“I have long been impressed with the thirtieth verse of the third chapter of John. Some of the disciples of John the Baptist come to him, reporting that everybody has gone after Jesus; the Baptist has been eclipsed, his popularity has passed its peak. But the rugged old prophet graciously replies in part, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Nothing is more needed among Christians than the lesson of the decreasing self. It is an ego-centric age, a day of self-sufficiency. The world’s creed is “Glorify Yourself,” “Express Yourself.” And just as a penny held close to the eye will hide the sun, so does the penny of self shut out God.
Several years ago, walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon, I came upon a girl reading a novel! With such a masterpiece of God to look at, what a place to be reading a novel! Yet, how many of us miss the far-flung horizons of the life that is hid with Christ in God, absorbed with the pitiful things of self.
Someone has pointed out that the word “sin” revolves as upon a pivot around the central letter “i.” Verily, sin does revolve around I—self. That was the trouble with the Rich Fool: “This I will do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul,” etc.—notice the “I’s” and “my’s.” The Pharisee praying, in the parable of Jesus, was another of the same sort: “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men.” Both had I-trouble; they were self-centered.
The business of the Christian is to express Christ. To do that, he must decrease and Christ must increase. As at Cana, it is only when the wine of our own self-sufficiency gives out that we get the better wine which Christ provides. There must be the emptying of self if there is to be His infilling. Paul speaks of “Having nothing, yet possessing all things.” One must come first to the first half of that phrase and realize his own nothingness before he truly can appropriate that other verse of Paul’s: “All things are yours.”
All of self and none of Thee!
Some of self and some of Thee!
Less of self and more of Thee!
None of self and all of Thee!
We ought to be careful how we endorse the world’s creed of self-glorification. Magazines are full of self-development propaganda. Inspirational speakers’ fads and isms tell us of our latent powers that can make giants of weaklings. Of course, there is a sense in which we must make the most of our personal capital as stewards of God, but one easily can drift here into self-sufficiency. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, and Paul said that when he was weak he was strong. This is distasteful doctrine to a humanistic age that feels no need of the supernatural. One is a good Christian in proportion as he reveals Jesus rather than himself. When one buys glass for a picture, he is not interested so much in the beauty of the glass as in how well it reveals the picture. The real test of a Christian is his spiritual transparency.
The world asks, “Are you growing bigger?” Christ asks, “Are you growing less?” Paul was a self-sufficient man on the Damascus road that morning. But with his conversion, a new process began: his en-Christment. The longer he lived, the less there was of Paul and the more there was of Christ, until he could say, “Not I, but Christ who liveth in me” and “To me to live is Christ.”
“He must increase; we must decrease.”