Summary: God’s glory is man’s greatest good.
Introduction (Sermon #8 in a Series on the Gospel of John)
You have likely heard the slogan, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” The idea is simple: we may feel like doing something, but, in fact, it would be better if we did not. We recognize that we are easily manipulated, the excitement or confusion of a moment can sweep us off our senses and we do that which is foolish. A friend holds us back, she applies the brakes, she makes us do that very thing we would want to do if we were in our right mind. As you can imagine, such a clever slogan is often edited in order to make a statement.
“Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks,” for those who are offended by the ubiquity of Seattle’s suburban coffee success. “Friends don’t let friends use Windows” for those who dislike the Microsoft monopoly. And at the University of Virginia, the ever-popular button with the Virginia Tech logo crossed through: “Friends don’t let friends attend Tech.”
We can summarize the main point of our text as, “Friends don’t let friends grab glory.” As people move from John and toward Jesus, John’s disciples feel envy and jealousy. They want their man in power; they plan to ride his coattails to positions of influence; they enjoy the excitement of John’s fame and they want it not to end.
John is the true friend. He insists that only One get glory – and it will not be himself. Nor does he resort to exaggeration and emotional appeals. As every wise leader knows, in the midst of conflict and a party spirit and heated passions, we need calmness, humility and careful teaching. These John provides with understated volume – he responds carefully and without exaggeration; he points to the Messiah with profound humility; and he teaches the truth without any equivocation.
As we gather around John the Baptist, and also listen to John the Apostle’s commentary, we learn much about how to relate to God and to other people, both the vertical and the horizontal aspects of our lives together.
Before we do, however, let us take a quick side road. Did you notice the unexpected reasoning in verse 23? Look at it again: “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.”
I wonder if we are all satisfied with his answer? “John, how did you pick Aenon for your work? Did God give you a vision? Did you get a word from the Lord? Tell us, how did you know this was the place?” And John answers, “Well, I was baptizing a lot of people and there was a bunch of water there.”
Two cautions for you to consider.
First, please distinguish between practical decisions and pragmatism. “Pragmatism” values results we can see over faithfulness to God. As such, it is a sinful way of evaluating choices. But “practical” decisions take into account the facts of daily living. When we restarted Sunday evening worship last month, I recommended that the service begin at 6:30. It was not pragmatism, but a practical recommendation. I remembered that small children have difficulty getting up from afternoon nap and ready for church at 5:30. By beginning later, it is easier for them to attend. “Water was plentiful there” was a practical answer.
Second, please beware of over-spiritualizing church life. Because Christians want to be biblical in all they do, we can easily imagine that our choices are more spiritual than they really are. When that happens, secondary matters are often elevated to first importance. Let me give an example. I wear a robe on Sunday morning. I like the robe and these neat stoles that mark the church calendar. And the robe reminds me that Sunday morning is different and special for God’s people. Suppose the Evangelism committee comes to me and says, “Glenn, we really think that the robe has connotations in our time and place that make an obstacle for people coming to Christ. Some who see the robe think of supreme court justices and it distracts them. Would you consider not wearing it on Sunday mornings?” I absolutely would consider that. We may need to discuss the pros and cons, but it is not a matter of biblical faithfulness to wear a black robe. And if we demand “spiritual answers” for every decision, we run the risk of trivializing Scripture.
That’s our side road for today, now to the main points.
1. We Must Not Seek Glory for Ourselves Because None of Us Is the Christ (John 3.25-30)
“Humility is a virtue all men preach, none practice, and yet everybody is content to hear of.” So wrote John Selden, a judge in 17th century England. Selden exaggerated – on occasion, men are humble. It is extraordinarily rare. Many people speak well of humility, but think of themselves like the character in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Ruddigore, who said, “You’ve no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself…and how little I deserve it.” [These two illustrations are from Boice, John, 252.]