Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the LORD” (John 1:19-23)
Often when I’m invited to speak at a retreat or church gathering I am asked to send a write up of my qualifications, accomplishments and experiences. When you are asked to do something like that, the temptation is to toot your own horn, exaggerate your work and make yourself look good. When we meet people for the first time and engage in a conversation with them, most often than not, we are tempted to ask, “What do you do?” We become concerned about their qualification, accomplishments and experiences as it helps shape our perceptions of them and dictates our responses towards them.
Our perception of self and others raises some important questions like, “What defines us?” and “What do we define others by?”
In the Scriptures we read that John the Baptist was tempted just like us to define his identity and his ministry based on his personal sacrifices, successes and others opinion about him. For example, when his fame spread and when many people followed him and wondered who he was, he could have easily made use of the opportunity to fabricate or exaggerate things concerning him. Rather he made it clear that he was not the Messiah for whom they were looking for. He also clarified that he was neither Elijah nor a prophet. It was also a perfect opportunity for him to go into great detail telling them about the vision his father Zechariah had about his birth and boast about what he foretold about his message and ministry.
But John refrained from that and talked about Jesus, the coming one.
John accepted the role assigned to him by GOD to prepare the people for Jesus, the Messiah and to present Jesus to the people. He did not pretend or try to be something he was not. He clearly defined his identity and his ministry in terms of his relationship with Jesus and did not succumb to his own success or people’s opinions and expectations. This saved him from any sense of insecurity, jealousy or inferiority when people who were his disciples began to follow Jesus.
That is why he was able to gracefully say, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
Today, what are we tempted to define our life by? Is it our qualification? Accomplishments? Success? Talents? Gifts? View of self? Or people’s opinions and expectations?
When these things begin to grip us and define us, then we will see a constant need to treat self and others more than or less than we ought to.
May we be defined by Jesus’ love.
When we are defined by Jesus’ love for us then there will be no room for insecurity, jealousy or inferiority in our lives. For GOD’s love for us and approval of us will not be diminished by our failures or enhanced by our successes (Romans 8:38-39).