It was about ten years ago in the music department at a community college I had attended a few years prior. A former classmate of mine had just given his final semester guitar recital, and he’d been a smashing success. I recall overhearing his instructor talking to his parents. Something like, “There’s nothing left for me to teach him. He needs to transfer to a university to progress any further.”
I raised my eyebrows. This guitar instructor was an accomplished performer and experienced educator. Not only that, I’d always passed him off as being rather arrogant. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear him admit that a student had progressed beyond his capabilities as a teacher.
There are other examples of school teachers, college professors, and instructors in the fine and performing arts I’ve known over the years, who were vocal about their desire to see their students go as far as possible, even if it meant handing them over to others more capable. They push their students to meet, if not study, with the best in the discipline. They’d rather send off their best undergraduate students to the best graduate programs than hold them back by keeping them for themselves.
On the other hand, I’ve also known those with the opposite intentions. There was one piano teacher who had stars in her eyes. She saw a promising concert pianist in one of her teen students and dreamed about being the one to get her to the stage. She stubbornly refused to admit that she was incapable of getting her student to that level. There was also a double bass teacher who practically sabotaged his student’s chances to enter a better program at another school. I’ve seen envy pit professors against each other, fighting over students who don’t even want to be in their field. They’d rather tear up their colleagues’ reputations than admit that they don’t have the same skills or prestige.
When I read John 1:19-51, I see how admirable John “the Baptist” was. A number of passages in the New Testament, along with much of the historical record, indicate that the Sadducees and Pharisees had all of the knowledge and understanding of prophecy and tradition needed to verify that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but they stubbornly refused to acknowledge Him because they prided themselves in being the respected religious authorities of the day.
John “the Baptist,” on the other hand, knew his place and limitations. He heeded the sign given to him from God (vv. 32-33). He didn’t complain when two of his disciples (Andrew and possibly John) left to follow Jesus (vv. 35-40). He didn’t complain when Jesus’ baptism became more popular than his, and instead gave his wholehearted approval, recognizing Jesus as the superior teacher (John 3:22-30).
Humility is not an easy virtue to acquire or maintain. No one likes being put in his place. Why then do it yourself? Yet, John “the Baptist” serves as a great example of how to act humbly. His actions prove what a great teacher he really was.
This devotional was written as an assignment for Robert T. Davis’ course on “Johannine Literature,” which I am currently auditing at the Southern California School of Evangelism at Buena Park Church of Christ.