I was looking for a gift for my daughter-in-law while on vacation recently. My daughter suggested I look at a local store whose merchandise is completely based on John 3:30- “He must increase, I must decrease.” (NKJV) When the clerk gave me the background of the store’s beginnings, it made me wonder what it would mean for our everyday lives if we truly lived out this incredible verse.
Who said, “He must increase, I must decrease?”
Did you guess John the Baptist?
I have to confess; this is not a statement that I have seen or thought much about. As soon as I looked it up, I had an “aha” moment- of course, John the Baptist!
The NIV version translates it this way: “He must become greater; I must become less.”
I have also heard it expressed “more of you, less of me” or “Big God, Little Me.”
The store that I stumbled upon used the phrase “He is greater than I” based on this verse and its logo became this:
HE>i was an idea conceived in 2003 on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii as a cellphone screensaver. While browsing through symbols, the ‘>’ symbol stuck out. Since John 3:30 was one of their favorite verses, they came up with this clever way to express it. The phrase caught on with friends, t-shirts were printed with the logo, and a business was born.
But before we get into how to live it out, let’s back up a bit to get some context on why John originally spoke these words.
The Ministry of John the Baptist
John was calling for people to repent of their sins and baptizing many people. Jesus and His followers were also in the area baptizing at the same time.
Then this happened:
“An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and the Jews over the matter of ceremonial washing. 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- well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.’” vv25-26.
Uh Oh… the seeds of envy, rivalry, and jealousy are sprouting.
Some of John’s loyal disciples were disturbed by this perceived injustice. John had come first, but now Jesus was draining away John’s followers. They saw their previous sizeable crowds dwindling away. Can’t you just hear the grumbling??
This is our territory! What do these people think they’re doing? We were here first! Look John- this isn’t fair!
Unfortunately, they were missing the whole point of John the Baptist’s life. He was born with the mission to point people to Jesus.
What was John the Baptist’s Message?
John’s Gospel tells us, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” 1:7 NIV.
He “confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’” John 1:20 NIV.
And John the Baptist’s own words:
He was not Elijah, nor the Prophet promised by Moses. John 1:21.
“I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” John 1:23 NIV.
“I baptize with water…. but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:26-27 NIV.
So while John’s loyal disciples were upset, John was content, humble, and focused . He knew His mission- He was born for it!
He explains another aspect of his ministry:
“A man can receive only what is given to him from heaven.” v27.
He calmly proclaims God’s sovereign authority in his life. God had given him this work to do- point others to Jesus. He was content to be “second fiddle” because he understood and trusted God’s plan.
He Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less
To explain his position, John patiently continues with this analogy:
“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.” v29.
John was the groom’s friend, or “best man”, you might say. He isn’t the focus, the groom (Jesus) is!
Can you hear John’s joy? He’s full of joy to be in this position. His life’s work was being fulfilled. To see Jesus begin His ministry was exciting. He had been waiting years for this day to come. John was ecstatic that he was losing his disciples to Jesus!
And then he speaks these words to hammer home his message:
“He must become greater; I must become less.” V30.
What humility and trust! I must… Not maybe. No looking at other options. Not another day. The time was now and had come.
John knew this was God’s work, and it brought him immense joy. That’s what he wants to pass down to us. “He is greater than “i”.” We are the little “i”- the lower case to His capitalized Holy name. Jesus gets bigger, we become smaller. That’s certainly not the way of the world. Not then and not now. So how can we live out John 3:30 today?
John 3:30 Meaning
John lived and toiled to see Jesus honored and glorified. He was content with his role and continued baptizing and sending others to Christ. It did not cross his mind to go over to Jesus’ side and become one of his disciples just because Jesus’ crowds were growing.
Instead, he desired to become less.
John was destined from the time he was in Elizabeth’s womb to be set apart for God’s service. He lived in the desert as a prophet and used the isolation to focus on his own spiritual growth and faith. John stayed away from political strategizing and the hypocritical religious leaders of the day. He ate strange foods and wore odd clothes. (Matthew 3:4)
John obediently served single-mindedly on his task, dedicated himself to learning the truth of Scripture, remained faithful to his calling, and challenged others to turn away from their sin and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Pin me for later!
