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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

Jun 26, 2016

Most believers would be quite familiar with my title. These are the words of John the Baptist as he discusses the person and work of Jesus. It is a well-known phrase as found in the KJV in John 3:30. The NIV puts it this way: “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Either way, John is expressing a fundamental Christian principle: the disciple or follower of Christ must decrease while Christ increases. That is, we gradually die more and more to self, and allow more and more of Christ into our lives.

This is a continuous work, not just a once off. We are to keep renouncing self, keep crucifying the flesh, keep denying ourselves, and keep saying no to self will as we say yes to his will. This is called the process of sanctification, or better yet, mortification: we are putting self to death.

This is about emptying ourselves out, so that he can come in and fill us. And since I tend to find sermon illustrations everywhere, excuse me if I offer another one here, minus some of the gory details! But I will have a hospital procedure done in a few days which requires me to empty myself out completely.

Specialised medicine is provided which certainly makes all this happen, if you get my drift. I start that tomorrow. But to make it a bit less heavy duty, I cut down on food a few days ahead of time. (Of course it can be quite unfair! One of my sons tomorrow leaves for overseas for a few weeks, so the family got a nice Greek takeaway tonight as a send-off meal. But I could not have any. I object!)

Of course here the idea is to fully empty yourself out so that examinations can take place unimpeded. So while not a perfect analogy, there are some similarities here. In the spiritual life we also need to do the same: we need to empty ourselves out so that the fullness of Christ might come in.

As John said, ‘less of me, more of him’. This is the hardest thing for the believer. To say no to self, to resist the self, to be humble and broken before God is never something we readily seek. The self will resists this like all get out. We do not want less of self – we want more of self.

So we must pray that God will help us out here, that he will break us when we need brokenness, and empty us as we need emptiness. And I have found from personal experience that we must be careful what we pray for. If we ask him in all earnestness to break us, he will – but it can be very painful indeed.

Often it can come in the form of others kicking us in the guts – not physically, but in other ways. We will find an increase in attacks, in opposition, in lies being spoken about us, in people publicly dumping on us, betraying us, and abusing us.

It hurts. It really does. But when it comes, after I have just asked God to do a deep work in my life, then all I can do is thank God for such things, and pray for grace to get through it all as he does his spiritual operation in my life. It is not pleasant – but genuine steps forward in spiritual growth seldom are.

Image of Brokenness, Surrender, Holiness: A Revive Our Hearts Trilogy (Revive Our Hearts Series)
Brokenness, Surrender, Holiness: A Revive Our Hearts Trilogy (Revive Our Hearts Series) by Nancy Leigh DeMoss Amazon logo

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on brokenness, and in it noted that in my rather large library I did not have any books directly on that topic. Well, I do now. One book I discovered on this topic is by Nancy Leigh Demoss. It is a powerful book, and I want to conclude here with just one section of that book.

As she seeks to define what biblical brokenness is, she deals with various misconceptions about it. This section is excellent in laying this out:

True brokenness is not a feeling or an emotion. Rather, it requires a choice, an act of the will. Further, this choice is not a onetime experience, though there may be profound and life-changing spiritual turning points in our lives. True brokenness is an ongoing, constant way of life. True brokenness is a lifestyle – a moment-by-moment lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life – not as everyone else thinks it is but as He knows it to be.
Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will – the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying “Yes Lord” – no resistance, no chaffing, no stubbornness – simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.
Contrite is one word that is used in the Old Testament used to speak of brokenness. That word suggests something that is crushed into powder, as a rock is pulverized. What is it that God wants to pulverize in us? It is not our spirit He wants to break, nor is it our essential personhood. He wants to break our self-will.
When we speak of a horse being “broken,” we don’t mean that someone physically breaks its legs; we mean that the horse’s will has been broken – that it is now compliant and submissive to the wishes of its rider. In the same sense, true brokenness is the breaking of my self-will, so that the life and spirit of the Lord Jesus may be released through me. It is my humble and obedient response to the conviction of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit.
Brokenness is the stripping of self-reliance and independence from God. The broken person has no confidence in his own righteousness or his own works, but he is cast in total dependence upon the grace of God working in and through him.
Brokenness is the softening of the soil of my heart – it is the breaking up of any clods of resistance that could keep the seed from penetrating and taking root. I believe one of the reasons many pastors faithfully preach the Word week after week and see so little fruit in the lives of their listeners is that the soil in many of our hearts has become so hard and fallow that the seed cannot penetrate. Believers with broken, contrite hearts are receptive and responsive to the Word.
As wax or clay must be soft and pliable in order to be molded by the artist’s hands, so the broken, contrite heart is easily molded by the hand of God and does not harden itself against the circumstances God chooses to mold it.

