By Elizabeth Prata
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:19-20).
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (NIV)
John the Baptist didn’t make more of himself than he ought. When the Pharisees asked John what the situation was, who are you, they wanted to know, John didn’t hem or haw. He spoke right up admitting he was not the Christ. He didn’t inflate himself by reminding them of his association with Christ. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t insert himself into the conversation. He didn’t subtly add his credentials. John the Baptist did none of that. John simply said I am not he and then immediately went on to point to Christ! (v 23).
Humility. John was humble. We know from other verses that John didn’t think himself worthy to tie Jesus’ sandal or be the one to baptize Him. (Matthew 3:11; 13–14). Jesus Himself said that John the Baptist was the greatest man. (Matthew 11:11).
Part of John’s ‘greatness’ was that he was chosen to be the forerunner to Jesus’ advent. But part of the reason too, is John was humble. His constant thought was of Christ and for Christ.
The attention did not go to John’s head. Throngs came to the desert to hear John preach and to be baptized, but John continually pointed to Jesus only. As his popularity and fame reached its pinnacle, Jesus appeared and entered into public ministry. John’s ministry started decreasing because they all began to follow Jesus instead. John’s disciples came to him and said people are leaving you and going to Jesus… Those disciples should know it isn’t a rivalry. Even though Philippians wasn’t written yet:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)
John the Baptist reminded them that that all along he’d been saying the ministry is about Jesus. John knew it wasn’t about ‘his’ ministry, it wasn’t about ‘him’, it wasn’t about ministry ‘numbers, i.e. I have more than the other guy down the street. It isn’t a rivalry. John’s ministry was about Jesus.
Jesus said that those who humble themselves will be exalted but whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. (Matthew 23:12). Gulp. How often do we insert ourselves into the conversation when it comes to ministry, or promote our greatness, or our credentials? I know I do that too often.
So, how do we cultivate humility? It’s a character quality. Our inner depravity clings to pride, and fights humility at every turn. It takes courage to be humble in a society that expects self-promotion, jostles to be first, and expects us to ‘tower above’.
One way to cultivate humility is to look to John the Baptist for a biblical example of a life lived in humility. From a Ligonier.org devotional these passages might help for further study-
Proverbs 15:33; 18:12
Or these topical essays on Humility also at Ligonier
I always try to remember that before salvation I was a craven sinner deserving of hell. Now that I am saved, I stand on the same blood-soaked ground as everyone else, and only Jesus towers above in holiness and purity. As Peter said,
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5)
If we want more grace, be humble.