The Greatest Prayer

The Greatest Prayer

John 3:25-30

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”


            Okay, it is not really a prayer, but it should be the one prayer we make every day.  The disciples of John came to him concerned about his ministry.  John had enjoyed a popular and successful ministry with many coming from great distances to hear his message.  His name was gaining recognition throughout Israel, with many regarding him as one of the great prophets, even Elijah himself (1:19-23).  However, recently, his popularity was starting to wane, and the crowds were getting smaller.  Instead, there was a new upstart itinerate preacher who was starting to gain popularity, and the people were going to him.  Consequently, the disciples of John came to him, concerned that he was losing his following.  They had been debating over the purification rights practiced by the Jews, perhaps debating the merits of the purification rites practiced by the Jews versus the merits of John’s baptism.  This led to a further debate regarding the report that Jesus was also baptizing people.  As a result of this debate, concern was expressed that John was losing his popularity and following. Something needed to be done.  John needed to rebrand his ministry to get a renewed following. 

            In his response, John reassures his disciples that God’s sovereignty is beyond our understanding, and He determines the success of our ministry.  In a world where success is often equated with numbers and the effectiveness of a pastor is judged by the size of the congregation, this is a lesson we need to learn. Our responsibility is to remain faithful to perform the duties that God has assigned us; the results are in His hands.  Paul affirms this same truth: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters are anything, but God who causes the growth.”  John reminds his disciples that the sovereign working of God determines the scope and results of his ministry.

However, John does not just remind them of God’s sovereignty; he then takes it further.  John is not the Messiah.  For John to desire greater recognition and prominence would be to usurp the focus of the Messiah. Tragically, we often want the focus and the recognition.  But we are not the savior, and we are not God.  He is the focus, not us.  Recognition from others and the popularity we gain can quickly become a form of idolatry where we elevate ourselves in the place of prominence, a place that is reserved for God alone.  John recognizes that we are not the focal point for we are not the one who achieves salvation for our listeners.  We are merely messengers who come to point people to Christ.  John is not the focal point or the one who obtains salvation.  He is simply the messenger who has come to prepare the way by proclaiming God’s message.

For John, the measure of success was not how much recognition he received, how popular he became, or the number of people who clamored to hear his message.  The measure of success is determined by how much Christ is revealed in him and the degree to which people see Christ through his ministry.  This is equally true for us. John takes us to the heart of our ministry and Christian life: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Joy in life and success in ministry comes when we perform God’s will and point people to Christ.  When people brag about us, our ministry, and how great we are, we have misguided the people.  The focus must always remain on Christ.  Ministry is not about the recognition we receive but the recognition Christ gets.  As we serve Christ, our prayer should be that at the end of the day, they do not sing our praises, but they sing the praises of Christ.  That is a prayer worth praying for. 


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