When the disciples of John the Baptist noticed that people were leaving John to follow Jesus and to be baptized by his disciples, they came to their teacher to express their concerns. Rather than responding with a plan to grow his numbers back up or with a fear of losing his voice among the people, John spoke these words:
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.”
When I was going over this passage recently, John’s wedding analogy stood out to me. Just over a week ago now, I stood in the wedding of some dear friends. It was my first time being part of a wedding ceremony (unless you count the time I was a ring bearer way back in the day, but I see more of a Middle-Earth connection there than a spiritual one), so it was fresh in my mind as I studied John’s words. What I think John is saying is profound, but it didn’t make sense until I considered it in light of my experience at the Hadley wedding.
Confession: I didn’t realize all that was involved with being a groomsman when Dustin first asked me months ago. There’s the cost of the suit rental, plus the cost for wedding presents, plus the cost of gas to travel to and from the events surrounding the wedding (not to mention the wedding itself). Then there’s the cost of food during the visits (Whataburger. Enough said.). Then, you have to be available to help in whatever way is needed to set up for the wedding and reception. Then you walk down the aisle before the couple and stand off to the side during the ceremony only to follow the newly wedded pair back down the aisle. Then there are pictures to take, places to be, adventures to be had during free time. And, while you’re all dressed up, people don’t really pay attention to you. Even walking down the aisle isn’t about you. I didn’t hear anyone making a huge deal about how good the bridesmaids and groomsmen looked, and I didn’t hear one compliment about how nicely each pair walked down the aisle or how beautifully we all stared at Dustin and Lacie. Being part of the wedding is a sacrifice of time, money, and pride. And it’s all completely worth it.
I wouldn’t have wanted to give any less, and I wish I could have given more to that couple. The word “sacrifice” almost sounds too harsh. It was honestly a pleasure, a joy, to be a part of the event. In fact, it would have been wrong for one of the bridesmaids or groomsmen to demand attention or compensation. It also would have been wrong for anyone to focus on the bridesmaids and groomsmen above the bride and groom. The day wasn’t about any of us at all. It was about the couple, and we were there to point to them. We didn’t seek recognition; we knew we were only there by grace. We simply found joy in being a part of the wedding.
In the same way, John saw himself as simply part of the wedding party. He wasn’t there to complain about what he had to sacrifice for Jesus, nor was he interested in seeking fame and glory for himself. He realized how messed up that would be. Jesus was the bridegroom coming to rescue the bride. This is the love story that each of ours only mirrors, and John had the privilege of preparing the way. In a way, he simply served as a groomsman pointing to the main event. His statement of humility in John 3:30 sums it up for us all: the story isn’t ultimately about us, but about Jesus.
I think we miss this as Christians. I know I do. I often get frustrated when ministry demands more time and energy than I want to sacrifice. I get jealous when others get fame and glory above me. I get discouraged when people don’t notice how good I am, how holy I am, or how much I give and serve. I get mad at God when he doesn’t bless me like I think I deserve to be blessed. Each of these are clearly messed up perceptions of reality. They’re examples of misplaced priorities, an overinflated pride, and a complete failure to see what it’s really all about. I see these tendencies in my own life, and I feel the danger of falling to them daily. That’s why I love these words of John. He arguably had every right to demand glory and fame. He baptized Jesus, introducing him to the people. He was doing ministry before Jesus began his recorded work (unless you count chapter one of John and of Colossians). From a human standpoint, John had a right to seek a name for himself, to get angry when his followers began to follow another (especially one whose ministry he helped initiate). But he didn’t. He laid it all down for the sake of his Lord, rejoicing in the fact that he was even a part of the kingdom.
Do any of us live like that? Are any of us so humble and selfless? I know I’m not, but I know I want to be. Let’s follow the example of humility seen in John, recognizing our places as bridesmaids and groomsmen who serve to point to the ultimate bride and groom. Let’s lay down our foolish pride and find our joy in the voice of the groom come to save the bride. And, in everything, may he increase as we decrease.