He is Greater than i
What do you think the church would look like today if all ministers of the Gospel had John’s attitude? There is no place for competition or comparison. We’re all on the same team!
So how can we live out John 3:30 today? This verse tells us in just a few small words what our lives are to be about. John’s life’s work was to point others to Jesus, and we should and can do the same!
•John put God’s sovereign plan for his life as his #1 priority, trusted that plan completely, and so should we. When we work to make Jesus increase, we naturally take the back seat. More time spent with and for Him leaves less “me” time (which to be honest, means less busyness, worrying, phone scrolling, and the million little things that draw us away from Him.)
It’s what Jesus was speaking of when He tells us to take up our cross to follow Him.
•Don’t let envy, pride, or jealousy impede the mission God has given you. Likewise, don’t let fear, busyness, or passiveness keep you from using your personality and gifts! We can’t compare God’s purposes for our lives with other’s callings. When we are living to elevate Jesus above all, our pride and feelings of self-importance naturally fall away.
•Fill yourself to the brim with Jesus. I’ve written before about growing deep roots by being in His Word. It is what grows our faith and lets us experience unspeakable joy, as John did.
•Spend more time speaking and listening to Him. Prayer gives us a firm foundation to recognize and listen to His wisdom, guidance, and direction.
•Be a humble servant with the boldness of John to share the message of Christ. John was humble because he understood the magnificence of God in his life. He could also be bold in his humility because he trusted God’s plan for him.
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
John pointed others to Jesus and prepared the way for Him- “Behold! The Lamb of God!” (John 1:29 NKJV) We can do the same. Our everyday attitudes, the words and way we speak, and acts of service and simple hospitality don’t go unnoticed. They can be our testimony to how important Christ is in our day-to-day life. Do you share with others when God works in your life, shows you a beautiful verse, or gives you His peace in your trials? All these things point to Jesus and pave the way for others to know Him.
Yes, it can be hard, and we may face ridicule or even persecution for it. But it only elevates Him and lessens the focus on ourselves.
There are so many things in this world to steal our focus, time, energy, and genuine sense of purpose. But we can block out the world as John did. Living alone in the desert doesn’t have to be an option, but we can spend our time wisely. We must want Him to increase in our lives. We need to be hungry for Him!
He Must Become Greater
Thank you for the example of John the Baptist, to show us how to make you greater, ourselves less, and live humbly and boldly for you. Thank you for the plan and purpose you have for me and the tools to accomplish them. I pray against pride and selfish ambition. Convict me to search for Your truth and make you known instead of filling hours of my day in shallow worldly pursuits. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct me as I show your love to those around me and point others to Jesus. Help me make John’s words my motto and focus, for You truly are > than i! All glory and honor are Yours! Amen.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photo, AnnMarie Anderson
6 thoughts on “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease”
John the Baptist was such a strong personality and person. He knew the calling God placed on his life, and that was his focus. He didn’t worry about numbers, he intended to fulfill the calling God placed on him. His clarity of purpose is inspiring.
I’ve seen the HE>I all around Hawaii when I’ve visited. I loved getting some background information on their origins!
It was such an inspiring story for me as well! Thanks Jeanne
I appreciate this, “Unfortunately, they were missing the whole point of John the Baptist’s life. He was born with the mission to point people to Jesus. John was the groom’s friend, or “best man”, you might say. He isn’t the focus, the groom (Jesus) is! John knew this was God’s work, and it brought him immense joy.” It’s a good reminder to keep our focus on Him.
Thanks for sharing about this company and their story, “He is greater than I” as it such an encouraging story.
Thanks Lisa, I was encouraged and blessed to focus on making Him greater, but also myself less, too.
This was great, Ann, thank you!
(You in the poster, right? Hawaii?)
Yes! We walked a volcano crater that has been made into a botanical garden! Talk about God’s glory surrounding you!!