Regarding the work of theology, Karl Barth wrote this remarkable statement:
Theology as a whole and in all its disciplines is a threatened and dangerous undertaking, since it is menaced by every kind of human pride….
Its only purpose is to make itself superfluous.
(Barth, CD, as quoted in John Goldingay’s OT Theology: Vol. 3, Israel’s Life; IVP Academic)
This is a drastic statement, but I would hold it forth for every area of life, particularly in Christian service. The great danger of theology, preaching, missions, revival, miracles, fellowship, or any other “work” of the Kingdom, is that it would become the end in and of itself, when its real “purpose is to make itself superfluous,” or nonessential, and to exalt the Man Christ Jesus.
The Message paraphrases John the Baptist’s statement thusly:
This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.
Any true work of God will be aimed at the reality of Christ being moved “into the center” of all things, rather than the ministry itself, or the personalities of men becoming the chief thing. We may give verbal and mental assent to Christ being the center, but unless we are “slipping off to the sidelines,” and exalting Him actively in the inner-man, we are missing the mark of glory. John the Baptist was, in Jesus’ own words, “a lamp that burned brightly,” and while men may marvel, a lamp is only the bearer of light.
The apostle John stated that Jesus Himself is the Light, and we are called to live lives that are broken and decreasing ever and always, so that the Light of Jesus’ own character and nature might increase and penetrate the hearts of men through our own words and deeds. You cannot do this by religious strife, asceticism, cleverness or cultivated skill. He will only increase, and show forth Himself through you, when you are willing to take the road of obscurity and hiddenness, and to actively glorify the Son of Man from your innermost-being.
I would choose to see the brightness of the heavenly things, although their lightning-glory leave me blind henceforth to any earthly glow; and I would hear but once the voice of God Almighty sweep in thunder from His throne, although from hence mine ear be deaf to the sweet trembling chime of this world’s music. I had rather stand a prophet of my God, with all the thrills of trembling, which must shake the heart of one who in earth’s garments, in the vesture frail of flesh and blood, is called to minister as seraphs do with fire- than bear the palm of any other triumph.
(Anonymous author, quote by Oswald Chambers in his complete works)
If you are willing to be “hidden with Christ in God,” you will be a forerunner in the truest sense, “a lamp that burns brightly,” lighting the path for other souls; the path that leads to the Man Christ Jesus, and Him alone.