The Place of Service
Tim Temple


Surveys down through the years have shown that the people who are the most successful in life are those who have a goal and who keep their eyes on that goal as they move through life. That principle of commitment is something that is entirely biblical. In John, chapter 3, we have a thorough treatment of that subject of commitment.

In the last few verses of chapter 2, verses 23-25, John describes a lack of commitment. In those verses, he talked about some followers of Jesus who were not really committed to Him. They were just following along for the miracles, so He did not commit Himself to them.

Then in chapter 3, verses 1-21, we saw a lesson in commitment. Nicodemus comes and talks to Jesus, and Jesus talks to him about what commitment to Him really involves. It doesn't involve just being interested in what He can do for us, but rather it involves a whole new birth.

In this lesson, we are going to look at the third part of the chapter, which talks about a leader in commitment. It gives us the example of John the Baptist and his total commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a perfect example for us in what it means to be committed to Christ.

The setting for the demonstration for John the Baptist's leadership is in verses 22-26. First, John gives us some details about the ministry when this demonstration of leadership came up. Look at verse 22:

John 3

22After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
23And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
24For John was not yet cast into prison.

After leaving Jerusalem following His evening conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus goes out to the province of Judea into the area where John the Baptist is baptizing. John later is going to be thrown into prison, as John the writer mentions, but he wants us to keep in mind that John was still active in the ministry. The focus now has turned from John the Baptist, in chapter 1, to Jesus, in chapter 2, but John the Baptist was still out there doing his ministry.

In verse 22, we read that Jesus comes out into that same area and baptizes. That's something that many people overlook. When we get over to chapter 4, we are going to see that John clarifies that Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were. Jesus was directing them apparently to the point that John referred to it as “Jesus having baptized.” This fact that John the Baptist was still baptizing and that Jesus had His disciples baptize new disciples and the fact that Jesus Himself was baptized by John the Baptist emphasized the importance of baptism.

Baptism is something that in our churches today there is a varying degree of emphasis. There are some churches which say baptism is so important that you can't be saved without it. There are other churches which say, as we do, that baptism is extremely important, but it is a testimony to salvation already given, not a part of receiving that salvation. There are other churches with whom it is very optional and has to do with primarily becoming a member of that particular local assembly. Then there are other churches who have baptismal services a couple of times a year, and it is mostly ceremonial.

There seems to be across-the-board variance about that, but we need to remember that baptism is an extremely important doctrine as evidenced by the fact that Jesus Himself was baptized. Jesus had his very first disciples baptizing, and at the close of His ministry on earth, Jesus gave the commission that all Christians should go and make disciples and baptize people, teaching them to remember all the things that He taught. So baptism is an extremely important doctrine that we need to be careful to keep the proper emphasis on.

Misunderstanding Among the Disciples

As John was ministering and as Jesus began to minister in that same area, we see in verses 25-26 the development of a misunderstanding, not between Jesus and John the Baptist, but among the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist. Look at verse 25:

John 3

25Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26And they [John's disciples] came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

The basic problem was that Jesus was baptizing more people than John was and people were leaving John the Baptist and going to Jesus. This situation had the potential for a problem with jealousy. The real problem was over something that still goes on today—the fact that people were leaving John the Baptist and following Jesus. Jesus seemed to be attracting more followers than John the Baptist was. Of course, John's disciples didn't like to see this.

We are not told what the details of their thinking were, but their thinking seemed to be that John the Baptist was the one who introduced Jesus to the world in the first place, and he was the one who really began this whole practice of baptizing people publicly, taking it away from the Jewish ceremony of the washing of hands and such things that they referred to as baptisms . John the Baptist is the one who thought this all up in the first place, so surely Jesus shouldn't take such advantage of him. They also thought Jesus was stealing John's territory by having His disciples baptize people and letting people follow Him who used to follow John. So John's disciples voiced their complaint out of sympathy for their Rabbi, John the Baptist.

It is out of this setting that we find the statement of John's leadership in verses 27-36. The setting is this misunderstanding that grew out of the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist. The statement that came out of that setting is going to be the bulk of our study in this lesson.

It would have been easy for John the Baptist to have felt the same way that his disciples evidently did. If he didn't feel that way already, it would have been easy for him to pick up on their emotions, to feel injured and neglected and maybe even forgotten by the One whom he had announced. From a human standpoint, Jesus seemed to be indebted to John the Baptist, so it would have been easy for John the Baptist to get his feelings hurt about that.

Sowing Discord Among Brethren

Sometimes when a friend comes along and offers some sympathy and tells us how unjustly we have been treated, it is easy to pick up on that. Sometimes we have already thought of that ourselves; but if we haven't thought of it ourselves, sometimes all it takes is for someone else to come along and point it out to us. That can make a person feel sorry for himself and start a root of bitterness and even ultimately shake our faith in God.

As Christian friends, we need to be extremely careful how we counsel other people and how we maybe sincerely seek to console other people. One of the things that we need to be very careful about is that we not go beyond what the truth is and violate some principle of Scripture as John's disciples were doing here. John survived it. In fact, John wasn't susceptible to it, as we are going to see here, but it is something that could have happened to a lesser person, and unless we are careful, we could participate in this by planting false thoughts in the mind of a friend.

Proverbs, chapter 6, verses 16-19, lists seven things that God hates. Let's look at these verses:

Proverbs 6

16These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
17A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
18An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
19A false witness that speaketh lies, and [now notice this] he that soweth discord among brethren.

We need to be very careful that we do not pick up someone else's offense. Maybe they are not offended, but we get offended for them and we come and tell them how offended they ought to be. Suddenly they get offended, and we have sowed discord among brethren. God hates that.

The Principle Behind John's Leadership

Thankfully, John the Baptist did not succumb to this kind of counsel. He didn't succumb to the temptation to be bitter and envious. Instead, he goes right to the root of the problem, which was the matter of loyalty to the Lord Jesus. You see, the disciples would have put loyalty to John ahead of loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 27-28, John explains to them the principle behind his leadership. Look at verse 27:

John 3

27John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

John understood that the position he had as the forerunner of Jesus Christ was something that God had given him. In effect, John was saying, “God has called me to this second place, and therefore this is the place with which I am content.”

God first calls people to Himself; then He will call us to a specific ministry. God called John the Baptist while he was still in the womb, and John didn't even have the opportunity to ask what his ministry was going to be, but he willingly accepted that responsibility and took that ministry. By the time he was an adult and the ministry began to unfold, knowing the Old Testament as he did and being a prophet of God, he surely realized that what he was accepting was a ministry of being second place and being the one who simply introduces the great One.

John understood that clearly. In fact, he said, in verse 28, “You disciples have heard me say this. You know that this has been my position from the beginning. I am not the Christ. I am the one who is sent before Him.” John was perfectly content to be number two, to simply be the emcee. To put it in today's language, He was content to be the one who introduces the star of the show.

God has a particular ministry for every Christian to perform. God has given us spiritual gifts that enable us to serve Him. Those gifts are different and those ministries are different, and we cannot expect that everybody can be in the place of prominence. God has deliberately given some of us a place that is not the most prominent place of service. God has given many Christians places of important service that are not outwardly noticeable or the kind of ministry that gets much attention called to it. That is the way God has arranged things, and it is a very important principle for Christians to remember. Whether we have a place of prominent service or a place of service in the background, God has called us to those places of ministry. God has given those places of background ministry just as certainly as He has given places of prominent ministry.

It would help us in the Body of Christ if, instead of striving for the place that we want to have, we would yield to God's will for us and be like John and say, “This is the ministry that God has given me. A man can receive nothing unless it has been given from Heaven.” Many times young people who want to go into professional full-time Christian service (keep in mind that all Christians ought to be in full-time ministry, but there is that area of professional ministry where people go on the mission field or as a pastor or a seminary professor) are concerned with things such as salary, chances to go up the ladder, or what the benefits are. In my opinion, these things, if the call of God is involved, are questions that should not even be asked.

I have friends who are in the position of interviewing, and these people tell me that very often they will be interviewing young people for a certain mission organization or for a church staff and those are the first things that the candidate will ask. Those are things that we should leave in the Lord's hands, because ministry is a gift from God. Man has nothing except what God has given him. If we are led by God, if we trust Him and obey Him and take hold of His power for the ministry that He has given us, if we are faithful in whatever He has given us to do, no matter how small it may be, that is where we find joy and satisfaction in serving Him, wherever the place may be.

Sometimes that faithful service in the small things will lead to a bigger place of service, but what we tend to overlook is that sometimes it doesn't. There are men and women in professional ministry who have spent their entire lives and their entire careers working, from a human standpoint, in very small places, and they should be perfectly content with that.

I have some friends in the pastorate who I believe are much better speakers and pulpit preachers than some of the most prominent preachers that we know about. At least two of those men have spent thirty years in small churches and have been greatly used of God. Those men have the attitude of John the Baptist: This is where God has put me, and this is where I am going to minister. Every Christian ought to have that attitude.

John the Baptist didn't say it, but knowing his attitude, I am sure that his attitude would have been: If God wants to move me to a bigger place, that's okay; if he doesn't move me to a bigger place, that's okay. That goes so contrary to the world's way of thinking that it is very easy for Christians to overlook the truth of that attitude. It is easy for Christians to forget it if they did know it. It is easy to get caught up in that success syndrome even in the ministry, whether professional or not.

It is interesting, too, that God also gives those prominent places. I am not downplaying the fact that God does give some prominent places of ministry. Think about Peter and Andrew. God gave Peter a very prominent place of ministry, but Andrew was always known as Simon Peter's brother. Yet, we saw that Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. There is nothing wrong with that. God, in His sovereignty, chose to make Peter more prominent than Andrew; but I think when we get to Heaven, Andrew may have more rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ than Peter, or certainly just as many. He was just as much a servant of God as his more prominent brother Peter was because he did what God gave him to do and he did it faithfully. That is what God honors; that is what God rewards.

Someone has said, “All service ranks the same with God.” That is an important principle to remember. If you are faithfully doing what God has given you to do, if you are faithfully taking advantage of the opportunities that God gives you to represent Him with the people around you, then you have as much pleasure in the hall of God as the person who is nationally known for the things that he is doing to serve the Lord.

John, the writer, probably remembered a time when, toward the end of Jesus' time on earth, He had gathered Peter and John and some of the other disciples together, and He told Peter what the end of Peter's life was going to be like. He told him how he would suffer for Him and how people would take him where he didn't want to go and that he would ultimately die for Him. Peter didn't seem to be bothered by that bleak outlook that Jesus outlined for him, but he did seem to be bothered by what John the Baptist would do. John tells us that Peter looked around at John the Baptist and said, “Lord, what will this man do?” I love that passage because the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you?” That is a term that we have popularized in the last few years. “What's it to you, Peter?” Jesus showed His sense of humor there when He said, “What is it to you if I will that he lives until I come back? What does it matter to you? You follow Me.”

Then John tells us that the rumor got started that Jesus had said that John the Baptist would live until He came back. But Jesus didn't say that. Jesus was just being funny there and using that as a point of emphasis. It shows how people can misapply things that weren't meant to be taken in the way they were said. With God, it is important what He has given you to do. What is it to you if He gives someone else more or less to do than He gives you? Jesus Himself said that.

Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 10, is another verse that is important about this principle. That verse says:

Ephesians 2

10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The verses before that are the verses that say we are not saved by good works; we are saved by grace. Verse 10 tells us the place good works do have and that place is that God has chosen beforehand some good works we will do. The common opinion about this verse is that it is saying that every one of us should do some good works; but if we were to break this down and look at it in the Greek text, we would find that it is saying, “God has prepared beforehand specific works for me to do and other specific works for you to do.” The emphasis is upon the individual. It is in the singular. He has ordained for us all to do good works, but the wording of the verse in the Greek is that He has ordained for each of us individually a certain set of good works. Of course, we are all to do the things that He has instructed us to do, but God has planned a certain set of good works that He wants me to do; He has planned a certain set of good works that He wants you to do. Those will probably overlap, but it is an individual plan of God's that is being stressed here in Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 10.

Promotion Comes From the Lord

If you and I will do the things that He puts in our paths to do, they will bring fulfillment and satisfaction, no matter what kind of ministry it will involve and how different it will be from what God has asked somebody else to do for Him. For some reason—probably our North American culture—we seem to think that people are not serving the Lord unless their ministry is getting bigger. That is another common fallacy that the New Testament does not teach. Sometimes God does allow a ministry to grow and get bigger, but sometimes He doesn't. Sometimes He has people faithfully doing the same things who don't become famous and don't become bigger all through their Christian life. So the thing that we have to remember is to keep our eyes on the Lord, faithfully do what He has given us to do, and let the chips fall where they may—all of the chips, the chips of comparison to other people, the chips of the size that our ministry may become, or how well known we may become for doing it. All of those things are the Lord's business and not ours.

