In recent weeks our attention has been riveted on the Summer Olympics in London. We are easily captivated by the chance to see the world's greatest athletes compete for the gold. We love that spirit of competition and we particularly enjoy the successes of our American athletes.
However, in the quest for glory and greatness, there are always stories of failure, disappointment, and shattered dreams. Thousands of talented, hard-working athletes failed to even qualify to go to London, let alone bring home a medal.
And that's life, isn't it? We live in a competitive society, measuring our achievements against those of others. But here's the problem: No matter who you are or what you do -- and no matter how much success you are having -- there will always be someone who can surpass you.
Even if you are currently at the top, sooner or later your life will be eclipsed by another who takes your place, breaks your records, or wins more applause than you. How will you respond to that? How do you deal with it when someone else gets the position you wanted or used to have? What if you're continually overlooked and nobody seems to value your abilities or efforts?
Toward the end of the third chapter in the Gospel of John, Jesus moved to the countryside with His disciples. At this time His ministry began to overlap with the ministry of another popular preacher by the name of John the Baptist. The situation was ripe for rivalry and comparison. Two groups of people were now occupying the same turf, engaged in the same activity: baptizing converts.
John's followers felt threatened. "And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." (John 3:26) With Jesus' popularity surging, John's is beginning to sag.
Nevertheless, John's gracious response to his insecure friends shows why Jesus considered him the greatest man who ever lived: "John answered, 'A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.'" (3:27-30)
Amazing perspective! John lives for the glory of Christ. If Jesus is the Groom, John sees himself as the Best Man. Therefore he can say, "It's not about me! I'm just here to serve. My job was to prepare the way. Now my job is to get out of the way." John is joyfully content, even if his role is diminishing.
This humble servant of Christ understood that all leaders serve at God's pleasure. John's ministry was sovereignly granted him from heaven; he wasn't entitled to it. And if God now chose to change or end that position of influence, John will trust the Father's wise plan and keep the spotlight on Jesus.
Genuine humility is not about feeling worthless or thinking poorly of yourself -- it's simply not thinking of yourself at all! When we are tempted to jealousy or envy, backbiting or complaining, let's choose instead to react like John the Baptist. No matter our personal wins or losses, may our sole ambition be to promote the awesome glory of God's eternal Son: He must increase; we must decrease!