12 January 2013John 3:22-30
"He must increase, but I must decrease." (v. 30)
The argument about purification may well have focused on the relative merits of the Baptisms of John and Jesus, given the concern that John's followers go on to express. Baptism was a standard way of initiating Gentiles (non-Jewish) proselytes into the Jewish faith, and also for purification in other circumstances of ritual impurity. The Baptism Jesus institutes in the Trinitarian formulation is obviously quite different. The exact meaning of the Baptism that Jesus practised during his own ministry is not clear, but this is not the focus of this passage. The issue of Baptism is simply the evangelist's introduction to a discussion about the relationship between Jesus and his cousin John.
Like Jesus, John knows who he is. Like Jesus he has spent time in the wilderness, being known by God and becoming secure in his own skin. Because of this strong sense of identity (verse 27) he is untroubled by what his followers perceive as a rival when they hear of Jesus baptizing nearby. John's concern is not who has the most success or the largest number of followers, but that each should fulfil the purpose God has given to them (verse 27). To do so brings joy (verse 29). John's statement: "He must increase, but I must decrease" comes not from pious and self-conscious self-denial, but from a deep sense of his own purpose, which will not be undermined by Jesus' purpose being greater than his. He has the confidence to decrease because, like Jesus, he knows that his value in God's sight is dependent not on his own status, but on the unfailing love of God.
Think about your church:
- Is it more concerned with numerical success or with fulfilling God's purpose for it?
- Does it have a deeply rooted sense of its own identity and value?
- Is it willing to decrease so that Christ might increase?
Bible notes author