“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John the Baptist knew where he stood when it came to himself and Jesus.
John had amassed a multitude of followers and was “the Baptist.” His fame was made through baptizing people.
Then along came Jesus.
And He was baptizing people too.
John’s disciples were confused. However, we can see from John’s answer to their questions that he was not confused.
Jesus was the Christ. John was not the Christ. Jesus wins.
It seems like a no-brainer. I mean, it was Jesus. He’s the answer to every Sunday school question. He’s the Savior of the world. He’s the Son of God. He’s the Word made flesh to dwell among us.
But what about those times when the answer’s not Jesus? When the answer to the question, “Who must increase,” is another person?
What about those times when someone human comes along and we’re called to step aside?
That’s not so easy.
This man amazes me and I personally don’t think he gets enough attention. After I tell you his story, you might think that’s just the way he wanted it.
Barnabas was part of the early church. He gave all he had to the apostles. When the church in Jerusalem heard about Greeks being converted in Antioch, who did they send? Barnabas. Barnabas was known as the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36).
When Saul first came from Damascus, following his conversion, none of the apostles would give him the time of day. They didn’t believe that Saul had actually changed — because remember he was killing Christians before.
But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. Acts 9:27
Barnabas encouraged him.
And when Barnabas was sent to Antioch and saw the Greeks’ conversion to Christianity:
…he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord… Acts 11:23
Barnabas encouraged them.
In Acts 12-13 Barnabas and Paul set out on their first missionary journey. Barnabas took the lead as Saul’s mentor. Barnabas also brings his cousin, John Mark. Unfortunately, after just a couple of stops, John Mark separates from the missionaries and heads home for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
In preparing for their second missionary journey, Barnabas wants to bring John Mark again (Acts 15). Paul doesn’t seem too keen on the idea. In fact, Acts 15:38 says:
Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.
This disagreement between the two men proves to be enough to separate them into two missionary parties; Barnabas and John Mark going to Cyprus, Paul and Silas traveling through Syria (Acts 15:39-41).
Barnabas encouraged John Mark.
And that’s the last we hear of Barnabas in the book of Acts.
He decreased so others could increase.
Interestingly enough, years later, from a Roman prison cell, Paul wrote the following to the Colossians:
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him);…they have proved to be an encouragement to me.” Colossians 4:10-11, emphasis added
And, in writing to Timothy, Paul gives these instructions:
Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. II Timothy 4:11, emphasis added
What a wonderful example of the impact that encouragement can have on a person’s life! Not only did John Mark go on to prove his worthiness as a fellow worker with Paul, he also eventually became one of the four authors of the gospels.
It’s cliché for people respond to a compliment with, “It was all God.” It’s easy to give the glory and praise to God, because He’s God.
It seems to happen much less frequently that people pass the praise on to others. Genuine mentorship is rare. Instead it’s all about building your brand, emphasising your strengths, making yourself indispensable.
The church needs to remember that we are made up of humans, and as such we are nothing more than dust in the wind. At some point we will be nothing but a memory, but the church needs to continue on. In order for this to happen we need to mentor — encourage — those who come behind us.
I feel like I’m in a weird phase of life because I have this strong desire to be mentored, but also recognize that I need to be mentoring others.
Actually, maybe it’s not so weird.
We’re always more knowledgeable than some and less experienced than others. We always have something to learn and something to teach.
So today I encourage you to take a cue from Barnabas and look around to discover areas where you can decrease so others can increase.