David Morse has a face you would recognize from his long list of appearances in films and television, but it’s not likely that you would recognize his name. Morse has seldom had the role of a lead actor, and doesn’t generally want to. He is content to be a highly sought after, very skillful, supporting actor.
Morse says this about playing supporting roles: “I don’t like talking about myself. I’m not really interested in myself. One of the good things about being a supporting actor is that you get to talk about other people.”
In today’s scripture, we see a man who is also very comfortable in his supporting role, John the Baptist. In today’s story we see the baptist explaining once again that he is not the lead character in God’s plan of redemption, but he is doing sacred work by fulfilling his supporting role so that Jesus may shine.
Today, I wish to address two realities revealed by John the Baptists in today’s scripture: the sin of Christian rivalry, and the sacrament of serving one another.
Regarding the sin of Christian Rivalry: I ask you:
Is it our duty to supplant one another – or to serve one another?
Is it God’s desire that His children compete – or cooperate?
Are we called to criticize one another – or to encourage one another?
Is the appropriate Christian response to the success of another brother ENVY – or ELATION?
I think we know the answer to these questions. We are required by God’s word to “encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5.11)
Sadly, this is not what we see very often in the church.
Imagine an army where each soldier sees themselves in competition with their sergeant. Where each platoon works in competition with every other platoon. With each division in competition with every other division.
Such an army would be reckless, powerless, pointless, useless – an easy target to be taken down by the enemy.
And yet this is the deplorable, detestable, disgraceful picture of the body of Christ in 2021. Not only do denominational groups view other denominations as rivals, but churches in the same neighborhood engage in the sin of rivalry, supplanting and smearing one another as well. Even worse, within each local fellowship and congregation, on an individual level, all too often we see the pettiness of rivalry and backstabbing.
My brothers and sisters, the sin of rivalry among the followers of Jesus must not be allowed to continue.
Today we see a picture of John Baptizing, while nearby, so are Jesus’ followers. At this point, John’s supporting role has been effective, and Jesus is gaining more followers than John, becoming steadily more popular. This was all according to God’s plan.
But there’s a problem. Just the way we might also struggle with wounded pride, John’s closest followers are filled with envy and jealousy at the success of Jesus. They see Jesus as a rival. So they go to their leader to try to get him to do something; to somehow shut Jesus down; or at least put him in his place.
And the Baptizer, true to form, responds in humility and talks his people down from their high horse.
He says, "Look, this is my best friend's wedding." He uses imagery from the Old Testament where God calls his people his bride. "She's my best friends girl. She USED to be mine."
He explains to them, once again, his purpose on earth. He is not here to compete with Jesus, but to cooperate with him. The Baptist is not here to outshine Jesus, but to showcase His ministry. John did not come to supplant Jesus, but to support and serve Him. John was not sent to upstage Jesus, but to shine a spotlight on His word and work.
The baptist makes it abundantly clear when he says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (v30)
The baptist displayed an attitude of obedience to God’s higher cause, an attitude of submission to God’s greater plans, an attitude of submission to God’s greatest purpose.
My friends, I’m here to tell you today that we need more of that attitude in the family of God. I am not talking specifically about you supporting me as your pastor. I am talking about each of us supporting one another in the ministries God has called us to and equipped us for. I am taking aim at myself more than anyone here. It is my job to be your servant, to wash your feet, to open doors for you, to encourage and equip you with the word of God. In this place, it is my task to be your supporting actor, and to help you shine in the gifts and purposes God has given you.
Moreover, we are each called to support one another in the gifts and callings of God..
I’d like to share are three principles we can learn from the best supporting actor in the Gospels, John the Baptist:
Each of us must know our place in the stream of redemptive history. Next, each of us must be content with our particular role in God’s cast. Finally, we are commanded by God to support one another in each one’s respective ministries, all working together for the Glory of the kingdom.
