Have you heard the often-quoted verse: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30)?
Maybe you have heard this verse as a call to humble yourself or make yourself small. You don’t want to exalt yourself in ways that are selfish or detrimental. So you might try to “become less” in any of the following ways:
- Mute your own voice.
- Shy away from your talents.
- Hide the strengths you’ve been given.
The problem is that hiding is not humility. And, hiding your true self can lead straight to chronic self-doubt and feelings of invisibility in relationships.
Like any passage from scripture, it’s critical to understand this verse in its historical context.
The person who spoke these words, John the Baptist, had a powerful ministry just as Jesus was launching his. In fact, some of John’s followers had come to warn him that people were starting to leave John’s ministry. .. . in order to follow Jesus.
In that particular situation, John the Baptist had what psychologists refer to as “agency”—the ability to exert influence and act according to his wishes. Had he wished to do so, John could have competed with Jesus to retain his followers. Or, he could choose to step aside—and point his followers toward Jesus.
He chose to step aside. He used his power with integrity by considering what was truly best for the people who trusted him. When John spoke these words, he showed a humility that was rooted in the knowledge of the power he had.
John 3:30 is an incredibly important text for any spiritual leader to consider with honest self-reflection:
- Am I pointing people toward Jesus?
- Or, am I growing my own following?
Certainly, every single one of us needs to assess our motives honestly. However, if you are diminishing yourself, hiding your light, or reluctant to use your talents, you might be mistaking humility for its counterfeit: self-doubt.
Self-doubt leads you to constantly second-guess yourself, which is a downward spiral to people pleasing and codependency. It’s not how we honor God.
The spiritual fruit of humility, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with confidence. It’s a deep awareness of your strengths, as well as your limitations. Humility empowers you to love and lead others with integrity. It’s not hiding. Instead, it’s actively using your gifts in a way that honors God.
Reflecting on “Less”
1. In what ways do you doubt yourself?
It might be when you are making a decision, parenting, helping a friend, or facing a difficult challenge. It might be at work, with finances, or in forging new relationships. Don’t judge yourself for what you notice. Just become aware.
2. In what ways do you see your strengths?
It might be that you’re great with children, animals, or the elderly. Maybe you excel at music, math, spreadsheets, or working out. Pay attention to those instances when you feel confident in your skills. Don’t downplay or dismiss them. These are gifts God gave you.
3. What comes to mind when you consider the idea that God has given you “agency”?
Does it feel uncomfortable to think of exerting your influence? Do you worry about misusing any power you might have? Ask God to help you recognize the difference between humility, which leads to brave action. . .and the exhausting trap of self-doubt.
Consider the example of John: What might it be like to step into your power. . . so that you can use it for good?
For Further Reading:
Should I Turn the Other Cheek?
Does God Want Me To Stay Small?
Are You Really Supposed to Die To Yourself?
This is such an important post. This passage has been taken out of context and I’ve internalized the misinterpretation for far too long. Thank you!