A good text to remember in times of envy is Psalm 75, verses 6-7:

Psalm 75

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Promotion comes from the Lord, the Scripture says. That is the principle that John the Baptist ministered in.

A Picture of the Friend of the Groom

Having given that principle in verses 27-28, in verse 29, He uses a picture to help them understand that. Notice:

John 3

29He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

This illustration doesn't make very much sense to us unless we understand something about Middle Eastern weddings. Most of you have studied John's Gospel before and you probably know this already. In Middle Eastern weddings that are usually described in the New Testament, the focus is on the bridegroom, not on the bride. The feminists don't like to deal with that, but that is the way it was in that part of the world in that day and time. The bridegroom was the focus of the wedding, and the wedding was in several stages, but it was all orchestrated by what the Bible calls the friend of the groom . That is the equivalent to the best man in today's wedding, and some of that is carried over into the duties of the best man in weddings today.

The friend of the groom was the guy who orchestrated all these stages. There was the wedding feast, the wedding ceremony and all of that. One of the functions of the friend of the groom was to go to the bride's home at a certain point and get her and bring her and her bridesmaids to the groom's home. This would be a great procession through the streets, and Jesus makes several references to this as illustrations in His teachings all through the New Testament. Once the friend of the groom brought the bride to the groom's home, the wedding feast would begin, leading ultimately to the wedding itself.

That is what John the Baptist means when he says that it is the groom who has the bride. He is saying, “I'm the friend of the groom; I am not the groom.” Jewish people would have understood this picture immediately because it fit in with the Old Testament reference that God makes many times to the fact that Israel is His Wife. When Israel began to get away from Him and ignore the prophets and go after idols, Israel was likened to an unfaithful wife by the prophets. In the New Testament, the Church is called the Bride of Christ . In the Old Testament, it is the Wife of God the Father . In II Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 2, Paul said:

II Corinthians 11

2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

The bulk of the instructions that we have about marriage is in Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 22-32. He uses the illustration of Christ and His Church as the bride and groom, so that is the symbolism that is used all throughout the Old and the New Testaments. Most of Jesus' disciples were well versed in the Old Testament, and they would have immediately picked up on this business of the friend of the groom. John the Baptist is saying, “These Israelites whom I have been introducing to Christ are the Bride of Christ, and I am just fulfilling my function as the friend of the groom by bringing the Bride to the Groom so they may be united.”

Of course, the reason that he used that illustration is that it was the natural function of the friend of the groom to be in second place. The focus was on the groom, not on the bride or the friend of the groom. John says, “It is He who must possess the bride, and I am just doing what God gave me to do. It is part of my job description. I am to be in second place.” John was perfectly happy to see people going to Jesus. When he saw people going to Jesus as he had seen two of his own disciples in chapter 1, he was perfectly happy. When he saw John and Andrew going to Jesus, he knew he was doing his job. He was doing what God had given him to do, so he said, “That is the thing that brings me great joy.”

He seems to be saying, “Stop bothering me about people leaving me and going to Jesus. That is the very work that God gave me to do.” If you think about it, that is the work that God has given you and me to do, not to draw people to ourselves, but to draw people to Jesus Christ. That might be more applicable to people in professional ministry. Pastors have to battle that complex all of the time of drawing people to Jesus Christ, not drawing people to ourselves. Church people need to be very careful that you are not drawn to the ministry of an individual. You need to be drawn to the ministry of the Word of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ. The pastor or the missionary and individual Christians have as our job to bring people to Christ, not to bring people to ourselves.

When a person finds Christ, his first impulse is to exalt the person who brought him to Jesus Christ. He is so thankful to have his salvation that that thanks is expressed to that person who told him about Jesus Christ. So, if you have the gift of evangelism, you need to be very careful that you have the attitude of John the Baptist. You be sure you are not getting the exaltation and Jesus Christ is.

I think that one of the marks of a legitimate ministry is who is getting the glory. If a ministry is always talking about how many converts they have and how much they have accomplished and how much money they have received, then that ministry, in my opinion, is suspect. The ministry is not there to glorify itself. The ministry is there to glorify Jesus Christ, so the summary of what John has to say is verse 30:

John 3

30He must increase, but I must decrease.

