Hello and welcome to Wednesday’s Foundations podcast. It is great that you are listening in as we look to grow in our faith together. We are continuing with the book of John – we will be looking at four verses in the middle of chapter 4, verses 26 – 30.
Let’s start today’s podcast by thinking about the company we keep. Perhaps that is too general… let’s narrow it down to people we might work with. I did a quick internet search and found out that in an average British worker would put in 90,000 hours of work during their career. Working out about a third of your time as a working professional. Now I know not everyone who is listening today may be in work at the moment – and we all have different circumstances – but try to stay with this idea. These people we had/have the potential to see so much of – have the potential to really influence us or be influenced by us. Now fortunately, I work with some awesome people. They are lovely and I enjoy their company. That might not be your experience but stay with the idea. The team at STC Sheffield are not just lovely, they are incredibly gifted too. As I consider who I have the privilege of working alongside, there is some exceptional talent in this team. Talent of all kinds, creativity, leadership, the gift of encouragement, administration and even podcast writing (present company excluded). These colleagues do such a good job that sometimes it even attracts praise and compliments (and rightly so).
So what do we do when a co-worker gets praise? Hold that thought because we are about to read a brilliant conversation in the Bible between John the Baptist and his disciples. They are talking about Jesus at the start of His ministry. I don’t know what you can recall about John the Baptist – there are some things about his lifestyle I feel no desire to imitate. In the Gospel of Matthew he is described as living off only locusts and wild honey… the honest doesn’t sound too bad. Also, from my understanding of the times we live in, days wearing a camel hair coat could be considered very hipster. One thing John the Baptist seemed to have nailed that I wish to learn is humility. To keep the focus on Jesus. C. S. Lewis has a fantastic quote “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”.
Let’s read verses 26-30 in chapter 4 now.
They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
Now remember that lots of people used to come to him to be baptised. He got a reputation as the go-to-guy for baptism. Just listen to his name again. John the Baptist. Yet despite the name he got for himself, he knew his place in God’s story.
You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’
In many ways that is something we should all remember! We are not Jesus. Your colleagues are not Jesus. Your boss or Uber driver is not Jesus. Only Jesus is Jesus. We are sent ahead of Him to point people towards Him. Let our lives be a sign-post to the one who saves.
Now the disciples of John the Baptist seemed very concerned that all these people were now going to Jesus and his disciples to be baptised. They said, “look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” It does not take a whole lot of intuition to figure that there is a hint of frustration here that they are going to Jesus and not to John.
Now, there is immense value in encouragement. It can be a gift when used correctly. But when we find our value from the attention or praise we do or do not get from other people, we can begin to forget our place in God’s story. Our value comes from being God’s children. SO LOVED BY HIM (remember yesterday). We are not the saviour; Jesus is. And we must resist building our identity on the feedback we do or do not get from others. Rick Warren (a church leader in America) has a helpful way of putting this: he says, “Never let praise go to your head. Never let criticism get to your heart.”
This is challenging even for me. As I am recording this I am already of thinking of some of the prayers I’ll be praying at the end. Because comparison can get us all. If it’s not with talented colleagues it can be with ourselves. But our value does not come from our performance or primarily from our feedback – as helpful as that can be. It comes from Him!
He must become greater; I must become less.”
They are brilliant words. They describe the life of a disciple. They are primarily about our heart’s desire. Do we want the recognition of others or are we OK with fading into the background while people marvel at the person of Jesus? If today you feel anonymous in what you do, God sees you and he is wild about getting to know you better! If you feel like you have lots of influence and eyes are watching your every move – remember our value comes from Him! Feedback can help us but it does not define us.
He must become greater; I must become less.”
The beautiful thing about this story is that as we make it about Jesus – we get to share in his joy. And we will finish with these words about the bridegroom and his friend before we pray. John had really learned a lot about this humility thing. “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.”
Oh what an opportunity we have. To get a front row seat in witnessing Jesus being seen and known by others. What joy that will bring our hearts.
Lord, keep me safe from the traps of comparison today. Would it not puff us up and would it not break us down. Would we learn this lesson of empowering humility and how we can truly be sign posts to Jesus. Give us confidence today to be who we are… if we feel anonymous or if we feel influential – it does not matter – would we know we are SO loved. Amen.
READING: John 3:22-36
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptised. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.’
To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.” The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.’
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.