A momentous milestone passed in our family a few weeks ago. You know, as you go through life there are little events that mark turning points in our lives, experiences that signal the end of one season and the beginning of another. That was this event for me.
What was it? Well, my son Jordan beat me arm wrestling.
I know, I know. I was just as stunned as you are. And here’s the thing; It wasn’t even close. It was decisive, indisputable in fact. Not that I didn’t attempt to dispute it mind you.
I had tweaked my back just a few days before...okay, a week and a half before. But surely that played into the outcome. And, I mean, I am still recovering from my knee surgery back in December after all. Never mind that this was an arm wrestling content, not a leg wrestling contest. The rationale seemed logical at the time. We all know the body is a complex organism. Everything’s potentially connected somehow. A weakness in one part of the body can negatively impact the health of other parts of the body. So that arm/leg connection, not such a stretch in my mind. It makes sense, right? Right?
But my son didn't buy it. And to be honest, neither did I. We both knew I had been beaten, my loss undeniable.
So okay, admittedly it seems like a small thing. Just get over yourself Tony and move on.
But there were a lot of emotions attached to that loss! For me, this was so much more than just an arm wrestling match. As I said it signaled the passing of one season and the beginning of another.
And I had some conflicting emotions about it.
The one that rose up immediately was good, old fashioned carnal pride. I mean, I’m the alpha! I’m the dad, the master of my domain! The King of the Castle! The protector of the house! And, well, that "master" moniker, that protector status, maybe not so much. At least not as much, as far as my continued physical dominance is concerned anyway.
This loss was a not so subtle reminder that, "Hey guy, you’re getting older. Your not quite the man you used to be." Somewhere, somehow I had crested the high point in my life in terms of strength and vitality and now I was teetering toward the downward slope. Not an easy pill to swallow.
But, at the same time as those feelings of pride and loss arose, I began to sense another emotion well up somewhere beneath the surface, blunting and softening my sense of loss and defeat. It was a different source of pride....pride in my son. All of my aspirations, my hopes for him, to see him grow, to see him become a man, the master of his own domain, they were happening. He was increasingly becoming, had become, a man. The baton, in a small way, was passing from me to him. Not that physical strength defines manhood, mind you. There are, of course, many other areas - emotionally, mentally, professionally and spiritually - where he has grown and is growing. This physical milestone was symbolic of all of that. And the fact that this would happen, well, is as it should be. As parents, our goal, our purpose, is to prepare the way for our sons and daughters to thrive and to grow after us. It's the way God designed it to work.
In John 3, John the baptist was approached by some of his disciples, who were concerned that this Jesus of Nazareth, who had been with John beyond the Jordan, was now baptizing and drawing disciples to himself.
Now, John's disciples understood his mission. John had been clear that he had come to prepare the way for the Messiah, the hope of Israel. But still, even with the excitement of knowing what John had proclaimed had come to pass, it seems some pride was making this reality a bitter pill to swallow.
And it’s not hard to understand how they may have been feeling. It must have been a heady experience to be part of such a work. They had watched God use John powerfully. And they had been apart of this exciting, compelling ministry. People had flocked from all over Palestine to hear John speak and be baptized.
But then suddenly they weren’t. This exciting, thriving ministry they had given their time and effort to, was beginning to wane. The surge of people coming to John were now moving past him, and them, and going toward this Jesus. So they were, understandably, beginning to feel somewhat marginalized.
And so, in somewhat of a panic, they came to John, likely believing that he would share their concerns and perhaps take some kind of action to preserve what he, and they, had worked so hard to build. But what they found in his response was something entirely different than they expected.
In verses 27-30 John responds, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease."
"He must increase, but I must decrease."
John recognized that his season was passing. The ministry he had been called to was descending, was drawing to a close, and the ministry of the one of whom he had been preaching, who He had been proclaiming would appear, was now here, and beginning to increase.
He recognized that process required that he necessarily step aside. And although we aren’t told as much here in this account...because he’s human, it’s certainly not a stretch to imagine that John may have had some of those conflicting emotions, from a fleshly perspective. Even though he knew that this was his purpose, on a carnal level, there undoubtedly must have been some feelings of loss. But, if those feelings were there, it seems they were short lived, replaced by the elation and awe at witnessing the ministry of the one he'd been proclaiming beginning to grow and thrive.
So in this context, I read John's response here not as a tepid, "Yeah, I suppose he needs to increase and I need to step aside." Rather, what we read is a resounding, almost joyous declaration: "He MUST increase, but I MUST decrease!" John was, in a sense, celebrating defeat.
God put His spirit within us with the intent that it would increase within us, transforming our hearts and minds to be like Him. This process is not an optional one in the life of a christian. It's a MUST!
In Romans 8:12-17 we read "Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live."
You and I MUST make the choice to push aside the pull of the flesh to focus on itself...to promote the self...and instead...embrace letting His life grow and thrive within us through the Holy Spirit.
That’s not an easy transition. We’re told the flesh wars against the spirit. And it’s not just a one time choice. Because we are still in the flesh, it requires we make a daily, continual choice to die to ourselves, to let the influence of His Spirit take preeminence in our hearts and minds.
Daily decreasing, dying to ourselves, is not an easy process. But it's the reality of the Christian life. It's our obligation. But when we embrace that obligation, that reality, the joy of another reality can begin, will begin, to well up inside of us.
Reading on in Romans 8, verse 14:
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit itself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
If we truly allow ourselves to decrease, and let Him increase within us...we can have confidence, we can rejoice fully in hope we’ve been given. We can truly rejoice in the purpose our God is working here below, and the purpose He is fulfilling within each of us to become sons, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, ultimately sharing in His glory.
That is our goal. That is His purpose for us. And what a wonderful purpose it is.
I can’t say that I’ve totally given up on the idea of being the master of my domain, at least on the physical level. I will, more than likely, challenge my son to an arm wrestling rematch...after I hit the weight room a few weeks...or months. And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and reclaim the title. But the writing is on the wall. The trend is there. And you know what? I’m good with that. In fact, though it’s not always easy to accept, I not only accept it, I embrace it...even celebrate it.
It’s the way of this physical life, after all. The way God designed it to be. As disciples, spiritually speaking, it’s the way He designed it to be as well. So let’s embrace it, let's rejoice in it. Let's celebrate defeat with a joyous declaration: " He MUST increase, and I MUST decrease!"