“He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease”

Dear PRCW members and readers: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)

These are the humble words of John the Baptist spoken at the time when John’s loyal disciples were concerned about John becoming less popular. John was not in prison yet. He was still doing his work, preparing the way of the Lord, still baptizing people, etc..  When Christ arrived, many of the people left John and were flocking after Jesus. The disciples of John the Baptist said to him: “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (v. 26).

John, in response, was joyful. Far from being frustrated or jealous or wanting prominence, he said: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled” (v. 29). A friend of the groom is kind of like a ‘best man’ in a wedding, except more important. William Barclay says: “he acted as the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding; he took out the invitations; he presided at the wedding feast…..  When he heard the bridegroom’s voice he let him in and went away rejoicing, for his task was completed and the lovers were together.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). Leon Morris says these are “some of the greatest words ever to fall from the lips of mortal man”. There are great because John saw that his ministry was to pave the way for Christ. He humbly took the lowly place so that others could see Christ – and only Christ.

A few thoughts:

  1. This humility is unnatural because we naturally pride ourselves against God. We’re naturally pompous and know-it-alls towards each other but especially towards God. Richard Philips writes: “The Serpent sealed the original temptation to sin by promising ‘You will be like God’ (Gen 3:5). In reality, sin makes us like the Serpent – that is, Satan – and his constant desire is to increase in rebellion to God” [John, Vol 1 p. 203]. To be humble is Christlike. Only Christ was ever humble.


  1. This humility is necessary. “I must decrease.” John is illustrating what Jesus said earlier in John 3. We must be born again, born from above (John 3:7). Without this attitude or change of heart, we cannot know God.


  1. This humility is the key to true greatness. It’s what makes you useful for Christ. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).

This is why God’s greatest servants have all been humble people. Moses was the meekest man on the earth. David was called a man after God’s own heart. John also was praised by Christ because of his character: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

Do we want be truly useful as Christians? Which one of us doesn’t want to be that way! The key to greatness is: we have to stop taking glory to ourselves. We have to turn aside jealous and envious thoughts of others. And instead of seeing ourselves increase, we want others to see Christ, only Christ. “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

Prayer: “Lord, help us to be that way. In Jesus’ name, Amen”.

In Christ, Pastor Rich Anjema