“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Pride is the enemy of obedience. Reading our Bible, it’s a simple thing to see that pride and true obedience are opposed to each other. Look at Adam and Eve in the Garden. Look at the Israelites during the Exodus. Look at David when he numbered the armies if Israel. Look at King Ahab. Look at Simon the magician who tried to use the power of the Holy Spirit for personal gain. The stories of prideful disobedience are spread throughout the Bible. And in each case, those proud and stiff-necked people were punished for their disobedience to the will and the Word of God.
It’s not as if God has not tried to teach us this lesson all along. Those stories are in the Bible for us to learn, and those histories of disobedience and punishment existed in previous generations, too. David knew the stories of Moses and the Exodus. Ahab knew the stories of David and other kings of Israel and Judah. And Jesus Himself tried to teach that same lesson of humility and obedience when He said things like “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
But we just don’t learn, do we? Learning the lesson of humbling ourselves before God is the hardest thing we can learn. We may learn Scripture verses and study theology and even share the gospel like a great evangelist, but if we do not humble ourselves, then we are placing ourselves first above God and His Word. Recent movements in the large Christian denominations to depart from the clear and unequivocal Word of God concerning homosexuality and abortion have shown that we really love to put ourselves first. It is as if the modern church denominations are ignoring the fact that the Abrahamic faiths have followed the Bible for over three thousand years, and now in this modern age–you know, the time when God is no longer dictating His Word to the prophets and apostles–we think that WE understand God’s Word better than the ancients did.
But John the Baptist understood his role regarding Jesus Christ. He said it best in today’s verse: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It really is that simple. John knew that, in their pride, people would question what was the right way to “do” this new faith, and so he followed the way of all the prophets of old: he stepped aside for Jesus. Paul said a similar thing when he told the Corinthians that it didn’t matter who baptized them so long as they had heard and believed the gospel of Christ who died for them. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) What matters is following and believing in Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and was raised again unto glory on the third day. THAT is the gospel.
More important, of course, is our obedience to the Word of God. We cannot at a whim suddenly decide that what is clearly written in the Bible no longer applies. “Things were different then,” people say. Oh were they? Were not people being born and dying? Were they not marrying and fighting wars? Were they not deceiving each other? Were they not engaging in trade and farming and crafts? Were they not in families and villages and cities? Were they not sinning and being punished for their sins? That last is perhaps the hardest part for us today, because God is indeed “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalms 103:8) Since God is so merciful, and since we now live under this new covenant of grace, and since God sees fit to often withhold His punishment, reserving His final judgment for a later time, people feel they have carte blanche to do and say whatever they feel–even if they are being disobedient to the Word of God. Their love for themselves exceeds their love for God and His commandments.
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
And it’s not as if we haven’t been warned away from such abuse of God’s mercy. Paul warned us that our liberty under Christ is not a license to indulge ourselves, but rather a liberty to be FREE from indulging ourselves, an opportunity to be humble and obedient, serving one another even as we serve God. (Galatians 5:13-14) And the writer of Hebrews stated it so well:
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
Yes, we may not be stoning people for adultery anymore, but does that make it any less offensive to God? We have become so used to idolatry in all it many forms, and so used to fleshly self-indulgence, that we forget that they are still “tô’êbah”–Hebrew for abominable, abhorrent, disgusting to God. We have allowed our own worldly beliefs to increase while the Word of God and the traditions of our fathers have decreased. And yet, as John the Baptist and Paul and our Lord Jesus have all said, GOD must increase and we must decrease.
Make no mistake about it: God will punish sinners, especially those who insult the Spirit of grace by placing human morals above the clear Word of God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) So long as we continue this trend of placing ourselves and our social mores first above God, then He will withdraw whatever blessings He might have bestowed. And so long as these things are taught from the pulpits of God’s churches, then the people will be diminished in their faith and in their obedience. They will increase in prideful disobedience while love and fear of God decreases. We have seen it happening already over the past several generations, and if we allow this “increase” to continue, it will only get worse. No wonder so many self-described “Christians” are so weak in their faith and in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus!
We have an opportunity to stand up to this tide of pride. We can choose to be obedient, to use our liberty not for ourselves but for Christ. We can–nay, we MUST stand up for Word of God as our model “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that we may all be equipped for obedience to God and service to each other. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The gospel of Christ must increase, and obedience to God must increase, and service based on love of God must increase, and adherence to the written Word of God must increase–all while we ourselves decrease. When we decrease, then we become true heirs with Christ, who Himself did not think it wrong to decrease Himself to the point of dying on the cross for our sins. (Philippians 2:5-11) So will you follow the lead of John the Baptist? Say it with me, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Holy Lord Jesus, I exalt You today and every day. May Your name alone be the one that is adored and spoken with love. May Your obedience to the Father be our model, as You glorified Him through Your life and death and resurrection. Help me to increase You, Lord, and help me to decrease, to be humbled and purified, so that I will be Your servant in all things. And, Father God, may Your Spirit open the eyes of those who are pridefully misled today, helping them to see their error and to move back to true obedience to Your Word. Amen.