We come to a very interesting passage of scripture. Hidden in this passage are several spiritual nuggets that shifts our focus toward Jesus and the Gospel. Many times in our lives and in the life of the church, we lose our focus. Often, we will find ourselves concerned over petty issues and arguments that have little to no bearing on our faith and our purpose. John the apostle gives us an account of an argument between the followers of John the Baptist and the followers of Jesus. This argument that arose teaches us some very valuable truths that will help us to keep our focus on what matters the most.
Ecclesiastical Separation may be necessary (v. 22-24). There was a time during the life of Christ when both the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus intersected. In verse 22 we see that the disciples of Jesus were baptizing. The baptism that they were engaged in was not the baptism of the believer as we would think of today. Jesus had not yet died and rose again and the church had yet to be born. This baptism was the same baptism that John the Baptist performed. It was the baptism of repentance. The baptism was very similar to our baptism today in that it was symbolic. Our baptism is symbolic of our new life in Christ. The baptism of John the Baptist was symbolic of one who is coming to repent of sin. The disciples of Jesus were performing this same baptism in the same area were John the Baptist was baptizing. Both Jesus and John the Baptist had no problem with the fact that they had two different ministries serving and working in close proximity to one another.
I have heard many people say that they don’t believe in denominations. Such a statement sounds very spiritual. The church is one body in Christ. All those who place their faith in the Lord Jesus are a part of His church. However, people are different. We have different backgrounds. We have different understanding of things. We have different preferences. We may even have differences in doctrine. Because of this, various denominations become necessary. The scriptures encourage us to keep the unity. Sometimes, unity can only be achieved by going separate ways. In our text we find two groups: the followers of John the Baptist and the followers of Jesus. Both groups were doing good things and to Jesus and John the Baptist it was okay to have these different groups.
Ecclesiastical Separation may be necessary due to arguments (v. 25-26). An argument arose between the followers of John the Baptist and the followers of Jesus. The followers of John the Baptist appear to be jealous. They were there first. They were the first ones to baptize. Now, there is a new work and people were flocking to it. People were leaving John the Baptist and going to Jesus and His disciples. This made the followers of John the Baptist concerned and perhaps even jealous.
We see this same thing happening today. You have local churches that have been working and serving in an area for years, but then, a new church or new pastor comes into the area. This disrupts the old church as everybody starts going over to the new church. This has occurred many times along the lines of traditional versus contemporary. You have one church that is traditional in their methods and another church comes on the scene that is very contemporary and appeals to the young people. This may sometimes cause friction between the two churches. Sometimes it has to do with personality. A faithful pastor who has preached the Word for years may find himself losing followers as a new young preacher comes in with a charismatic personality. Sadly, this causes friction and even division in the church. It may be difficult for the two to work together due to the differences that they have.
Ecclesiastical Separation may be necessary, however, Jesus must be preeminent (v. 27-36). John the Baptist basically tells his disciples not to worry. He says that he is simply the forerunner of Christ. The One that everyone is flocking to is the true Messiah and it is a good thing that people are going to Him. John the Baptist tells his followers that he rejoices over the success of the ministry of Jesus. In verse 30, he mentions that Jesus must increase while we must decrease. You see, it’s not about you or your church. It is not about your success or your fame. It is all about Jesus! People are drawn to Jesus. Don’t worry about trying to draw people to you and build up some great following, just point people to Jesus! In these verses we find three reasons why Jesus must increase and we must decrease:
- Jesus is above all (v. 31-33).
Jesus comes from heaven and He is above all things. He is the creator. He is not a created being like you and me. He is the creator; therefore, He is above all creation. Look at what the scripture says in Colossians 1:15-18. Jesus is above all things and He is the head of the church. Look at Philippians 2:9-11. One day everyone will bow before Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus must be lifted up because of who He is.
- Jesus is sent from God the Father (v. 34-35).
Anyone who is called of God is worthy of our respect. Jesus was sent by God the Father to be the Savior of the world. If anyone should be lifted up, it is Jesus. If anyone should be exalted, it is Jesus. If there is anyone whom we should bring people to, it is Jesus.
- Jesus gives eternal life (v. 36).
The Southern Baptist Convention does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. The independent fundamental Baptist church does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. The Methodist does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. The Church of God does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. The Pentecostal does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. The Church of Christ does not have a monopoly on the Gospel. We may have our differences that may cause us to separate and do our own work, and that is perfectly okay. However, the truth remains that the only way to heaven, the only way to salvation, is through Jesus. Be a part of the church that God leads you to. Participate and support your church and denomination with fervor. But, above all things, lift up Jesus. For Jesus is the only way!
Honestly, I believe that various denominations and ministries is a good thing. It is a good thing because it provides more channels through which the Gospel is proclaimed around the world. Therefore, may we not spend our time focusing on our differences and the issues that divides us. Instead, may we focus on the One that unites us. May we do our part to bring the Gospel to a lost and dying world. May we as God’s people lift up Jesus in all that we do. May our attitude be the same as John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”