First, We Must Know Our Place in the Stream of Redemptive History
Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;”
If that’s true, then there are basically two ways to look at life: improvised or planned. On the one hand, either everything is improv – random and pointless with no plot or plan; or, on the other hand, there is a plot that is being worked out – and each of us has a part to play in the consummation of the Director’s vision.
Unresolved implications for a doctrine of predestination notwithstanding, I believe that there is a plot at work. There is a plan. There is a story being worked out among us, and there is a stunning climax taking shape. We have a heroic central character. We also have a dark and sinister villain. And each one of us has an important supporting role to play as the curtain on the third act is being lifted and the final scene approaches.
And we are all, the scriptures teach, crucial members of that cast.
Each believer is called, appointed, and anointed to serve the body of Christ in some unique way.
Romans 12: 4-8 says:
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Some of us are called to manage a massive food distribution operation. Some of us are called to drive a bus. Some of us are called to teach children. Some of us are called to teach adults. Some of us are called to manage resources. Some of us to sweep the floors. Some of us to counsel, some to make coffee, some of us to write, and some of us to sing. Some of us to open doors. But all of us have a part to play.
The scriptures teach us that God calls and appoints every believer to something. When we step out into that purpose, God also anoints us with the power and strength – God equips us to do what He needs us to do.
One of the biggest mistakes people make, by the way, is telling God that they are not able to serve in whatever He has called them to do. Our ability has never been an issue for God. He made Balaam’s donkey speak, what makes any of us think He can’t equip us to serve? No, our ability is never an issue for God. It’s our availability that’s the problem. When we tell God, “I’m sorry, I’m just too busy,” when we really mean, “I’ve got so many games I want to play.” Or when we say, “I don’t think my heart would be in that ministry,” even though that ministry is exactly where God’s heart is.
No work of God has ever failed due to our lack of ability. But I wonder how many opportunities to serve the kingdom have been cast aside due to our lack of AVAILability?
Ask God in earnest what His role for you is. He is faithful. He will show you if you put Him first, and make yourself available.
Second, We Must Be Content With Our Role
We must not let our pride and jealousy get in the way of the purposes of God.
Another amazing supporting actor, the Apostle Paul, put it this way:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (1 Corinthians 12.12-20 )
We must not only know our role, but we must also be content with that role as a crucial element to God’s unfolding story. We must not allow pride to take root and lead us to the sin of coveting our neighbor’s life.
Finally, We Must Support Others God Has Called, Appointed, and Anointed
It is not enough to merely know our job and do it. That is only the first step. In the body of Christ we are also required to encourage and build each other up. We are called to lend a hand when we are needed. We are called to support those God is working through. We are called to be mindful not only of our own space on the stage, but of how we can enhance and be of service to the other cast members around us.
God not only desires that we cooperate, but that we coordinate. That we work together. That we play well with each other. That we learn to function well together.
I have learned one thing about functioning well together. It is not natural. Coordination in the body doesn’t take place without commitment, encouragement, and immense effort.
When sweet baby James (not the big man James that he is now) was in Children’s Hospital all those years, our whole family had the opportunity to join him in Physical Therapy sessions. In that small little rehabilitation gym, we would often be joined by another family assisting their child in recovery from some sort of trauma. Children who had once been able to run and play were sometimes unable even to sit up or move their fingers and toes after an accident. Those were difficult cases to watch at first. Out of my lack of understanding, I cringed when the physical therapists would push those children so hard as they re-learned how to walk and move. But slowly, as time progressed and the physical therapists were unyielding in their expectations, and unwavering in their encouragement, we would see progress. Sometimes those children who had been unable to walk at first would end up skipping down the halls.
It takes HARD WORK and dedicated perseverance to work together!
As Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12 in his treatise on the body working together:
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12.21-26)
As The Curtain Rises
If we want to see the unfolding of God’s redemptive work in our lives, in our church, in our community, and in our world, Each of us must know our place in the stream of redemptive history. Each of us must also be content with our particular role in God’s plot. Finally, we must do the hard work of coordination so that we might support one another in each one’s respective ministries, all working together for the Glory of the kingdom.