He Must Increase But I Must Decrease

by Mike Ratliff

30 ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν, ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι. John 3:30 (NA28)

30 It is necessary for Him to increase, but for me to decrease. John 3:30 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

We often think that false doctrine concerning the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will begin with denials of His deity or the fall of man et cetera. Consider this my brethren. All it takes to get the gospel wrong is to make the focus of it man rather than the glory of the Father through the glorification of the Son as He lived that sinless life and through that perfect obedience became the propitiation for those He came to save. Then he deliberately laid down His life to be that perfect sacrifice on their behalf. He went to that cross so that those chosen before the foundation of the world, given to the Son by the Father, are given eternal life when they believe the Gospel in repentance turning to Christ as Lord as Saviour. At that moment, the Father imputes Christ’s perfect obedience and perfect righteousness to their account. However, during our Lord’s earthly ministry, those who followed Him as well as those who opposed Him did not see this at all. Jesus came to reveal the Father to the lost sheep of Israel, but most of them rejected the message. It was not until our Lord rose from the dead three days after dying on that Cross that He opened the minds of His disciples so that they could understand Sacred Scripture and then know the truth of His true mission and what the gospel is all about. Yes, when the gospel is handled correctly, people are saved and brought into the Kingdom, but the purpose is the glory of God. John the Baptist understood that perfectly. 

22 Μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν καὶ ἐκεῖ διέτριβεν μετʼ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐβάπτιζεν.
23 Ἦν δὲ καὶ ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων ἐν Αἰνὼν ἐγγὺς τοῦ Σαλείμ, ὅτι ὕδατα πολλὰ ἦν ἐκεῖ, καὶ παρεγίνοντο καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο· 24 οὔπω γὰρ ἦν βεβλημένος εἰς τὴν φυλακὴν ὁ Ἰωάννης. John 3:22-24 (NA28)

22 After these things, Jesus and His disciples came into the Judean countryside, and He was staying there with them there and was baptizing.
23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim because there was much water there and people were coming and being baptized for John had not yet been thrown into prison. John 3:22-24 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

We must remember what John the Baptist’s message was as given to us from John 1:19-28. He said in v23, “ἔφη· ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης.” Which translates as, “He said, ‘I am a voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. As said Isaiah the Prophet.’” John’s message was continually a word of repentance and divine judgment. This messenger of God was to prepare the way of the Lord God of the Old Testament to come to His people through the wilderness. His baptism was based on repentance and symbolized purification from sin. John’s baptism was an outward sign of cleansing reflecting inward repentance from sins. In 3:22, we see that Jesus’ disciples are baptizing not Jesus as we read in John 4:2. John tells us in v24 that John the Baptist had not yet been thrown into prison so we know that everything that has happened up to this point in John’s Gospel takes place before Mark 1:14 (‘after John was arrested’).

25 Ἐγένετο οὖν ζήτησις ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν Ἰωάννου μετὰ Ἰουδαίου περὶ καθαρισμοῦ. 26 καὶ ἦλθον πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· ῥαββί, ὃς ἦν μετὰ σοῦ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ᾧ σὺ μεμαρτύρηκας, ἴδε οὗτος βαπτίζει καὶ πάντες ἔρχονται πρὸς αὐτόν. 27 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰωάννης καὶ εἶπεν· οὐ δύναται ἄνθρωπος λαμβάνειν οὐδὲ ἓν ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ δεδομένον αὐτῷ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. 28 αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς μοι μαρτυρεῖτε ὅτι εἶπον [ὅτι] οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐγὼ ὁ χριστός, ἀλλʼ ὅτι ἀπεσταλμένος εἰμὶ ἔμπροσθεν ἐκείνου. 29 ὁ ἔχων τὴν νύμφην νυμφίος ἐστίν· ὁ δὲ φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου ὁ ἑστηκὼς καὶ ἀκούων αὐτοῦ χαρᾷ χαίρει διὰ τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ νυμφίου. αὕτη οὖν ἡ χαρὰ ἡ ἐμὴ πεπλήρωται. 30 ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν, ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι. John 3:25-30 (NA28)

25 Then a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have given testimony, look, this one baptizes and all men are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man is not able to receive anything unless it has been given to him from Heaven. 28 You yourselves bear witness to me that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but I have been sent before Him. 29 The one having the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, standing and hearing Him with joy, rejoices because of the voice of the bridegroom; therefore, this joy of mine has been made full. 30 It is necessary for Him to increase, but for me to decrease.” John 3:25-30 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

John’s disciples main concern was that Jesus seems to be in competition with him. What was John’s response? John understood that Jesus was doing what He was doing because of power from on High. He understood that he was the last prophet of the old age of Prophets and for the transition to take place into Jesus’ ministry his must necessarily decrease. He shows tremendous humility here. In this, we see a heart totally in tune with the will of God. I am convinced that we often get the idea that our ministries are incredibly vital to the continuation of the Kingdom of God. Not hardly. In fact, I have found that God uses me the most when I decrease and Jesus becomes the focus of everything.

31 Ὁ ἄνωθεν ἐρχόμενος ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν· ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστιν καὶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ. ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐρχόμενος [ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν]· 32 ὃ ἑώρακεν καὶ ἤκουσεν τοῦτο μαρτυρεῖ, καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν αὐτοῦ οὐδεὶς λαμβάνει. 33 ὁ λαβὼν αὐτοῦ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἐσφράγισεν ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀληθής ἐστιν. 34 ὃν γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ ῥήματα τοῦ θεοῦ λαλεῖ, οὐ γὰρ ἐκ μέτρου δίδωσιν τὸ πνεῦμα. 35 ὁ πατὴρ ἀγαπᾷ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ πάντα δέδωκεν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ. 36 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον· ὁ δὲ ἀπειθῶν τῷ υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν, ἀλλʼ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐπʼ αὐτόν. John 3:31-36 (NA28)

31 He who comes from above is over all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in from the earth. He who comes from Heaven is over all. 32 He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one receives His testimony. 33 He who receives His testimony certifies that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one disobeying the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:31-36 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In vv31-36 we are reading John the Baptist’s words, but it is very similar to Jesus’ own words about His own relationship with the Father that we read in John 14, 15, 16, et cetera. John the Baptist exhibits humble faithfulness to the superiority of Jesus’ person and ministry. He also understands that salvation is found in no one else. He knew that his ministry was one of preparation for the coming of the Messiah and now He had come. Believe and obey the Son by Faith and have eternal life or disbelieve and disobey the gospel and thereby inherit only the wrath of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!