Studies in the Gospel of John
Lesson 9: The Place of Service
Surveys and statistics down through the years have shown that the people who are the most successful in life are those who have a goal and who keep their eyes on it as they move through life. And that “principle of commitment” is something that is absolutely biblical. And in John chapter 3 we see a thorough treatment of the subject. Remember the outline of the chapter: the last 3 verses of chapter 2 talk about a lack of commitment that characterized many of Jesus’ followers. They were just following Him to see the miracles he performed. But in chapter 3 verses 1 through 21 we see a lesson in commitment. And then in verses 3 through 22 through 26 of chapter 3 we see John the Baptist, who was a leader in commitment.
We have talked about those first two sections of the chapter in our previous lessons, so in this lesson we will look at this leader who was completely committed to Christ. The setting for this demonstration of John the Baptist’s commitment is in verses 22 through 26. But first, in verses 22 through 24 John gives us some details about the ministry that was going on when the demonstration of leadership came up.
After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John [the Baptist] also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized (24) For John had not yet been thrown into prison.
After leaving Jerusalem following His evening conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus settled for a little while in the province of Judea, not far from where John the Baptist was continuing his ministry. These verses give us an interesting fact which we are apt to forget, namely that “Jesus baptized people.” However, in chapter 4 John is going to clarify that although Jesus did baptize some people, He directed His disciples as they baptized in His name. But this, as well as the fact that He Himself was baptized by John, should emphasize the importance of baptism. Now as a part of that “ministry,” in verses 25 and 26 we see the development of a misunderstanding on the part of the disciples of John the Baptist.
Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples an the Jews about purification (26)And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you testified, behold he is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.”
The basic problem was that “Jesus was baptizing more people than John.” In fact, it appeared that people were leaving John the Baptist and following Jesus. And of course, John’s disciples didn’t like this. Their attitude seems to be that John had introduced Jesus to the world; he was the one who had who had begun the method of baptizing everybody was using. So surely Jesus should not take such advantage that He drew John’s disciples away from him. Therefore, John’s disciples voiced their complaint out of sympathy for their master, John the Baptist.
It is out of that “setting” then that we find the statement of John’s leadership in verses 27 through 36. It would have been easy for John the Baptist himself to have felt injured, neglected, and even forgotten by the One who seemingly “owed so much” to His ministry of introduction. Sometimes a friend’s sympathy and suggestions of unjust treatment can be the worst possible thing for us. This can make a person feel sorry for himself, start a root of bitterness, and even shake our faith in God. Are you that kind of friend? Do you put such thoughts into a friend’s mind about other people and in that way stir up jealousy and cause them to sin? Proverbs 6:6-19 says:
These six things the Lord hates: Yes, seven are an abomination to Him. (17) A proud look, a lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood (18) A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, (19) A false witness that speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
But thankfully, John the Baptist did not give in to the temptation to become bitter and envious, introduced by his disciples. Instead he went to the root of the problem, by which his disciples would put loyalty to John before loyalty to Jesus. In verses 27 and 28 he teaches them the principle behind his leadership.
John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. (28)” You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “A am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.”
John understood that God had appointed him to his present position. In effect John was saying, “God called me to this second place, therefore this is the place in which I am content.” In fact,” he says in verse 28, “you yourselves have heard me say that publicly.”
It would help us today, if instead of striving for the place we wish to have, or think is the place we should have, we would instead, yield to God’s will for us. If we are led by God and trust Him and obey Him, taking hold of His power, “being faithful in the little things, we will find joy and satisfaction in whatever place He gives us. Sometimes that attitude may lead to a bigger place of service – but sometimes it may not. He gave Peter a prominent place, but Andrew a more “behind the scenes” kind of place, but both of them fulfilled their ministry and discovered that “all service ranks the same with God if it is done from the heart unto Him.”
