The Debate | John 3.25-26
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John 3:25-26 | ESV
One day, some of John’s followers picked a fight with one of the Judean locals about ritual cleansings. Evidently the Judean local got the best of them, pointing out that their rabbi wasn’t “all that” because Jesus’ popularity was putting John to shame. So they come to John, whining, “Rabbi, you know that guy who was with you over on the other side of the Jordan, you know, the one you gave such a ringing endorsement to? Well, look, now he’s copying you – he’s dipping people too, and everyone’s going to him while we’re just sitting here listening to the crickets chirp!” MAV
It’s been my observation that most religious debates have little to do with a pursuit of truth and everything to do with a pursuit of ego. Few debates, whether live, online, on Facebook, or wherever, involve a careful weighing of facts and ideas. Most are personality showdowns and competing agenda shoving matches. I so feel for John’s disciples. “All the Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John; and confessing their sins they were baptized by John in the Jordan River.” That’s how the Gospel writers summarize the amazing attractive power of John’s ministry. It was sensational, a meteoric rise to fame. John’s name was on everyone’s lips. The religious authorities are even on hand to check things out. Common people. Rich and despised tax collectors. Even more despised and feared soldiers. And the religious in-crowd. What a heyday. So how depressing must it have been to see that flash flood of popularity and attention reduced to a trickle. How sad is it that John’s followers are left with a single Jewish man standing on the shore. Reminds me of when, as a young apprentice preacher, I was called to fill the pulpit of a church in Simi Valley. I arrived early at the church (that does happen sometimes), met several families, sat towards the front, and waited for the rest of the church to show up. Another woman entered and sat towards the back. Then she and I discovered what we were both in for as one of the men turned around and called to her across rows of empty pews, “You better move up here, this is all there is!” We shared a look, the woman and I, at that moment; the look of a slightly panicked, “Oh my, what did I just step into?” Some congregations and groups disintegrate in a fireball of conflict and controversy, but most simply slump into a slow death dive with a final few “faithful” holding on to the end. John’s disciples are feeling the incline of that dive, and they clearly didn’t like it. And what better to do when you’re insecure and feeling things slipping away than pick a fight. Thriving individuals and groups don’t need to fight – they’re too busy living, though even then, collisions are inevitable in all the motion. Individuals and groups in decline or fearing they are in decline, have little else to do. There are some lessons here for us…
Do you enjoy a good fight, verbal tussles and debates – or do you tend to avoid them? Why? What do you think drives a lot of our arguments?
Lord, set me free from a combative spirit. Let me not avoid conflict, but help me not to overindulge in it, either. Give me the wisdom to look harder and deeper, and when I fight, to do so harmlessly. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.