Now, let me be perfectly clear. I am not encouraging you to come up with canned responses you overuse just to sound religious: “Wow, great burgers, Bob. Your a real whiz on that grille.” “Hank, I appreciate the praise, but the Bible says the Lord God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. That's His beef your enjoying right now. And if I wasn't schooled in the barbeque arts by a loving father, and if God didn't give me the funds to fill this propane tank last night, we'd be eating cold sandwiches. So please give the glory and honor to the Creator, my friend!”
Hopefully you can see in that situation that a simple “Thank you. Glad you like it” will do just fine. We can never forget that we are talking in this series about what genuine humility looks like, not so we can mimic its manifestations, but so we can recognize the look of humility in our own lives. Remember our working definition...
Humility is an inner condition, springing from a true recognition of my proper position.
John the Baptist, the Baptizer, clearly possessed a true recognition of his proper position, didn't he? He was a humble man. Many things about John's life confirmed that. But as we've seen this morning, a powerful way that was obvious was in how John deflected praise, how he turned the spotlight back on Jesus.
But it started inside him, didn't it? It started as a response to the truth about God the Son. True humility is always a response to what is true about God. That's where it must begin inside you and me. And how will we know whether or not we really do understand our reliance on, our relationship to, and our role for Jesus Christ? I believe will be encouraged by what God is doing in us when we see humility deflecting the praise back to Him.
And this is not just something that happens when others praise us. It should happen whenever we experience the blessings of God, whether it be his gift of ministry success, or of vocational success, or material provision, or a gift like patience, endurance, wisdom, or strength in a difficult time. When something like that happens, do I say in my heart, “Nice work, Morgan!” or “Perfect! It all worked out just like I planned.” Or do I say, “Thank you, Father. This is your work, Father. Were in not for your grace, Father...”
Be encouraged: Christ died and was raised to give us humble hearts. This kind of humility is possible because of the COMPLETED work of Jesus and the CURRENT work of His Spirit in us. God knew and knows what we need.
I think all of us are guilty of, in some way, longing for the 'spotlight', of relishing the praise, of enjoying the attention or enjoying some success in a very me-centered way. And I think we do that because we are hoping to fill a void in ourselves; because we feel our sense of self-worth needs some propping up.
Well, in light of those empty spaces inside you, let me encourage you this morning with these words of promise: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. And listen how Paul concludes that thought...To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)