Ephesians 2:10 speaks to this issue very clearly:
“We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Contrary to popular opinion, this verse is not saying that each of us is to do “every good work.” What it is saying is that God has “prepared beforehand specific works for me to do and for you to do – and they may be very different from each other’s. But if we will do those things which He puts in our place they will bring true fulfillment and satisfaction in ministry, no matter how prominent or lowly that ministry may be. For some reason (probably our North American culture) we seem to think that people aren’t serving the Lord unless their ministry is big or famous or on its way there. But that is completely contrary to this scripture and many others.
Another good verse to remember in times of temptation to envy is Psalm 75:6,7:
For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west, nor from the south (7) But God is the judge: He puts down one and exalts another.
Now having given the principle, in verse 29 he uses a picture to help them understand.
(29)”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.
This illustration doesn’t make any sense unless we understand something about Middle Eastern weddings. The most significant difference is that in those weddings the focus is on the groom, not the bride. The wedding has several stages, all orchestrated by the “friend of the groom.” (something like our “best man.”) And one of his functions was to go to the bride’s home and bring her to the groom’s home, along with the rest of the wedding party. And then the wedding feast would begin, leading ultimately to the wedding itself. And in his illustration, John the Baptist compares himself to this “friend of the groom.” Jewish people understood this Old Testament picture, because God often spoke of Israel as His “wife” to explain His love for them and union with them. When Israel turned to idol worship at various stages in their history she was likened to an “unfaithful wife” in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Hosea. This Jewish marriage process perfectly describes John’s mission in regard to bringing Israelites to Christ. In fact, even in New Testament the church is called “the bride of Christ,” and Jesus Himself is the Bridegroom” and in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he uses the example of Christ and the church to teach believers about Christian marriage.
So in the context of middle eastern marriage customs John was perfectly happy to see people going to Jesus. His “joy was fulfilled” as he saw even his former disciples, such as John and Andrew going to Him. He seems to be saying “stop worrying about people leaving me to go to Jesus; this is the very work God gave me to do.” And this is also the work that God has given you and me to do too! Is your attitude like John’s or do you seek to draw people to yourself rather than teach them to depend upon Jesus and pour out their love upon Him?
Now we have seen the principle of John’s ministry, and the picture that he illustrates it with. So in verses 30 through 35 he sums it up by talking about the position in more detail. The summary is in verse 30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This should be the guiding principle of every Christian in every aspect of our relationship with Christ.
If we take the words of verses 31 through 35 to be a part of John the Baptist’s reply to his disciples, we can see why it would be impossible for him ever to forget that most awe inspiring moment when at the baptism of Jesus, he actually heard God speaking of His Son, “This is my beloved Son.” John seems to be saying “therefore you disgruntled followers of mine, do not be upset because my disciples go after Jesus. “He is from above, His words are God’s words, He is the heir of all things, and it is my mission to in life to point everyone to Him”
We have been talking about John the Baptist’s “commitment” to the Lord Jesus Christ. And we have seen the principle behind it, and the picture of it. But finally, in verse 36 we have the promises that are the very foundation for this kind of commitment.
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
The contrast expressed in this verse does not concern just John the Baptist, but is directly applied to everyone who reads this gospel. And it is perhaps the clearest statement in the Bible of the two actions which man can take in relation to Jesus Christ, and of the alternate consequences of the two actions. The alternate actions are belief or unbelief in the Message of Jesus Christ. The attitude of faith involves the action of obedience. Actually the Greek word used in the second phrase of verse 36 should be translated “he that obeys not in the King James Version. The attitude of disbelief is counted by God as disobedience. Then think about the consequences of the two actions: To believe Christ results in receiving here and now from God’s hand everlasting life; Not to obey results in a continuing state of living with the wrath of God abiding upon the unbeliever.
The purpose of these studies is to help people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Romans 3:23 says that “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If you already know Him as your savior it is my hope that the lessons will help you grow in grace and bring others to know Him as well. If you would like more information you can contact me at “firstname.lastname@example.org