He Must Increase, and I Must Decrease
It is said that the primal sin is pride; it was the sin that tripped up Adam and Eve: “You shall be like God.” So it only stands to reason that the greatest virtue of our faith is humility. John the Baptist shows the way in this. Jesus himself said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). And that, because there was never born among women one more humble.
In this passage, John’s disciples come to him, and, as if complaining, say 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’s answer to them is full of humility: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from above.” He reminds them that he told them that he was not the Christ but was sent before him. He then compares himself to “a friend of a bridegroom.” Jesus is the Bridegroom; John is the one who “rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” And then those words, “Therefore this joy of mine is complete. He must increase and I must decrease.” John declares that his mission is coming to an end. His purpose for living, the very reason why he was born, has been accomplished. And he now has no greater joy than to see the One whose coming he prepared. And like John, we must learn to say, “He must increase and I must decrease.” There is no greater joy than knowing that from our birth, we have been given to know Christ and to follow him, and to live in the joy of growing in grace, such that we become lesser and he becomes greater.
Then John speaks of the difference between us and Christ: He is from heaven and above all, and we of earth. On him the Father has given the Spirit without measure, for the Father loves the Son and has given everything to him – and best of all, those who believe in him. These have received what the world cannot receive, that God is true and has sent His Son to bear witness to that truth. And because the Father has handed these over to the Son, these have eternal life, and such a life the joy of which is already present on this side of heaven. It is a joy that is grounded in our decrease, and his increase, till the day comes when God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). And this is the difference between eternal life and eternal death, between living under the grace of God and under His wrath. He who has the Son has life, and it begins with the humility of coming to Him with nothing but our sins, nothing but a confession, that finds its fulfillment in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice and the joy that hearing it brings.