“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
This is a good verse to live by.
Oh, it’s not likely to make anyone’s Top 100 verses, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Isn’t this the essence of the Christian life: that He must increase, but I must decrease?
If you think about it, it’s just another way of saying that we must crucify the Old Man and put on Christ or that if we save our life we’ll lose it but if we lose our life for Christ’s sake, we’ll find it?
But it’s a hard truth that the natural man, the Old Man, rejects.
Most of our lives we’re taught and told that we must exalt ourselves if we’re to get anywhere in life. Just the other day I was reading a book on Christianity that was explaining that it was the church leaders who had the biggest egos who had the biggest, most happening churches. We have to help ourselves, which is why the Self Help section of bookstores is larger than the section on Christ.
Who in his right mind would want to decrease? Decrease suggests loss – loss of power, loss of prestige, loss of all that we think is really us.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
But isn’t the secret script of every one of our lives, “I must increase, but he must decrease”? It’s what we’re born with, and it’s something most of us learn to do, especially in middle school and high school. It’s what every competitive game is prone to teach us.
What does this imply about the world, this “I must increase but he must decrease” that is at the center of our hearts? It implies that I am greater than he (whoever “he” is) is. Now if I were truly greater than another, then naturally I would increase, whether someone else had to decrease or not. But the truth is we aren’t greater than one another – except in one respect. The one way that I am truly greater than you is in my own estimation.
When I look at myself and I look at you or anyone else, what do I see? I see a me that’s so enormous that I can’t even see all of myself. I see a me out of which the world seems to emerge. I loom larger than you, and I stand taller than the mountains. Even the sky seems to be encompassed by my gaze. And so you’ll have to forgive me if I believe I’m much greater than you are.
But John tells us, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And in saying this, John continues to testify to Christ, the very thing he was born to do.
We really believe that if we’re second to anyone, that if we decrease and another increases, that we will be robbed of everything that matters most to us. And so we cling to the mantra, “I must increase, but he must decrease.”
Maybe if we look at some more of John’s words we can understand why “He must increase, but I must decrease” is really the path to our salvation, which is our life and health and joy.
Why? Why must He increase and I must decrease?
Because of who HE IS and because of who I am.
Because “He who comes from above is above all” (verse 31).
Because “He who comes from heaven is above all” (verse 31).
Unless you want a kind of Job-esque kind of smack-down, you must acknowledge who God is: He is God, and you are not. You’re not even close. No, really. You can only wonder and speculate about the nature of heaven, or even where it is for that matter. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is from heaven. God is above, and you and I are below. Far below!
If you had any idea of how far above you God is, there would be no question of why He must increase and you must decrease. He is the only one who merits a capitalized pronoun (“He”), while you and i get lower case ones. I AM is who He is, while you are.
But there’s more. John also 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.” We are not merely left below, while God continues to live in unapproachable light, far, far above us. John saw himself as the friend of the bridegroom and was content to be so. He was glad just to be included as part of the wedding party at all.
But you and I, as Christians, occupy an even better place, so that the Bridegroom says that while no man born of a woman was greater than John, even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. For you and I are not excluded from the wedding party, left behind on earth while there is riotous partying in heaven. We are the Bride, and therefore much closer to the Bridegroom than His friend. Although He comes from heaven is above all, we can rejoice that He married “beneath Him”!
So there are two truths you must learn and re-learn today. First, that God is far, far above you and that you are not worthy to come into His house or presence. But, second, that God has stooped down to meet with you and has chosen the Church to be His holy Bride.
In our hearts, we all really know that we must decrease that He might increase. No one’s really fooling himself: we all know there’s a God and that He’s far, far above us. But the most amazing thing is that the God who is so much greater than you that He actually thought of and created you is also the God who actually wants to be with you for all eternity.
Prayer: O God, the Father of our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose name is great, whose nature is blissful, whose goodness is inexhaustible, God and Ruler of all things, who art blessed forever; before whom stand thousands and thousands, and ten thousand
times ten thousand, the hosts of holy angels and archangels; sanctify, O Lord,
our souls and bodies and spirits, search our consciences, and cast out of us every
evil thought, every base desire, all envy and pride, all wrath and anger, and all
that is contrary to Thy holy will. And grant us, O Lord, Lover of men, with a pure heart and contrite soul, to call upon Thee, our holy God and Father who art in heaven. Amen. (Liturgy of St. James)
Points for Meditation:
1. How proud have you been lately, exalting yourself over the Lord?
2. Consider the ways in which the Lord is asking you to have Him increase more in your life and to have you decrease. Exalting God is the best way to humble yourself!
Resolution: I resolve to find one way in which the Lord is calling me to exalt Him and to practice that way today.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson