Have you ever been called out for being self-centered, but didn’t think you were acting that way? Maybe a friend convinced you to look at all the evidence from an objective viewpoint and suddenly you realized “Oh, wow, I have absolutely been self-serving”. So often in our lives, selfishness and self-focus creeps in without realizing it. We get so caught up in what we are doing, that we forget why we do what we do. I think everyone from people of faith to “nones” get caught in it. Pertaining to the artist, they go from making art in order to impact people, to making art because “it’s just what I do”, to making art entirely for profit. Even if the art still impacts people the end goal and the mark of success is based on how much it has been consumed, not necessarily to what quality the consumption took place, and in turn how much money it makes.
If we don’t regularly refocus ourselves with the real reason why we do what we do, we are in danger of slipping into self-servitude, and sometimes not even realizing it (Romans 12:1-3)! Let’s look at a story in the Bible about someone who rightly deflects glory back to Jesus and combats jealousy between ministries.
“Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and He remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “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 answered, “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.” // John 3:22-29a (ESV)
Let’s set up a little context here. At this point, Jesus has begun publicly doing ministry. He’s done miracles, cleansed the temple, and even made some low-key “pre-declarations” of being the Messiah (John 2, 3:1-21). It’s also crucial to remember that even before any of that happened, John the Baptist was the one who declared Jesus to be the Son of God (John 1:29-34). John baptized Jesus, pointed a couple of his own disciples toward Jesus, and has basically turned his entire ministry into a signpost that points to Jesus.
As a songwriter, my most intimate moments with my Creator come in the writing process. I am convicted and brought to repentance more often through the creative process than through any other medium. But then, with an insane amount of irony, how often do I share that song with someone hoping that they can validate my talent as a writer before I hope that the Holy Spirit will use the words or the accompaniment to tug on that person’s soul? I’ll tell you – it’s somewhere close to 100% of the time. Even though the song itself may be functionally a signpost to my savior, it is inherently a spotlight back on me. So even though I am wrought with selfishness and am a terrible example of humility, John gives us an amazing example of humility and something we should all strive to follow.
We’ll get to John’s example in a moment, but first: did you notice what these guys were arguing about? John’s disciples and a Jew are arguing about purification. Based on the question that they bring to John, I’m going to make the assumption that they weren’t talking about the food they eat (Jewish law required them to only eat clean foods) but that they were talking about purification of the man, and likely about the role that baptism (or bathing) plays in that process (found all over Leviticus). The two parties, unable to come to a conclusion, then approach John. But instead of directly asking him about the question at hand, they ask the question “Hey, remember that guy that you baptized? Now people are following Him, and not following you. And remember how you baptized Him? And He isn’t following you? So the people who are following Him aren’t following you? But you’re the one that baptized Him? Yeah, why are they following Him, and not you? Because, you know, you baptized Him. What’s up with that?”
Ok, clearly I paraphrased that a little bit. The point is the same, though. These guys, talking about purification, are seriously confused as to how Jesus isn’t under the counsel of John, since they think John administered Jesus’ purification ritual (spoiler alert: baptism doesn’t equal purification, and even if it did Jesus didn’t need purification- you know, the whole blameless and sinless thing). This is why these guys are so concerned about people not following John. To them, Jesus should be John’s disciple, so all of those people are choosing the second tier guy over the rock star.
John knows better, he was aware of his role from the very beginning. He responds, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven”. John knows that his ministry isn’t even his ministry at all. It was entrusted to him, for a limited time, but it never belonged to him. He goes on and reasserts his role as the forerunner of Jesus, not the messiah himself. And then, he makes the most remarkable statement, and something I think all Creatives can take a major cue from- he makes himself a minor supporting role in the story.
John goes into this metaphor about a wedding, and he makes himself a friend of the groom. John makes Jesus the groom, the main character, and then straight up fanboys over Him. This is the essence of what we should utilize our creations for. Just like John tells a story about a wedding, with the theme of the story being the person of Jesus, we need to create art that is saturated with the theme of Jesus- who He is and what He’s done- and utilize not only the functional purpose of our art but the inherent purpose of our art as glory-giving to Jesus, and Jesus alone. Here’s the kicker: the reason our art is meant to be a tool of glory-pointing back to Christ is because the medium that we use is a gift from God anyway. Just like how John’s ministry never really belonged to him, our art never really belongs to us. The art we make is never about us, not even from the very beginning, and keeping our focus on that truth keeps us from accidentally corrupting into selfish glory-hogging. It begins, and so it should always end, with Jesus at the center (Jude 1:24-25).
Kevin McClure volunteers with RYFO as a part of our Artist Relations team. As a songwriter and musical artist he has had the honor of touring the United States both as a performer and a worship leader for the better part of the past 10 years. Kevin lives in Omaha, NE with his wife Hailey and his two daughters, Everleigh and Eliska.