“Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” -John 3:30
We live in an age that constantly tells us to increase ourselves. Express yourself! Promote yourself! Create (or re-create) yourself! These are the cries of a culture bent on placing the increasing self at the center of all meaning, identity, and joy. The spirit of our age is a spirit that demands “I must increase!” And in the digital world we live in, that demand is easily met as we’re able to simply post, tweet, or snap our way to more likes, more followers, and more human glory.
Into such a self-promoting culture, the words of John the Baptist come like a wrecking ball: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Here’s a man with a following, a platform, and a reputation among the people of being a great prophet,. Or, as Jesus himself described him, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). That’s some high praise from the eternal Son of God. Surely, if anyone had good reason to increase himself and his following, it was John the Baptist. And yet we find him rejoicing when he loses his followers and influence as people leave him to go to Jesus. Where did such joy in decreasing come from?
John could rejoice in his own decreasing because he found his ultimate purpose and joy in the ever-increasing glory of Jesus. John saw the glory of the one “the strap of whose sandal I am unworthy to untie” and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He saw the surpassing worth and beauty of “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” and “the man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” He knew his purpose was to merely make straight the way to the glory of Jesus’ sin-atoning salvation, heart-regenerating power, and soul-satisfying joy. For this he was born and for this he would gladly decrease when his voice in the wilderness gave way to the voice of the bridegroom. John could rejoice because his joy was rooted not in advancing his own fading glory, but in pointing others to the precious and eternal glory of Jesus.
To most of us, decreasing doesn’t sound very desirable, much less joyful. To go unnoticed, unknown, or unrecognized sounds more like a slow death in our attention-seeking world. Increasing ourselves, our presence, and our Valencia-filtered lives just feels right and natural. It promises joy, but it only leaves us empty because all we get when we increase ourselves is, well, our less- than-glorious selves.
But John the Baptist shows us that true, lasting, and complete joy only comes when we are willing to become nobodies that Christ might become everything to us and others. Joy comes when, having seen the glory of Christ, we can count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and making him known. Joy comes when we become increasingly less consumed with our influence and following, and more consumed with the increase of those who follow Jesus. And joy comes when we give up living for our own glory and passionately pursue the glory of Christ, even if it means our own decrease. For in all our decreasing we find the ever-increasing joy of seeing and savoring the glory of Jesus.
John the Baptist made the way straight by making himself small. May the Lord give us grace to do the same and to humbly and joyfully proclaim, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” For HIS glory and our increasing joy.