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John 3:22-36 (web)

He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

3:22 After these things, Jesus came with his disciples into the land of Judea.
He stayed there with them, and baptized.
3:23 John also was baptizing in Enon near Salim,
because there was much water there. They came, and were baptized.
3:24 For John was not yet thrown into prison.
3:25 There arose therefore a questioning
on the part of John's disciples with some Jews about purification.
3:26 They came to John, and said to him,
"Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified,
behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him."

3:27 John answered,
"A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.
3:28 You yourselves testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ,'
but, 'I have been sent before him.'
3:29 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.
This, my joy, therefore is made full.
3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

3:31 He who comes from above is above all.
He who is from the Earth belongs to the Earth, and speaks of the Earth.
He who comes from heaven is above all.
3:32 What he has seen and heard, of that he testifies;
and no one receives his witness.
3:33 He who has received his witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.
3:34 For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God;
for God gives the Spirit without measure.
3:35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
3:36 One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys
{The same word can be translated "disobeys" or "disbelieves" in this context.}
the Son won't see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

Discussion Questions

What will some Christians argue about to make their own church or religious group or their own person practice of the Christian life seem illegitimately to be superior to that of other Christians?
Where does the attitude of competition fit in the Christian life?
Why does the society associate decreasing with failure? And why might this not be true in the Christian life?
What good things have you heard of other people's ministries today?
vs 31 Who is "of the earth" and what is his message in comparison to Christ's?
vs 36 What will happen to those who don't believe in the Son?
What are you going to do about it?


Prior to this Jesus spoke of "we" when testifying to Nicodemus. The section affirms John the Baptist as one of these "we" Jesus spoke of who testified concerning him. And we notice in particular the last verse which is a reflection of what Jesus also said in verse 18.

vs 22-26 The spiritually immature tend to divide over ritualistic and earthly matters. John's disciples disputed concerning water baptism and the question of spiritual leadership. But these kind of issues continued to be a source of division later within the Christian churches.

1Corinthians 1:12-17
What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.

1Corinthians 3:1-4
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-- mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

vs 27-30 John saw his ministry as not his own, but given to him by God for a specific purpose. It was not an end in itself, but was to prepare to help Jesus in his ministry. This is a lesson to those involved in or starting their own ministy. For it is a common temptation to make too much of oneself or one's church or such and lose perspective. This is not a competition against one another. For we are all in this together.
1Corinthians 12:26-27
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Ephesians 4:11-13
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature

Therefore let us keep the big picture in mind. God has purposely intended there to be a diversity of ministries and giftedness in the body of Christ not for the purpose of divisiveness, but rather for edification. This is not to say that there should be no correction of others, for that itself is a ministry as sure as the body's nervous system. But no ministry is an island of itself.

He must increase, but I must decrease
In such a progressive society as we live the idea of decreasing is associated with failure. Did John fail? The goal of a ministry should not to be to make a name for oneself. It should be to exalt Christ. Decreasing in this sense is not failure but fulfillment. Death of our ministry is a natural effect of fulfilling our role in the body of Christ, but it leads to fruitfulness. "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  John 12:24 And such was true even of Jesus' earthly ministry. On earth he limited himself to the confines of Israel, but as the resurrected Christ he goes to the world. And while on earth he was glorified in a limited sense, but as the resurrected Christ he was glorified in a heavenly sense. To glorify Christ even godly men like John who gain popularity God eventually removes as they complete the role assigned them. Rather than having a competitive attitude, we should rejoice when the Lord is exalted from whatever sector it comes from. In fact Paul even rejoices when Christ is exalted despite the impure motivations of those who preach Him. "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice." Php 1:18

vs 31 "he that is of the earth" is John. He baptizes with water but the Lord baptizes with the Holy Spirit. He speaks of repentance from sin, but the Lord speaks complete of spiritual regeneration. These are not contradictory, but rather the comparison is more like that of a shadow to the object that made the shadow. Christ is that object.

vs 32-33 At first it appears there are contradictory statements here. Has no one accepted his testimony? Once again as I pointed out in previous studies in this book, what he means is "generally speaking". Generally speaking no one accepts Jesus' testimony. But John certainly has.

vs 36 Once again as in verse 18 we see that one's status with God hinges on their attitude towards Christ. Having sinned, the wrath of God abides on a person. Not believing the Son, His wrath continues to abide. And the fact that he says "shall not see life" indicates an eternal punishment. The only way to be saved from the wrath of God is to put your faith in Christ as the Son of God.

NIV version used in comments

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 28,2022