The story is told of a Christian who was reduced to such poverty that he had only one pair of shoes, with the soles worn through and his toes sticking out. Depressed and discouraged, he walked down the street mumbling to himself: “I might as well be barefooted as to wear these miserable, uncomfortable shoes.” As he felt himself becoming more and more bitter, he came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk and begging. The poor fellow had no legs. After a moment, the discouraged Christian realized that there was something worse than having old shoes—having no feet upon which to wear shoes. Are you complaining? Think how much worse things could be.
Jesus and His disciples have left Jerusalem for the countryside of Judea. Jesus is spending time with the nucleus disciples. Actually, Jesus Himself did not baptize the people who were coming to Him (4:2). His disciples engaged in baptizing the people. Here it is premature to consider this as believers' baptism. I believe it was the continuation of the baptism of repentance that was the characteristic of the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). I also believe that when Jesus gave His consent to His disciples to baptize, He was endorsing and authenticating the calling and ministry of John the Baptist.
At the same time John was also baptizing at Aenon (“springs of water” or “Fountains”) near Salim (“Peace”). John the Baptist and Jesus were probably not far from each other. We don't know the exact location where Jesus' disciples were baptizing. John's Gospel also tells us that by this time John had not been imprisoned. So this reveals that Jesus was ministering side by side with John the Baptist. But Jesus takes the center stage after John is jailed and executed. John came with the message of repentance as the preparatory work for Jesus the Messiah. And John's ministry was baptism unto repentance.
For the Jews to flock to John for baptism was indicative of their admission of need for repentance. Prior to John's ministry of baptism, the Jews had what is called proselyte baptism that was administered exclusively to Gentiles who wanted to embrace the Jewish faith. The Jews regarded the Gentiles as unclean. Therefore, when a Gentile embraced the Jewish faith he/she was baptized as a form of ritual cleansing and purification. John's ministry was not about politics or economics; it was strictly a moral ministry.
I. A COMPLAINT ABOUT SUCCESS VV. 25-26
The complaint of Jesus' success in ministry stems from a dispute between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew about purification. Notice that the dispute in question has nothing to do with Jesus. But look at verse 26. Do you see the comparison, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him. Notice that these disciples of John are aware of what John said about Jesus, and yet they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1:29). At the back of their minds, Jesus is in competition with their master. There is a touch of resentment in their complaint. The resentment is that Jesus is becoming more successful than their master, John the Baptist and they don't like that idea. Not only do you detect resentment in their report, but also exaggeration. He is baptizing and all are coming to Him. Take note of the word all and go back and read verse 23. Not everybody was coming to Jesus to be baptized. Some of the people were also going to John to be baptized.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are not careful a competitive spirit can cut your life short. A husband and wife can become competitors when it comes to their children. The husband begins to be jealous that the children are spending more time with their mother and not him. The wife can also have a similar feeling. A competitive spirit can result when you compare your children or family to others. A couple of years ago, a lady professional skater harmed another skater. She even hired a hit man perhaps to kill or hurt her opponent, because she was a better skater than her. The Apostle Paul says that when we compare ourselves with one another we are fools (2 Cor. 10:12).
The disciples of John were bitter, envious, and resentful for the fact that Jesus was more successful in His ministry than their Rabbi (Teacher). There are many pastors who are jealous of other pastors because of the success of their ministry. They begin to question why his church is big. Why is his church growing and not mine? Why does he receive invitations to preach in conferences and not me? Instead of praying for such a man or woman of God, the pastor begins to find fault with this person. How can you truly pray for a person when you feel like you are in competition with him/her? Some of you are under much pressure and stress because you are in competition with somebody. Due to a competitive spirit some of you have left your job for another and you can barely function as a normal person. You were only thinking about the pay package, but you forgot the task that comes with it. Some of you are cut for out for teaching or administrative assistants, but because of a competitive lifestyle and money, you have become a nurse by force and the stress level of your life is unbearable. I am not talking about seeking promotion and excellence in your work. I think that students must excel in their studies and workers are to excel in their work. I think that Christians are to seek promotion from their employment, but Christians are to refrain from a competitive spirit.
Some of you can afford a three-bedroom house that can meet your needs, but because the Joneses have bought a six-bedroom house you too are trying to own one. Due to this when you come to church you don't pay your tithes and you don't give offering to the Lord's work (illustration from Larry Burkett). Due to your competitive lifestyle you are working four jobs. You don't have time to sleep and rest. You don't even have time to study your Bible and say your prayers. When you come to worship the Lord, you can barely stay awake. When you walk in the sanctuary your countenance looks like somebody who is ready to fight. Am I speaking to somebody? A competitive spirit can easily destroy your life. Let me tell you, our church is not in competition with any other church. Our church and other churches are in the same team. When we build our new sanctuary, we build it to the glory of Christ, but not to prove anything to anybody or church. A competitive spirit can turn a Christian home of love to one of hatred, animosity and dysfunction. Do you feel like you are in competition with someone?
