Amidst all the arguments between Christians and churches as to who can interpret the Bible correctly, who has the more applicable standards for today’s society, and, “most importantly”, who is a better Christian than the other we always manage to forget one simple word: Servanthood. Arguing amongst ourselves has no purpose since it is often used to prove each other wrong… to see who is better. Servanthood requires the exact opposite of this. Servanthood is what we are called to do. Better yet, servanthood is what we are required to live out.
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
After Jesus washes the disciples’ feet He then uses His actions as a teaching opportunity with the twelve disciples. Knowing that what He is about to say to them will be a hard truth to grasp and foreign to their way of thinking He begins by saying, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am.” In other words Jesus is telling His disciples, “You know, guys, you need to understand that I am your teacher and master and have the right and authority to say to you what I am about to say, even though it will be difficult for you to hear.”
Jesus then tells them that they need to continually wash one another’s feet just as He had done for them. Jesus did not necessarily want His disciples to take Him literally at that moment (though there is nothing wrong with the practice of washing others’ feet. The disciples understood that Jesus was using figurative language at this moment. But what was it, then, that the Lord was trying to teach them?
What the Lord was commanding His disciples to do was to display humility, servanthood, and sacrificial love to one another even when it is inconvenient, messy, and undesirable. Jesus goes on to reinforce the hard teaching in vs. 16 by saying, “No servant is greater than his master.” In other words, Jesus was basically saying, “If I am willing to do it then YOU should be willing to do it.”
One could make a strong biblical case that the essence of Christlikeness is being a servant as seen in Mark 10:45 and John 13:12-17. Not only did Jesus serve, but he had the heart of a servant. He thought like a servant.
This had to hit the disciples hard. Remember these were the guys who had on several occasions argued with one another as to who was the greatest. (Matthew 18:1-4; Matthew 23:11-12; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48; Luke 22:24-27). Here in John 13, none of the disciples had offered to wash anyone’s feet at the last supper. After all, that was the work of a servant. And they certainly were not servants! Or were they? Apparently, according to what Jesus said, that was exactly what they were to be!
In terms of Christlikeness, servants think more about others than themselves. This is true humility: not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of us less. They are self-forgetful. When we stop focusing on our own needs, we become aware of the needs around us… We can measure our servant’s heart by how we respond when others treat us like servants. How do you react when you are taken for granted, bossed around, or treated as an inferior. Servants base their identity in Christ. Because they remember they are loved and accepted by grace, servants do not have to (or feel as if they have to) prove their worth. They willingly accept jobs that insecure people would consider “beneath” them. The more you think of yourself the more you will want people to serve you, and the more you will need their approval. When you base your worth and identity on your relationship to Christ, you are freed from the expectations of others, and that allows you to really serve them best.
Finally, to drive the point home even stronger, Jesus adds the last statement: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Essentially the Lord was saying, “It is not enough to be aware of this teaching; the blessing will only come if you put it into practice.”
It is important that we see servanthood as an identity and not just an action. We do not just serve, we are servants. The essence of being a follower of Jesus is to become more and more like Him. This is the goal of sanctification, which Wayne Grudem defines as, “A progressive work of both God and man that makes Christians more and freer from sin and more and more like Christ in their actual lives.”
This is not only difficult truth for the disciples but difficult truth for us as well. Humility is a hard virtue. Stooping to “wash the feet” of other people is not high on our list of desirable tasks. Yet this is the very thing that Jesus calls us to do. The Lord is calling you today to humbly serve the needs of others.
Servants think of ministry as an opportunity, not an obligation. A lifestyle that permeates every bit of our being.