John the baptizer had gained a sizable following among the people of Israel. He was regarded by many to be a prophet, and indeed, to this day there is still a group known as the Mandeans, who revere John as the greatest prophet of God.1 His long-lasting legacy is a testament to the fact that during his life, John had a crew of devoted disciples.
Some of these disciples felt threatened when the ministry of another Rabbi, Jesus, began baptizing and recruiting disciples (including John’s) in increasing measure: “They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.’”2
But John was not insecure about his waning importance, soberly noting: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”3 He knows what we all must learn: from heaven’s perspective, there is nothing more important than what Jesus is up to. John’s disciples are puzzled by the fact that he is content with the rise of Jesus’ public ministry and thus the demise of his own. So the baptizer continues: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.”4 John is not only content with Jesus’ fame supplanting his; he is full of joy that Jesus has taken the spotlight, and so he declares: “He must become greater; I must become less.”5 These words carry the bold assurance of one who understands the surpassing worth of Jesus.
We all face a persistent temptation to compare our level of notoriety and accolades with those of others: social media “likes” and followers, financial income, physical appearance, and influence are just a few of the many ways we are prone to compare ourselves to others. But when we remember that the goal of our lives is to bring glory to Jesus, and not ourselves, we can learn to be happy, even if our labors go unnoticed and we live in relative obscurity. If the focus of our lives is to know Jesus and to make him known, we will find ourselves free from the trap of comparison, and will then be able to stand alongside the apostle Paul and declare: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”6
~O God, give us eyes to see who you really are. Empower us to be content with living for the glory of your name, knowing that it is enough to have our names written in your book of life. May it be that after we have departed from this earth and our names have long been forgotten, your name would be held in higher regard, due in part to our unnoticed and unremembered efforts. For the sake of Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. Where do I find my identity? Are there any parts of me that rely on things like praise, success, or money to feel content?
2. What is one way I can practice self-forgetfulness in my present circumstances?
1. Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley – The Mandeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford University Press)
2. John 3:26 NIV
3. John 3:27 NIV
4. John 3:28-29 NIV
5. John 3:30 NIV
6. Philippians 4:12b-13 NIV
8. Sharon Hodde Miller – Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You