II. A COMMENT OF APPROVAL OF SUCCESS VV. 27-30
The disciples of John the Baptist came to him with a complaint that had an air of resentment and competition, but John demonstrated wisdom and spiritual maturity. In effect, they were saying to John, you are losing your edge and influence to the One you baptized and testified about. It is like a congregation saying to their senior pastor, the person you trained is winning more people than you. He is becoming more popular. He has a larger platform than you. That was the problem of Saul, Miriam and Aaron.
I like John's response. He says, "A man can receive nothing unless God has given it to him from heaven." John answers his disciples with a declaration of a principle, which disallows the idea of rivalry between himself and Jesus. John's response to his disciples is an immediate justification of Jesus' success. This is what John is saying. I have what God has given me, that and no more. John is saying I am doing exactly what God has called me to do and I am content. John cannot be anything more than the forerunner of the Messiah. Ladies and Gentlemen always watch out for those who look for points of disagreement so they can sow the seed of discord, discontent, doubt, and bitterness. In God's economy, He gives some ministers a larger platform than others for a purpose. Instead of becoming jealous and competitive with another believer, pray and ask God to use him/her for His glory. Choir you are a team and should function as a team. Nobody should try to out sing the others, because that will create disharmony in your singing. If one is gifted in singing solo, don't be envious. Do your part as a team member (NBA players after game interview).
The other side of the coin is also true. If you are more gifted than others don't look down upon those with lesser gifts. If the Lord is blessing your family, work, children, and finances, don't make fun or look down upon others who may be struggling. If you can sing a solo don't look down upon your team members who can't. You and I must learn from John the Baptist. There was no room or any thought in John's heart for competition or rivalry. Do you consider other African churches in the Metroplex as your rivals? Then your God is too small.
John says that you and I are responsible to God for what He has given to us. What gifts have God given to you? Are you using the gifts? What ministry opportunity has God opened for you? Are you taking advantage of the opportunity and doing what God has given you? What talents have God given you? Are you using those talents? God does not see success as the secular world sees it. In the economy of God success is defined as faithfulness. Are you faithfully doing what God has called you to do? Are you faithfully using the gifts God has given you to serve Him and others? If the answer is yes, then God is saying you are successful.
John the Baptist upholds his own ministry (v. 28). John does not regard his office as insignificant and insufficient. He claims that his work has been authorized from heaven. His call and spiritual gifts came to him from heaven. In fact, John magnifies his office. John shows a spirit of contentment that many Christians lack today. I am not talking about settling in for mediocrity. I am talking about real contentment in life where God has placed you. John knew what he was sent to do. Have you discovered what Christ has gifted you to do? The next question is: are you doing it?
John had categorically denied that he was the Christ and he repeats it to his disciples. John was sent before the Christ but he was not the Christ. John was sent as a voice but not the ultimate voice. John was sent as a herald but not the King. John was sent as a messenger but not the Messiah. When you know your calling, spiritual gifts, and God's purpose for your life, you save yourself from many untold hardships and headaches. In effect, John is saying to his disciples, I am not in competition with Jesus, who is the Christ. Do you see life as exclusively a competition? Then I submit to you that you cannot have contentment in life. You know why? Because there are some things others can do them better than you. John was not perturbed by Jesus' rising popularity. When ministers of the gospel are locked in a competitive spirit, they forget God's calling and anointing upon the individual they are competing with. A competitive spirit among Christians also gives the devil a field day. John had a Kingdom's perspective, which his disciples lacked. A local church is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is greater and broader than any local church. It will take all kinds and shapes of churches to reach people for the Kingdom of God. The question that each believer or church must answer is “Am I staying true to Christ?” Do the life we lead and the message we preach represent Christ? You should ask yourself, Am I doing what Christ has called and gifted me to do?
In verse 29, John tells a short parable that explains his own understanding of his role in God's divine drama. John speaks of himself as the friend of the Bridegroom (best man). The friend of the bridegroom was the one who ceremonially handed the bride to her groom; and until he has done it, the groom's voice was not heard. At a wedding the bridegroom is the important man. Yes, the best man rejoices, but the wedding day is for the groom and the bride. The best man was responsible for many of the details of the wedding. But as soon as he handed the bride to the bridegroom the best man's work was over. The best man does not expect to take the center stage on the wedding day.
Instead of expecting John to be filled with resentment and jealousy, he was full of joy because that is what he has been anticipating. John Calvin said, “Those who win the Church over to themselves rather than to Christ faithlessly violate the marriage which they ought to [honor].” The rising prominence of Jesus as upsetting as it might be to John's disciples, floods John's heart with joy, because that is what he has worked for. Therefore, John says Jesus must increase but I must decrease. John is saying Jesus must become greater I must become less. John shows us unusual sense of humility. John is saying the exaltation belongs to Jesus Christ, not me. John has put Lucifer to shame (Isaiah 14:12-15). John was content with what God has given him and where God has placed him. Jesus paid a high compliment to John the Baptist for his faithful service (Matt. 11:7-13). Are you contented to be yourself and what God has gifted you to do?