I had read John 1 hundreds of times before. But this time I got stuck on verse 8: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

“Huh,” I thought, sitting up straight and staring at nothing in particular for a minute or two, “that’s a word I need to hear as a pastor.” More than that, it’s a word I need to hear as a Christian. Here’s John the Baptist–pretty important guy, wildly popular prophet, forerunner of the Messiah, just about the greatest person ever born of a woman (Mt. 11:11). And when the Holy Spirit takes a moment to introduce him in John’s prologue, He wants to make clear: John the Baptist was not the light.

Hey pastor, have you forgotten that this whole church thing isn’t about you? Have I forgotten that it’s not about the size of my church, the number of compliments I receive, or the reach of some nebulous social media platform? I am not the light. Never have been. Praise God, I don’t have to be.

Hey mom, do you remember whose perfect example your kids need to see? It’s not yours. It’s Christ’s. Do you remember who alone can save their souls? Same deal.

Hey ministry entrepreneur, have you forgotten what really matters? It’s not what you can build. If you know how to be a ministry success without bearing witness to Christ, rethink your definition of success.

Hey missionary, have you lost sight of why you left home in the first place? You didn’t choose this life for the weather or the traffic. You knew you were not promised great results. You just wanted to bear witness to the light where there was too much darkness.

Hey social justice crusader, do you know that it doesn’t depend on you? That city, that slum, that injustice–they won’t be helped by sacrifice alone. They need to know the sacrifice that only a Savior can provide.

At first John 1:8 stung a bit. A healthy sting. I didn’t get into the ministry for me. I became a pastor because I felt the word of God like a fire in my bones. I chose this path because, on my best days, I love Christ and love his people. But for all of us, our best days are not our only days. We can be tempted to self-pity, tempted to prided, tempted to impatience, tempted to think we are the point instead of just pointers. So yeah, a good kind of sting.

But then I thought, what good news we have in this little verse. What good news for pastors and presidents and moms and missionaries and elders and deacons and teachers and teenagers. What good news for anyone who loves Jesus and feels like their spiritual wattage is a bit dimmer than they’d like.

You don’t have to bear the burdens of the planet, just bear witness to the one who can.

You don’t have die for the sins of the world, just introduce people to the one who has.

You are not the light.

Ouch, and hallelujah!

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10 thoughts on “Not That Bright”

  1. Sean says:

    This is a great reminder. It rather reminds me of this Sara Groves song (, God is light like the sun, we are light like the moon. Both seem to give light, but the moon is really just a cold stone in a void black space who reflects the sun. An imperfect picture, as any analogy is, but it is a great natural reminder of the true light,

  2. a. says:

    point to the Light …one major way: reflect the Light
    Matt 5:14-16; John 8:12; 1 John 1: 7;Eph 5:8

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  4. Neville says:

    It seems a good thing that Mr de Young is meditating on John the Baptist. Though the writer of John 1 was probably not thinking of self absorbed pasters , more likely just putting the ministry of John the Baptist into context.
    While Mr de Young is meditating on John the Baptist it might be helpful for him to meditate on John the Baptist’s words in Matt 3;9 ” And do not presume to say to yourselves , We have Abraham for our forefather; for I tell you, God is able to raise up descendants of Abraham from these stones ” If any verse in the Bible demolishes the Calvinist dogma of unconditional election it is this one, from a man who Jesus commended as the greatest man born of woman.

  5. Bill Pence says:

    Excellent reminder on keeping a proper perspective of our importance. Ouch, yes, and Amen! Thanks Kevin.

  6. Joan says:

    Good words, Pastor Kevin.

  7. Sophie says:

    We are to bear witness to the light. Quite simple yet so wonderful! Thank God for His ways.
    I just happened upon this article and boy! Blessings!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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