Descriptions of the Servant and the Savior

In the next verses he talks about those relative positions between himself and Christ in more detail. In the next five verses, he alternates back and forth between the descriptions of the servant and the Savior. Here is the reason He must increase and John must decrease. He talks about the Savior in verse 31, verse 32 and verses 34-35. In between, he talks about the servant. Let's look at what he says about the Savior first:

John 3

31He that cometh from above is above all… [now notice the last line] he that cometh from heaven is above all.

The emphasis is on the fact that Christ is from Heaven, so who should be exalted? The One from Heaven, of course. Then verse 32:

John 3

32And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.

Christ was talking about not just theory, but things that He had seen and heard in Heaven at the right hand of God. Nobody received His testimony, but that was what He talked about. Skip down to verse 34:

John 3

34For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
35The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

John says that everything that Jesus talks about, everything that Jesus does is directly from Heaven. All power has been given to Jesus. In summary, “All things have been given by God into His hand.”

By contrast, if you go back to verse 31, John describes himself as servant. Notice the middle of verse 31:

John 3

31…he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth…

John the Baptist says, “I can't speak about Heaven. I am not from Heaven. All that I can talk about is earthly things, whereas everything Jesus said came from His perspective of Heaven.”

If you will look at verse 33:

John 3

33He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.

The verse above this is the one where he said that Jesus had spoken from His experience in Heaven and no one received His testimony. In verse 33, he is saying, “The most spiritually astute person like John the Baptist is only certifying that God is true.” You see, all of our knowledge as human beings is secondhand knowledge. It is only what God gives us. Jesus emanated truth from Himself. John just repeated truth that he had received from Jesus. The same thing is true of you and me.

If we take the words of verses 31-35 to be a part of John the Baptist's reply to his disciples, we can see why it would be impossible for John the Baptist to ever forget that awe-inspiring moment when he baptized the Lord Jesus and heard the voice of God saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” John the Baptist seems to be saying, “Because all of this is true and I am doing what God gave me to do, because I am from the earth and Christ is from heaven, because I heard God's voice saying, ‘This is My Son,' why are you bothering me about the fact that people are following Jesus instead of following me?” The disciples had everything completely out of perspective, so John is straightening them out.

The Foundation for Commitment

We have talked about John's commitment to Jesus Christ all through this. He is a leader in commitment. We have talked about the principle behind it and the picture that he gave of it and the positions that cause it, but finally, in verse 36, we have two promises that are the very foundation for this kind of commitment on the part of anybody. Look at verse 36:

John 3

36He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

These two promises are to both believers and unbelievers. The contrast here in verse 36 does not concern just John the Baptist. He has been talking about himself up to now, but now he applies this to everybody. This is directly applied to everybody who reads this Gospel.

Verse 36 is one of the clearest statements in all the Bible about the two choices that every person is faced with—whether to believe in Jesus Christ or not to believe in Jesus Christ. Those are the two choices that everybody has, and what we choose indicates whether we see eternal life or the wrath of God.

Going back to the first part of the chapter to the story of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, the first thing that we need to settle in our hearts is if you are a believer in Jesus Christ or are you perhaps like Nicodemus, who had a great deal of technical knowledge, but he had not really been born again? He had not put his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is the first issue that always needs to be settled. Have I trusted Jesus Christ as Savior? Once you have settled that in your heart, then the question needs to be: Am I in fellowship with Him? Every person has to face that question.

Coming on into the passage that we just looked at, let me ask you this: Are you envious of somebody else's ministry? Maybe you have even allowed a root of bitterness to creep in. If that does not apply to your own position, then are you like John the Baptist's disciples—concerned about how somebody else is being treated? This is something that is extremely important for us to keep our perspective on. We must not begin to compare ourselves with other people, and we must be careful not to compare our ministry with another's ministry. We must remember that God is the One Who gives the positions of ministry that He gives to every individual person. We waste a great deal of energy and effort if we concern ourselves about why He has done it that way.


Are you seeking to do the good works that God has ordained for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)? God has ordained good works for you to do and good works for me to do. Are you seeking to find out what those things are and to do them? That is where the place of satisfaction in ministry is. The kind of confidence and the kind of leadership that John the Baptist had comes from that. Satisfaction comes from knowing that we are doing what God gave us to do and not looking at how that compares with what anybody else is doing.

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