“I Must Decrease.” —John 3:30
Under this heading, God began to deal with me about my pride. I had never felt that I was proud. If such a thought were suggested to my mind, either through preaching or by direct accusation, or even by the faithful dealing of the spirit, I, like so many others, excused myself by calling this thing “self respect,” “poise,” “good breeding,” or “high-mindedness.” But God called it “SIN” (Proverbs 21:4).
“An high look, and a proud heart…is sin” (Proverbs 21:4).
In the searchlight of His presence, there was no use to try to make explanations. Like John of old, I was made to realize my utter dependence upon God, and how little my own efforts were worth. I was made to realize, as I had never realized before, that even the best of my efforts were so futile, that truly God must take full control of my life, and that, before that could happen, I (my own personality, talents, knowledge, or natural ability) MUST DECREASE in importance in my own opinion.
I have since discovered that the power and success of any man’s ministry depends upon the amount, or greatness, of God in his life. The New Testament disciples depended entirely upon “The Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). They claimed no power nor holiness for themselves, although at their work of command, a man lame for forty years—having to be carried by his friends to a place where he might beg for his living—was instantly healed, so that he not only walked, but leaped and ran (see Acts 3:2–8; 12–16). These were the same men who had once rejoiced, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto US through thy name” (Luke 10:17). Now they have decreased in their own sight, and are ready for an increased ministry. Hear them say, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?…His name through faith in his name hath made this man strong” (Acts 3:12,16).
It is only as God increases in the life of one of His followers that power can increase, and this can never happen until SELF is decreased.
Oh that God’s ministers—yes, and laity as well—could realize that it is “Not by MIGHT nor by POWER, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The might and power here spoken of refer to man’s might and power—not to God’s. To the natural and not to the supernatural. There are two sources of power. Many great church organizations today boast of their “power,” “influence,” or “popularity” in their community. Their power and influence are derived from the magnificence of their great church plants, their immense bank accounts, the efficiency of their organization, their numerical strength, and their connection with the “right” people—those with wealth and influence in this world (though many of them do not so much as pretend ever to have been born again by the power of God, but only have joined the church as they would a social club.) Their fine talent, and soothing (spiritual sleep producing) worship services, their beautiful forms, all help to make them popular—to give them power in a world of “religious,” “respectable” sinners. It is from such as these that Paul has warned us (speaking as he was inspired by the Holy Ghost) that we must separate ourselves. “Having a form of Godliness, buy DENYING THE POWER THEREOF, from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5). These people would be greatly displeased if God should interrupt the controlled orderliness of one of their services by speaking out as He so often did in days gone by through one of His prophets, rebuking sin and calling them to lives of holiness and power. They make no plans, nor leave any room in their services, for the supernatural manifestation of the power of God.
True, there is a certain feeling of security and power, when we have achieved the building of a fine church edifice, have succeeded in bringing our organization to a state of good operating efficiency, have ceased to live in constant fear of not being able to meet our financial obligations, and are reaching the multitudes with the gospel. None of these things are wrong. We can gratefully thank God for them when they come our way. But all these things are nothing—they are only a lifeless shell—if the SUPERNATURAL POWER OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD is not there. They are a mere tower of Babel, reaching up toward a sky that is too far away, and doomed to failure and confusion, even though they appear to be enjoying success.
How blessed to have talent, consecrated and used for the glory of God. How good to have knowledge. What a comfort to have proper accommodations. But the one thing that is needful is the POWER OF GOD.
How many fine churches in our cities are finding their auditoriums hard to fill, while men and woman stand in the rain outside some great gospel tent, pitched on the edge of town, trying to find some space to get inside, in order that they may see what God is doing through His ministers who have placed the power of God first in their lives—who have been willing to decrease that God might increase.
“Might,” as Zechariah speaks of it, refers to the might of man, as physical effort, natural ability, talents, forms, ceremonies, rituals, ordinances and programs.
