“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
—John 3:30 (ESV)
The Gospel of John offers us a poignant moment when John the Baptist, in response to his disciples’ concerns, made a remarkable declaration that serves as a testament to his humility and the supreme significance of Christ in his life and ministry.
This event unfolds against the backdrop of a pivotal time when Jesus commenced His baptisms near the same river where John was ministering. The growing popularity of Jesus caused a decline in John’s own ministry, prompting his disciples to seek guidance and potentially inquire, “What is your response to this situation?”¹
John’s response to his disciples’ concerns is a three-part argument that culminates in his profoundly humble exaltation, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). Initially John underscored the fundamental truth that every blessing in one’s life and ministry is a divine gift (John 3:27). If Jesus and His disciples were experiencing a more significant following than John, it was in alignment with God’s will and plan. Jesus later affirmed this when He said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
John then reminded his disciples of his unwavering message throughout his ministry — that he was not the Messiah, but merely one sent to prepare the way for Him (John 3:28). He came to bear witness about the light, that all might believe (John 1:7–8).
Subsequently, John illustrated his role as he compared himself to the friend of the bridegroom in a Judean wedding (John 3:29). After he oversaw the wedding preparations, his joy was made complete as he witnessed the bride and groom being united in exquisite ceremony.² This turn of events was not cause for jealousy, but an exultant fulfillment of his purpose. And for the consummate joy of all involved, it must be this way.
For a moment, let us remember the Apostle Paul urging believers to walk with humility to maintain peace and unity of the Spirit in alignment with our calling. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12).
Shepherds and teachers are a gift of God to the church, and all believers are called to the work of the ministry. In this co-laboring environment, minister and layman alike are united in purpose to magnify the name of Christ and increase His following.
As members of the same body, we also profit when others herald the Light with success. Paul chose to rejoice even when selfish rivals shared the gospel effectively, saying, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18 NIV).
While John’s teaching clearly opposes such self-exalting motives, Paul drives home the point that Christ is preeminent and draws to Him all who would believe in His message.
Truly, it would be to our own detriment to seek the admiration of others or a name for ourselves, for “He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31 ESV). Paul also plainly advises, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Corrie Ten Boom was once asked how she managed to stay humble despite having so many admirers around the world. She replied, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?”³
Let us likewise put to death any inclination to pride or jealous rivalries, especially as we do the work of the ministry. Let us bow our head, like the donkey, and pave a straight path, like John the Baptist, because Christ’s glory is our overarching aim and fullest source of joy.
In life and ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” should be the anthem of our hearts.
Paul Masih lives and serves in northwest India with his wife, Kristi, and their children, Emma and Caleb. Paul is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Chandigarh and the executive director of Uttermost International. Uttermost is a US-based nonprofit organization founded by Paul to help facilitate ministry partnerships with their church network in northwest India.
¹ J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 216.
² D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 211.
³ “Corrie Ten Boom on Humility.” Sermon Central. Accessed 9 October 2023. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/76333/corrie-ten-boom-on-by-sermon-central.