This breaking process is similar to what we mean by asking God to fill us and use us, and we seek to say no to self and yes to him. It is about becoming lesser so that he might become greater. And all this goes directly against our flesh, our pride, our self will. That is why it is so hard and why so few believers ever really move down this path.

But it is the path all true disciples of Christ must take if they want to be effective for his service. As Vance Havner once put it: “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

Or as H.A. Ironside once said: “God is not looking for brilliant men, is not depending upon eloquent men, is not shut up to the use of talented men in sending His Gospel out in the world. God is looking for the broken men who have judged themselves in the light of the Cross of Christ. When He wants anything done, He takes up men who have come to the end of themselves, whose confidence is not in themselves, but in God!”

So where are we at in our Christian life? Are we decreasing while he increases? The only other option is for him to decrease while we increase. The choice is up to us.

[1368 words]

5 Responses to He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

  • The edifice of self-righteousness is an all-too blunt instrument if we are to penetrate a world suffering from the ever thickening, ever deepening darkness of its own self-righteousness with the word and grace of God. Brokenness in the service of God also implies godly sorrow for the victims of sin and Satan’s work in this world.

  • Wow John Wigg. you said it. I recall something I heard long ago, “Pray for me that I shall be nothing” some preacher asked. “Take it by faith,” replied his faithful friend, “you are nothing.” I have also just been meditating on Jer. 10:24. “I know O Lord that the way of man in is not in himself; it is not in man to direct his steps. Correct me O Lord, but in just measure, not in Thy wrath lest Thou bring me to nothing”. It is wrong for us as Gods’ holy people, to want to be ‘nothing’. We are created in Christ for works of (His) goodness by His grace. Therefore the key to our true understanding of our “nothingness” and our “somethingness” is to look on His face of grace and that is the Lamb standing in the Throne of God as it had been freshly slain for the sins of the world.

  • Did you see Andrew Mullins’ excellent article on Rabbi Shimmon Cowen’s book about homosexuality, marriage and society?

    http://www.mercatornet.com/conjugality/view/homosexuality-marriage-and-society/18297

    Might be worth a read.

  • I am sure, Bill, you are not suggesting the kind of emptying of oneself, practiced by Buddhist – a negations of life.
    I read a commentary of Charles Spurgeon’s the other day on Psalm 118 and with regard to verse 27, which says, ” God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.”
    Spurgeon wrote,

    “The word rendered “cords” carries with it the idea of wreaths and boughs, so that it was not a cord of hard, rough rope, but a decorated band; even as in our case, though we are bound to the altar of God, it is with the cords of love and the bands of a man, and not by a compulsion which destroys the freedom of the will. The sacrifice which we would present in honour of the victories of our Lord Jesus Christ is the living sacrifice of our spirit, soul, and body. We bring ourselves to his altar, and desire to offer him all that we have and are. There remains a tendency in our nature to start aside from this; it is not fond of the sacrificial knife. In the warmth of our love we come willingly to the altar, but we need constraining power to keep us there in the entirety of our being throughout the whole of life. Happily there is a cord which, twisted around the atonement, or, better still, around the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our only Altar, can hold us, and does hold us: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all died; and that he died for all, that they that live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” We are bound to the doctrine of atonement; we are bound to Christ himself, who is both altar and sacrifice; we desire to be more bound to him than ever, our soul finds her liberty in being tethered fast to the altar of the Lord.
    The American Board of Missions has for its seal an ox, with an altar on one side and a plough on the other, and the motto “Ready for either, “—ready to live and labour, or ready to suffer and die. We would gladly spend ourselves for the Lord actively, or be spent by him passively, whichever may be his will; but since we know the rebellion of our corrupt nature we earnestly pray that we may be kept in this consecrated mind, and that we may never, under discouragements, or through the temptations of the world, be permitted to leave the altar, to which it is our intense desire to be for ever fastened. Such consecration as this, and such desires for its perpetuity, well beseem that day of gladness which the Lord hath made so bright by the glorious triumph of his Son, our covenant head, our well beloved.”

