What Does the Bible Mean When it Says 'He Must Become Greater and I Must Become Less'?
- Janet Thompson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 1 Mar
I close my morning prayer time with a personalized version of John 3:30: "He must become greater, I must become less": Lord, I want you to become greater in my life like a sunrise and I want to decrease like stars disappearing.
Where we live, the sun rises up over the mountain peaks as the lingering darkness of the early morning fades. The sun’s magnificent glow of gorgeous hews lights up the sky announcing that a new day has begun.
The sunrise is so significant to daily life that weather reporters track and forecast the exact time to expect it. Likewise, they predict the time of sunset each day when the sun slips down past the horizon, proclaiming that day is done and soon stars will be blanketing the sky.
But have you ever stopped to think that even before the sun is fully visible in the morning, the nighttime stars disappear? It’s this amazing exchange every day that humans don’t orchestrate or control. God, the Creator of the world, planned it all in the beginning.
Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. Gen. 1:15-18 NLT
Metaphorically, I’m praying that Jesus would shine brightly in my life as I arise each morning, and that I would shed any remnants of self-centered ego, pride, and “me focus.”
What Does 'He Must Become Greater I Must Become Less' Mean?
John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less” was spoken by John the Baptist, who God designated as the forerunner to pave the way for Jesus’ ministry.
When John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant, her young relative Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Scripture gives us a window into baby John’s supernatural response to his calling in life: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:41).
Elizabeth told Mary, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).
John the Baptist would grow up to develop a ministry foretelling the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John was always comfortable with that subservient role and seemed to understand his God-given assignment.
During the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Luke 3:2-4
Many watched John baptizing and wondered if he was the long-awaited Messiah. When the Pharisees questioned his right to baptize if he was not the Messiah, John knew that he must denounce this misconception:
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:26-27
Then John met Jesus face-to-face, with the confirmation that he was indeed the Messiah sent from God. The one John had faithfully served without ever knowing him personally.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” John 1:29-34
But John’s own disciples became jealous that Jesus had started his ministry and was also baptizing nearby. John was quick to set the record straight as he exalted Jesus without bitterness or envy.
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew 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—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 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. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:22-30
Is God Asking Us to Think Less of Ourselves?
I’ve always marveled that John was never envious or questioning why Jesus was the Messiah and not himself. Instead, John understood the importance of his own role and was gracious that God chose him for such a worthy position.
Isn’t it the same in life today? That’s the concept of teamwork. While there’s only one CEO, President, leader, or boss, they couldn’t be successful without surrounding themselves with dedicated support people, all working toward the same goal.
Jesus needed John the Baptist to prepare people’s hearts for his coming. Our role in God’s plan is to prepare ourselves and other people for the return of Jesus. Just like God knows the name of every star in the sky, he knows the hairs on our head. We’re all precious to him and he wants us to appreciate that we’re sons and daughters of the King of Kings! He chose us to be his representative hands and feet as long as we have breath.
He counts the stars and calls them all by name. Psalm 147:4
And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Luke 12:7 NLT
Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Psalm 116:2
How to Apply 'He Must Be Greater' in Our Everyday Lives
We need to realize and revel in our dependence on the Lord and not try to manage our lives on our own. We need to humbly remember that everything we have we owe to God and give him the credit for all he has done in our lives as a witness and testimony to others. One way that helps me keep things in perspective when people thank me for an article or book I’ve written, is to respond, “To God be the glory!” Or “Praise God!” I’m acknowledging that I couldn’t write without him and I don’t want to become prideful and make my accomplishments all about me.
When we become Christians, we exchange our ways for God’s ways. It’s a progression of decreasing and dying to our old self and becoming more like Christ as he increases in our thoughts, words, actions, and ego. Jesus will become greater and greater in every aspect of our life as our old nature becomes less and less. It’s a process and sometimes we regress, but our goal is to continuously move forward with surrendering our will to God’s will.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT
Here are four ways to help make God greater in your life.
1. Seek God’s direction before making decisions and respond accordingly. Pray and ask for God’s wisdom, “Lord, what would you have me do?” Often his answer will come through reading his Word, listening to a sermon, or asking wise counsel from a mentor or trusted advisor.
To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:1-3
2. Consider the well-being and comfort of others before thinking about yourself. It’s natural to want our best outcome, but God wants us to think about others’ interests first. To be a reflection of his heart by serving the needs of others before considering our own needs.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16
3. Live counter-culture. Care more about what God thinks about you than what people think about you. Don’t go with the flow, go with God!
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
4. Get in the habit of thanking God throughout the day for the little things as well as the big things!
Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Psalm 68:19 NLT
Ask God to help you see things through his eyes, to hurt where he hurts, and love how he loves. Get ready—you’re on your way to decreasing as you increase in Christ!
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Mark 8:34-37 NLT
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Wenping Zheng
Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of 20 books. Her passion is to mentor other women in sharing their life experiences and God’s faithfulness. Janet’s new release is Everyday Brave: Living Courageously As a Woman of Faith available at Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes and Noble, and signed at author’s website. She is also the author of Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness; Forsaken God? Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten; Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?; Dear God They Say It’s Cancer; Dear God, He’s Home!; Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter; Face-to-Face Bible study Series; and Woman to Woman Mentoring: How to Start, Grow, & Maintain a Mentoring Ministry Resources. Janet is the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Visit Janet and sign up for her weekly blog and free online newsletter at womantowomanmentoring.com. Join Janet on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.