Why Not the Increase? (Hint: Consider First-Century Weddings)
We’ve already heard the bad news. We hear that Christianity is on the decline. Worldwide? Not even close. The church is growing exponentially in numerous places all over the globe. But in America? Things don’t look like they’re going the right direction.
Here’s the good news, and I’m convinced of it: God is a God of increase. When God’s Spirit is moving in a church, the amount of love increases. The number of Biblical disciples increases. The connection we have with each other increases. Our faith increases. Our service increases.
And, yes, it’s true that God is a God of increase. He can totally do it. That’s no surprise.
What the church needs to know is why God wouldn’t do it.
Even though God’s kingdom worldwide continues to grow, there are some core things an individual church needs to get worked out, or they won’t see the increase.
And we’re not talking about secondary things like how cool the kids’ programming is or how talented the worship leader is. We’re talking about doing church with the right foundation, without which we cannot expect true increase—of authentic love, deep connection, or increased number of disciples.
How do you make sure your church is being built on the right foundation? It has everything to do with first-century weddings.
In our time, the wedding day is all about one person. Who is that? It’s the bride, of course. It’s her day. Of course, the groom is there too, but that’s mainly his job. He’s just there. He’s a formality to say two words: “I do.” When the groom enters, nobody does anything. Nobody stands. He’s typically dressed just like the groomsmen.
But when the bride enters, that’s when everyone strains their necks to see. All rise out of respect. It’s when the bride enters that the wedding begins!
Not so for first-century Jewish weddings. For those weddings, the fanfare centered on the groom’s arrival. He would leave his parents’ home with a group of his friends and arrive at the bride’s home, where they would have the ceremony. They would all proceed back to the groom’s home for the wedding supper. Sometimes the feast would last a week or longer.
These days, the groom’s “best man” has a couple main jobs: 1) make sure the ring doesn’t get lost before the wedding ceremony, and 2) give a speech at the reception.
Those days, however, the best man’s jobs were much more significant.
The best man sent out the wedding invitations. He was in charge of organizing the wedding feast. And, very importantly, he was to guard the bridal chamber. It was at some point during the feast when the bride and groom would consummate the marriage. So the best man would stand guard outside the entrance to the chamber. He wasn’t about to let any false lovers in. And so when the groom came, he would let the groom into the chamber.
Now, what in the world does any of that information about first-century weddings have to do with God increasing a church? Quite a lot, actually.
Before Jesus came on the scene, his cousin John the Baptist was incredibly popular. But all along, John had been assuring the crowds that Somebody was going to come who was infinitely more important than John himself was (Luke 3:16). In fact, even though Jesus was born a few months after John (see Luke 1-2), John told people, “He who comes after me [Jesus] ranks before me, because he was before me.” The only way that could work is if Jesus existed before His time on earth (which is what was prophesied in Micah 5:2).
Then when Jesus actually came on the scene, John was elated and kept pointing his own disciples to Jesus. In fact, two of Jesus’ first disciples had been John’s disciples. John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and off they went after Jesus (John 1:36ff).
So it wasn’t surprising when John started losing disciples even as Jesus was rapidly gaining disciples. This development was disappointing for some of those who stuck with John. Some of John’s disciples went up to John and complained, “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 3:26).
But John understood first-century Jewish weddings. And, very importantly, he understood what his role was in the wedding.
He was not the bride. He most certainly was not the groom. His job, as he explained to his disciples, was that of best man, or what he called “the friend of the bridegroom.”
Listen to John describe his role as best man:
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
And that, my friends, is how increase happens.
We recognize it’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. Just as the best man brought the bride and groom together, our job is to connect people with Jesus. When this happens, our job is fulfilled and our joy is made complete.
What gets in the way of increase? It’s when we start believing the illusions that ministry is all about us that the increase won’t come. Why would God give the increase when we’ll grab the credit to beef up our spiritual resumes?