    A friend also pointed out to me the picture of the two oxen in Matthew 11: 28,29, where a younger ox is bound to an older one that teaches the former how to plough:
    “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.…”

    So it is not the dead sacrifice of oneself, like the suicide bomber or Kamikaze pilot, but the living sacrifice being bound to alter with cords of love.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8YrmLy5jxw

    David Skinner UK

  • In the light of Britian’s exit from the EU may I offer a prayer from America. I believe that Britain stands in the same position as the allied, military forces found themselves on the beaches of Normandy, in June ,1944. The longer they stayed on the beach, the more vulnerable they became. Angela Merkel wants to keep us on the beach, until we are completely destroyed. This is one hell of an evil woman.

    URGENT PRAYER FOR THE UK – Kathleen D. Mitchell (June 24, 2016)

    In The Cleft of the Rock Ministries, International
    PO Box 498548
    Cincinnati, OH 45249-9998 USA

    This ministry has the prime focus of fortifying and securing Israel in all ways. However, this morning, the Lord awakened me with a strong call to pray for the UK. When it was announced that the British people opted to depart from the European Union, the whole world began to vibrate. That move will impact Israel in ways that we do not know at this time. Still, the Lord asked me to pray, over many weeks, that the UK would come out from this Babylonian stronghold … out from the binding system, which was set up to capture the Godly, and to promote the global elite agenda. The EU is dictatorial, anti-Semitic, morally bankrupt, and basically a bully to member nations. It is the beachhead for the rebellious, godless, one world, Humanist government rule. If the British people would turn back to the Lord, and return to biblical foundations, she would be spared from some of the judgment that is going to hit the EU. My sense in the Spirit is that if the UK had remained tethered to the EU, it would have surely been pulled down into deprivation as never before. I realize that the reason for the choice of the people to depart from the EU, was not necessarily Godly or even based upon wisdom for the most part. Much of it was fired by national pride, and by historical rage or by fear of the Islamic immigration policies of the EU. Nevertheless, the Lord has used those motivations to bring a separation. Whenever there is a shift … whenever there is a vote to close … there is an opportunity for chaos to erupt in violence. We must PRAY! Here are some thoughts to trigger your intercession:

    –George Soros funded the “REMAIN IN THE EU” campaign. That elite globalist is the main funder of the anarchists that rise up “on command” throughout the world, to riot against truth, Godliness, democratic order, biblical faith, and independent thinking, etc. Pray that the Lord would cut off the communications and cooperation between the various groups and leaders of the troublemakers. Pray to shut down any incoming chaos. Pray to protect the righteous against the violence and destruction that will be called forth to punish the “exit” vote.

    –George Soros is an enraged multi-billionaire Luciferian. He will seek to punish the UK financially, by maneuvering his resources and influencing his allies; applying targeted pressure on British markets, financial institutions, and businesses … trying to break down the financial foundations and the prosperity of the UK. Pray that as the price for the separation move is paid, that the people of the UK will turn to the Lord, rather than turn upon each other with rage for their negative conditions. Pray that the Lord will hold up the UK, and frustrate Soros’ plans and actions, and those of other elite globalists, who, mean to destroy it financially.

