You’re a loyal company employee. You believe in your founder and his mission. And you know that your business meets a need. You’re providing an important public service, so you want the business to prosper and grow.
But a couple of your co-workers recently left the firm, encouraged to do so by your founder. They’ve set themselves up at a competing company, and their numbers are now better than yours. How might you feel about that? Envious, as in, “I wish we had their success”? Or perhaps even jealous, as in, “Their success rightfully belongs to us”?
Shift the scenario a bit. Think of the possibility of competition in ministry. Can people in ministry be jealous of someone else’s success? And if so, what’s the corrective?
After his private conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples moved out from Jerusalem, to a place called Aenon (John 3:23). No one knows for certain where Aenon was, but there was plenty of water there, perhaps from natural springs. People are coming non-stop to Jesus and being baptized by his disciples (cf. 4:2). Most likely, it’s a continuation of the baptism of repentance begun by John the Baptist, who is still in the business.
A controversy arises: someone gets in an argument with the Baptist’s disciples over purification. The Jews baptized Gentile converts as a purification ritual, and the question may have been over why Jews would need to be baptized. Not surprisingly, these disciples to bring the matter to their master.
But here’s what they said: “Rabbi, look! The man who was with you across the Jordan, the one about whom you testified, is baptizing and everyone is flocking to him” (3:26, CEB). Forget the argument about purification. Their concern is that Jesus is taking away business.
They remember what John had said: Jesus is the Messiah. But the tone of what these disciples say refers to Jesus as “that guy” — and the problem is that “everyone” (probably an envious exaggeration) is going to him instead of John.
Here, I can’t help but wonder. These disciples of John knew that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing, and would have remembered that two of them used to be John’s disciples (1:35-37). Did they find that fact a little galling? Hey, look at those two. We stayed with John, but now they’re baptizing more people than we are. That’s not right!
We’ll look at John’s response in the next post. But for the moment, ask yourself: does ministry ever become so tied to our own sense of personal accomplishment that we lose sight of what it’s really about? And would we be willing to accept that our ministries may be a vehicle of good for a while, and then fade away?