It isn’t about numbers

How sad it is when Christians begin to compete with each other. Perhaps we want to have the largest congregation or to baptize the most people. Sometimes Christians will belittle the good work another is doing or even spread gossip and lies about them, all to try to make themselves look better or more important. But this is not what being a Christian is about nor is it what Jesus died for.

There was the potential for this to happen between Jesus’ disciples and John’s disciples when Jesus first began teaching. Both Jesus and John were in the same area and people were going to both to be immersed. John’s followers were concerned about this. After all, John was there first. Surely John should be concerned.

“So they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!’” (John 3:26 NET)

John’s followers were seeing through a very worldly perspective. To them, it seemed to be all about numbers, and Jesus was gaining more and more followers – people were ‘flocking’ to him. To them this was a threat to their leader. But John understood what was going on.

“John replied, ‘No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but rather, “I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. He must become more important while I become less important.’” (John 3:27-30)

John understood who Jesus was and who he himself was. Jesus was the Messiah. John had clearly stated that he was not the Messiah. He was the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. That he had been doing and with that he was content.

John compared his role to that of “the friend of the bridegroom” – we would probably call this person “the best man”. At the wedding, the best man doesn’t get the bride – the bridegroom does. The wedding day isn’t about the best man, it is about the bride and groom. The best man is there to support his friend who is getting married. The joy for the best man isn’t in getting the bride but in watching his friend marry his true love.

It was the same for John. “He must become more important while I become less important.” John realised what it was about. He and Jesus were not competing but working together for a common purpose.

And isn’t this is the way it should be with followers of Jesus today? We aren’t competing with each other. It does not matter who preaches for the largest crowd or who is baptising more people. What matters is that we are all faithfully serving our Lord. Some can do some things better than others – but we don’t argue about who is the best or try to compete with each other.

This is a lesson John’s disciples had to learn. And this is a lesson that Christians still need to learn today.

Photo by Jon Galloway: the river Jordan in Judea, January 2018

Readings for next week:
8 April – John 1
9 April – John 2
10 April – John 3
11 April – John 4
12 April – John 5

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