He who has the bride

I will admit that I have a problem with jealousy. No, I don’t struggle a whole lot when I see someone else with a fancy new car or a shiny new boat. Sometimes, I get a tad jealous when people are toting new computers or gadgets, but even then, I certainly don’t lose a lot of sleep over it. But when I look at my friends and colleagues – especially people who graduated from Bible college with more or, worse, after me – who are now ministering in churches orders of magnitude larger than my own, I get jealous. I wish I had their larger flock, with its greater influence and prestige and (yes) income. But really, income is a distant, secondary thing. I wish I was “the man” at the biggest, hottest church in town. I don’t think I’m alone there, but it is nevertheless a problem that I have. And so, when I come in my study of joy to John the Baptist’s words in John 3, I am struck by his apparent lack of any jealousy whatsoever.

Now, I realize that John wasn’t exactly competing with another pastor down the street or in the next town or anything like that. But I still think he would have readily understood the jealousy that I struggle with. You see, as Jesus’ ministry seemed to be rocketing Him to prominence, suddenly, all that John had said and done, the stuff that he was still saying and doing, and even the thousands he had baptized and other phenomenal results he had seen suddenly seemed to be falling meteorically into obscurity.

If I had been in John’s shoes, I would have been jealous. I mean, John was far from chopped liver. He had upon him the spirit of Elijah. He was a prophet of God, sent to herald the arrival of the Messiah. And yet, ever since that day that Jesus had come to be baptized by him in the Jordan, and he had pronounced explicitly that He was the Lamb of God and Savior of the world, John’s ministry and John himself had been being eclipsed by Jesus’.

As I said, I would have been jealous.

But in John 3:29, John rejected that when, after a couple of his remaining followers – most, like Andrew, had gone to follow Jesus – came and lamented the disappearance of the crowds, he said, “He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete.”

A couple of things strike me about this. The first is that John realized that he was not the groom. Jesus was. And it was now Jesus’ time to shine. I will admit, here and now, that I have a hard time with this. I wonder if my time is coming. I wonder if my time has come, and I just missed it. I wonder if… But I need to hear John’s words. Because whether the person down the street is another pastor or Jesus Himself, this truth remains: I’m not the groom. The Church belongs to Jesus. She is His bride. And regardless of who the undershepherd is that gets the spotlight for the moment, that truth remains. He or she is not the groom, either. He or she doesn’t get to keep that congregation any more than I do. Regardless of how much we love our churches, we will (hopefully) both surrender them, willingly and joyfully, when He arrives to claim them. So I don’t really have any right to be jealous of that other pastor over there.

And the second thing is that, even as Jesus’ ministry escalated and John’s ministry declined, John declared, “This joy of mine is complete.” Wait a second. This joy… of mine… is complete? John is saying he actually took joy from seeing Jesus rise and his own corresponding fall. He owned that joy as his own. And it wasn’t just a little joy, but complete joy. In other words, I not only have no right to be jealous of other pastors, but I should actually take joy in their successful ministry!

Frustratingly, while I readily agree with this intellectually, I still have a hard time actually doing it. I suppose because I continue to have a self-centered perspective when John and Jesus both had Kingdom-centered perspectives. I hope someday to be over that, but if I had to guess, I would say that it will probably always be rather like alcoholism. I.e., I may have victory over it, but it may still present a temptation. At any rate, it’s something to work on.

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