When the supernatural is gone, man will substitute the natural. He will substitute songs about the power of God for the reality, laying more and more stress upon the harmony and musical flourishes, as the real power of God decreases. Thank God for good music, but in itself it IS NOT THE POWER OF GOD! The might and the power of natural man will never fulfil the great commission, and bring deliverance to the multitudes. Although God may use them to some extent, with the anointing of the Spirit upon them, they cannot be used as a SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SPIRIT!
Even beautifully outlined sermons, eloquently preached by men of strong personality and charm, will never get the job done alone. After all, even preaching is not our objective. It is merely a means to an end. If good sermonizing and beautiful preaching could get the job done, it would have been done long ago.
Oh that men would decrease!
Oh that they would realize that without God they are NOTHING!
If preachers could only realize that it is not the beauty and forcefulness of their preaching, altogether, which brings results, but the ANOINTING OF THE SPIRIT upon the sermon, and God in POWER in the man who does the preaching. People need more than to hear a sermon. They need to FEEL SOMETHING while that sermon is being preached. It is the SPIRIT that causes people to FEEL the preaching.
Paul was not, like some of the other disciples, an ignorant and unlearned man. His was the best education available in his time. His speech to the men of Athens, on Mars Hill, is still recognized as one of the best classics of persuasive debate, and of homiletical and literary arrangement (see Acts 17:22–31). His background, education, and reputation among his fellows was such that he could declare, “I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more” (Philippians 3:4). But Paul turned it all aside. He was willing to decrease. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Although, as we have already seen, Paul was capable of eloquent speech, he wrote to the Corinthians, “My speech and my preaching was NOT with enticing words of man’s wisdom, BUT IN DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT AND OF POWER” (1 Corinthians 2:4). In the next verse he tells us why he had laid aside his natural talents to depend upon the power of God and that alone. “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
If the power of God were given its rightful place today, more people’s faith would stand in the power of God. Not so many would be trusting in their CHURCH (instead of the lord) for salvation, and not so many would be carried away by some preacher’s personality, so that they are of no use to God nor man unless they can work under His leadership.
Paul recognized the importance of the spirit upon his preaching. “Not that we are sufficient of our selves to THINK ANYTHING as of our selves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; NOT OF THE LETTER, BUT OF THE SPIRIT: FOR THE LETTER KILLETH, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVETH LIFE” (2 Corinthians 3:5–6).
People today need LIFE (life cannot come without the Spirit). God will make us able ministers—able to bring life and deliverance—of the New Testament as we decrease to the extent that we place man with all his natural ability, all that calls attention to and glorifies man, in the background.
Although Paul was a man of more than usual knowledge, due to his fine education and his richly varied experience, he was willing to cast it all aside, and to declare that he was “DETERMINED not to know ANYTHING among you save CHRIST” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Knowledge “puffeth up” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Some people are of little use to God because they “know” too much. Paul speaks of some who are puffed up at the church at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 4:18). By this he meant they were “oversize,” or needed to decrease, or be deflated. These seemed to be fine speakers, but Paul declared the test of what they were should be, not their speech, but POWER. “For the Kingdom of God is not in word, BUT IN POWER” (verse 20).
How easy it is to see that this is true! And how foolish we make ourselves appear many times, by trying to appear to be what we are not, because of pride!
Pride takes five forms. Pride of FACE. (How much better we DO look than those around about us!) Pride of PLACE. (Don’t ask THAT of one in my POSITION!) Pride of RACE. (We come of an excellent family, you know, and must uphold the family honor at any cost.) Pride of PACE. (Everyone should be able to see that we are the most capable and efficient person available. No one else could keep up with us!) And then that last and WORST of all the forms of pride—pride of GRACE! Proud of our spiritual accomplishments; proud of the length of our fasts; proud of visions and dreams and revelations; proud of the gifts we think we possess; feeling that we must be a special favorite with God; yes, even proud of our humility! Whatever form our pride may have taken, puffing us up like a toy balloon, the first thing that must be done, before we can have real power with God, is “I MUST DECREASE.”
“Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
How, then, can you hope for God to work with you, confirming the Word with signs following, when God has said He is RESISTING YOU!
Yes, I must decrease. Only the gold must remain. All the dross must be taken away, and all the tin, before God can work with it as he desires to work. And how little there is left, when the dross is gone!