“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
In a “Peanuts” cartoon, Linus tells Charlie Brown, “When I get big, I’m going to be a humble little country doctor. I’ll live in the city, and every morning I’ll get up, climb into my sports car, and zoom into the country! Then I’ll start healing people … I’ll heal people for miles around!” In the last frame, he exclaims, “I’ll be a world famous humble little country doctor!”
Charles Schultz, the cartoonist, was poking fun at how difficult it is for us to be humble. We may start out with the goal of being a humble little whatever, but before we know it, we’re into being a world-famous, humble little whatever!
Pride is arguably the most deadly and evil of all sins because it’s at the root of all other sins. Pride was probably Satan’s original sin, when he said, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14, assuming that this in some sense is describing Satan). Pride was the bait Satan used to tempt Eve, when he set aside what God had said and assured her that if she ate of the forbidden fruit, she would be like God (Genesis 3:1-6). Whenever I sin, I am arrogantly asserting that I know better than God what is best for me. Thus, as Christians we must constantly battle pride and grow in humility. And if you think you’ve attained any measure of humility, you’ve got to be on guard against being proud of your humility!
If anyone easily could have fallen into the trap of pride, it would have been John the Baptist. Who else in human history (apart from Jesus Himself) could claim to have been filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15)! No one else in human history had the important role of being the forerunner of Messiah (Luke 1:17,76). John enjoyed immediate popular success, as all Jerusalem, Judea, and those from surrounding areas were going to him to confess their sins and be baptized (Matthew 3:5-6). Even Jesus testified of John that he was the greatest man in human history (Matthew 11:11).
All these things could have fed the pride of this young prophet.
Yet John gives his disciples and us a basic lesson in humility. In the face of Jesus’ growing popularity and his own waning popularity, John gives us a one-liner to live by: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). To the extent that John’s motto is true of us, we are growing in humility.
Humility stems from understanding who God is and who we are. John the Baptist clearly understood God’s sovereignty, who Jesus is, and who he (John) was. Thus he didn’t have inflated views of himself. He wasn’t out to build his self-esteem or to promote his own ministry or reputation. His aim was to exalt Jesus. The clearer our vision of His majesty and greatness and power and glory, the more we will be humbled in His presence.
John recognized that his unique role in history was not something that he had achieved by his own brilliance or hard work. Rather, God had graciously given it to him so that he could point people to Jesus. It had nothing to do with anything good in John. It had everything to do with God’s sovereign, gracious purpose for John.
This is such an important lesson to keep in mind at all times: all of my gifts, abilities, and opportunities come from God by grace alone.
Everything! Do I have a sound mind? That came from God, who wants me to use it for His purpose and glory. Do I have money? That came from God, who wants me to use it for His purpose and glory. Do I have a ministry or place of service? That, too, came from God, who wants me to use it for His purpose and glory.
Are you working at growing in humility? If I’m growing in humility, Christ is increasing and I’m decreasing. If I’m growing in pride, self is increasing and Christ is decreasing.
—Condensed from John by Steven J. Cole, copyright 2013.
“They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud.” —John Flavel