    –Pray for the Lord to deal with Soros for the wickedness he funds throughout the globe. Pray to remove the fortune that satan has put into his hands, and transfer those funds into the hands of the righteous. If it is possible to turn Soros to repentance, and to salvation in Yeshua, Lord, please do it!

    –With the Brexit vote almost an even split, we need to pray for unity to form among the citizens of the UK quickly. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Just over 50% of the population is pleased with the result, while an almost equal portion is very unhappy. PRAY THAT THE LORD WILL QUICKLY BRING CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT THE DECISION TO SEPARATE FROM THE EU WAS THE RIGHT DECISION … AND A STRATEGIC ONE TO SECURE THE UK.

    –In that David Cameron has announced that he will step down from the Prime Minister position by November, Pray for the Lord to choose the person, who will most bless the people of the UK, and who will stand most strongly with Israel. Pray that the new PM will fear and honor … and follow YHVH. Pray for a born again, Spirit-filled believer. If we don’t ask, we won’t receive. Ask in faith, and let the Lord choose.

    –There is a specific process (written into the laws of membership in the EU) for a nation to exit the union. It will take some time to separate resources, interconnections, etc. Pray that the rage of the global elite in the EU, will not be able to punish the UK, by exacting a higher price than what is just and correct in making the settlements. The EU elite could try to tie up the UK, by stretching out the process … and by demanding some sort of restitution for what they will claim to be their losses. Pray for the Lord’s hand to be upon all this. RIGHTEOUSNES, JUSTICE, AND TRUTH!

    –Russia is pleased with the exit and hopes to gain influence as a result. Pray that YHVH will direct the steps and moves of Putin, and not allow the UK to make any unholy or unwise, obligatory agreements with Russia or with anyone, in an effort to stabilize her new position.

    –Scotland and Northern Europe are now considering whether to have their own vote about STAYING in the EU by separating from the UK. That would be a dangerous situation spiritually. As they look for security and for national identity, they may be prompted to remain hooked to the Babylonian EU, and become independent from the UK. Old national wounds, and hatred from historical hostility between the Scottish and Irish with the British, may now lead these people the wrong way.
    Pray for the believers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to seek the Lord and to hear Him on this matter. Pray for genuine prophetic voices to arise and be heard in the UK; regarding the course and future of these nations in alliance. Given that almost half of the Christians in Scotland don’t vote (and maybe the same number in Northern Ireland), pray that the Christians get a clear wake up call that they have a role to play … and that they need to move and VOTE in agreement with the will of YHVH. They have a responsibility to HIM, for promoting His will in their nations. That includes voting as well as praying. (THIS IS A NOTE AND MESSAGE FOR BELIEVERS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. The Lord is not pleased if we don’t engage, when we have been given the opportunity to impact outcomes in our nations … when we don’t take the time discover what He wants, nor take a stand that will prosper His plans and purposes.)

    –Pray that the Israeli leaders will know how to respond, and how to relate to this change in the UK status. Pray that new, strong relationships will form with Godly legislators. Pray that the UK leaders will be drawn by the Lord to stand with Israel, as the EU fog, indoctrination, and anti-Semitism clears out.

    –Pray that the Moslem voices in the UK will not gain more power or authority in the separated UK. Pray that the new UK government, to be formed, will have wisdom, discernment, knowledge, and understanding about the truth of Israel … and about the truth of Islam.

    –Pray that Israel will have a stronger ally in the British people, as a result of this split from the EU.

    There is so much more that could be raised up as intercession in regard to the UK event today. However, I will leave you with these beginning guidelines and trust that the Lord will lead you beyond them, into deeper intercession as needed. The UK has its problems, but in the previous centuries the Lord has used the British people mightily to accomplish His purposes. St. Patrick, Wilberforce, Wesley, and so many other mighty men of YHVH, have come out of the British Isles. Now is our time to press in for our family of faith in Britain, and to uphold the purposes of YHVH for that confederacy known as the UK.

    Shabbat shalom!
    Kathleen

    David Skinner UK

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