John 3: 30 He must become greater; I must become less.
I have to admit that there was something oddly entertaining about a Muhammed Ali who continually stated that he was “the greatest”, or a Shaquille O’Neal saying: “Me shooting 40% at the foul line is just God’s way to say nobody’s perfect”[i]. However, what I personally am drawn to is true humility. One athlete who consistently demonstrated that was retired San Antonio Spurs NBA player, Tim Duncan.
“Duncan was often called boring during his days playing for the San Antonio Spurs, because he never gave reporters anything that could become bulletin-board material for his opponents. He played the game with the same steady greatness for 19 years, obsessively committed to passing, rebounding and playing defense, rather than the showboat dunk.”[ii] Duncan’s humble attitude earned him the respect of fellow teammates and opponents. Although regarded as probably the greatest power forward of all time, when it came to his retirement he sent out a press release and didn’t even show up for the Spurs’ press conference to announce it. “Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal called Duncan a ‘humble legend’ who didn’t care about fashion or bling or anything other than playing the game the right way and who understood personal glory meant nothing outside the concept of teamwork.”[iii] He downplayed himself and built up the team.
I was recently reading through the book of John and came to the third chapter. On this read-through God highlighted something new for me. Starting in John 3:25 we hear of John’s disciples coming to him and complaining about a competitor. “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.’” John 3:26. John very quickly corrects his followers, letting them know who John is, versus whom he is there to introduce. “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. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30
What stood out for me was: “He must become greater, I must become less.” I marveled at John’s humility. John had quite the following at this time and he was recognized as a man of God with great power. This is all pretty heady stuff which can quickly swell a person’s ego, but when it was tested, John reacted without hesitation. In his commentary on John 3:30, Charles Spurgeon wrote: “It is here that St. John’s character is displayed under its most striking aspect. We can admire him as he lives a severe life in the desert, and as he stands before Herod; but nowhere does he appear so transcendently great as here.”
It made me really judge myself. Am I “becoming less” so that Jesus would become more? Very practically, when I am complimented for what I have done for someone personally or for a ministry that is growing, do I begin to believe that it is somehow a reflection of me or am I quick to point back to Jesus? Even worse, do I point back to Jesus just because that is the expected thing to do, which in turn reaps me even more praise, or do I genuinely understand that it is all about Jesus and I am just a vessel fortunate enough to be involved in what God is doing? It is a small, but massively significant tweak in our thinking that is desperately required if we want to be truly used by God in his work. May we all pass this test.