Our story begins with a theological argument. All good church stories begin that way: “Now an argument arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew (John’s code for religious leader) over purification” (v. 25). In other words, they were debating whether good people (like the religious leader) need the grace of God or not. However, just when it appears to be a story about purification, the plot twists in a completely different direction.
The gist of the twist is that Jesus’ ministry has grown bigger than John the Baptizer’s ministry (c.f. verses 26-30). Therefore, John’s disciples anxiously report: “We are losing our importance, John! Do something about it!” Now it is a story about the need to be important or increase: “He must increase, but I must decrease “(v. 30). Notice, however, that John is free from the need to be important. He is self-forgetful. He is confident without pride and humble without inferiority. In other words, he is mentally healthy. How can we be free from the need to be important?
First, God’s grace must increase in our lives: “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven’” (v. 27). Do not miss the “even one thing.” This is stunning. All that we are, all that we have, and all that we do is a gift of grace. When God’s grace becomes increasingly real in our lives, the need to be important decreases in our lives. When we think more clearly and feel more deeply that “I am what I am by the grace of God” like the Apostle Paul, our need to increase decreases.
Second, the purpose of pointing must increase in our lives: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom (i.e. the “best man” or “best friend”), who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (vv. 29-30). We are not the bridegroom. We are the best man.
Therefore, the bride or people needing to be reached and renewed by Jesus and his salvation do not belong to us. People do not exist for our importance, for our need to increase. Our purpose is to point people to Jesus (the bridegroom). Meaning and joy is found in a life that points to Jesus! The disciples of John are miserable in the anxiety of importance. John the Baptizer, however, is free in self-forgetfulness and full of the joy of pointing to Jesus. The Baptizer is finally himself.
Third, Jesus has all the importance you need: “He who comes from above is above all” (v. 31). Union with Christ by faith is union with Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. In other words, Jesus’ increase is now your increase. His importance, greatness, grace, glory, victory, medals of honor, righteousness, wisdom, strength, resurrection life, and Spirit is now yours. When Jesus increases in your life, you increase. You have all the importance you need.