I have yet met a person who aspires to be a servant. If you ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up you would probably now here her say with joy, enthusiasm and a glimmer in her eye, “I want to be a servant!” I haven’t heard one yet. One cannot find a degree or even an accredited course in high school or college in the area of servanthood. Rarely do we even give a second thought to serving, or putting people’s happiness, well-being and needs over our own. In fact in a society that is becoming less and less aware of God the act of serving one another is becoming a lost art and it is rarely practiced on a selfless level. As followers of Jesus we are well aware of his words about greatness. He says, “The one who desires to be great must first become a servant/slave to all.” Serving one another in Jesus’ name is something all Christians are commanded to do and yet it is even becoming a lost art in Christianity.
Today we are going to look at a passage many of you are familiar with and I will tackle the subject of serving. In these 17 verses we will see the example Jesus establishes for us as believers. Not only does Jesus tell us about the importance of serving but he also shows us by example the need to serve each other.
Read John 13:1 - 17
Verse 1: This is not the actual Passover Feast but it is a supper before. It was here that Jesus was well aware his time had come for his impending death (or his hour was near) and would soon return to the Father. He had fully loved his people and his greatest act of love was not only shown in the washing of the feet but also in dying on the cross.
Verse 2: It was during this evening meal that Judas had purposed in his heart to betray Jesus. John tells us that the Devil had put it in Judas’ heart. Judas had already made up his mind that he was going to turn Jesus over to the authorities in exchange for money.
In this we see the true heart of service in Jesus because as he was preparing to wash the feet of his disciples he knew Judas’ heart and yet he didn’t turn away from washing his feet. He served his enemy with genuine love. The phrase “The devil put it in his heart” just goes to show that the whole underhanded plot the Jewish leaders were planning was indeed satanic. We know that Jesus’ death had to happen as it was planned from the beginning of time however it is revealed to us that the means in which it would be done would be through satanic influence.
Verse 3 - 5: During the evening meal Jesus rose and stripped down to his loin clothe and wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash the disciple’s feet. When we read this account we can see the beauty of service that Jesus does for his closest friends. However we also fail to see how much of a servant Jesus becomes in doing this. A foot washing was a task that was usually reserved for the lowest of menial servants. Peers and especially teachers of students did not “stoop” to the level of foot washing. It is suggested that some Jews believed that even Jewish slaves should not wash feet; instead this should be a job for gentile servants.
Jesus taking off his outer clothing shows that He was becoming the lowest of servants and serving his friends. This kind of dress was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles. What’s even more fascinating is that this act of humility and service was ultimately unnecessary. He did not perform this service to fulfill prophecy, he didn’t do it to gain respect of his disciples, nor did he do this because he wanted something in return. This was a true display of love and service for both his friends and enemy and to show them the significance of being a follower of Jesus.
Verses 6 – 7: As Jesus approaches Peter he sees his Lord and master preparing to wash his feet and questions what Jesus is doing. Even the disciples recognized the “awkwardness” of the situation. Jesus informs Peter and the rest of the disciples that they don’t understand the symbolism in this act of service which he does explain in verses 8 & 10.
Verse 8 - 9: Peter’s strong objection and downright refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet was nothing more than Peter responding to him performing this lowly and menial task that is reserved for the lowest of servants. He couldn’t allow his master to “stoop” to such levels… In fact he refuses. Jesus then informs Peter if he is not washed by Jesus then he has no share in Jesus. As with all believers we must be washed clean by Jesus in order to be one of his.
Peter now gets what Jesus is saying and goes to the extreme opposite by telling Jesus, “Well if that is the case then don’t stop at my feet clean the whole body!” As we read through the Gospels I come to love Peter more and more. The man says what he feels; he wears his emotions on his sleeve and he is by no means an introverted individual. Oftentimes he opens mouth and inserts foot but he is teachable.
Verse 10: Jesus brings Peter back to earth and explains the symbolism of this act. The one who has been bathed does not need to be washed. As children of God we have been washed clean by Jesus. We have been redeemed, we belong to God. However the Christian life is not about just getting cleansed and then moving on with life. It is not a box we can check and proclaim… well I have done that it’s time to move on to the next thing in life. Jesus demands more than that from his followers. The foot washing is symbolic to the daily cleansing we all should seek. As saved individuals we are still human and still prone to sin. We, contrary to what many think we believe, are not perfect. We are far from perfect and we have daily the choices to choose to continually walk in the light or stray into darkness (sin). I don’t know about you but I am sure, in fact I know I have committed a sin today. As I walk this journey, as WE walk this journey together we will get our feet dirty. The world is a dirty place. We will choose to sin in our lives and we will need to be cleansed from these dark marks in our lives.
Nowhere is Jesus suggesting that a true believer loses his salvation when one sins and is need of repeated bathing. The cleansing is a one time thing and we live in a fallen world thus we are defiled by the world, spotted by sin, and sometimes influenced by evil. We must be cleansed daily through personal confession to the Lord, prayer, and we can guard ourselves from giving to the temptations of the world through the study of God’s word and continual prayer.
Jesus proclaimed them clean BUT not all of them… referring to Judas.
Verses 12 - 15: As Jesus finishes washing their feet he puts his clothes on and resumes his place. Like a good teacher he asks the disciples, “Do you understand what I did and why I did it?” He then goes on to talk about servant leadership. Jesus, God in human flesh, the Messiah, the teacher washed the feet of his disciples. He served them in a way that they never would have expected. He set an example. He is the greatest of all, the Son of God, and he had every right to demand that his disciples serve him (whether by foot washing, through meals, etc.) but instead he shows the disciples the necessity of serving and humility. What Jesus has done for his disciples he declares they should do for each other.
Verses 16 - 17: A servant is not greater than his master. Jesus is the master he is the one who sends out. No longer should these men consider serving one another a menial task reserved for the lowest of servants. They are not to be prideful men but humble men who are willing to serve at the drop of a hat. Jesus then proclaims, “If you know these things and you do them, you are blessed.”
In this passage we can learn much about our conduct as followers of Jesus. The overarching theme for this passage is serving one another in Christ’s love. As we have seen here no task is to be considered below us and as believers we are called to serve one another in love. As a body of believers we should be seeking out ways to serve one another and serve the community. Serving is an action and it requires movement. Serving involves getting up and doing and it does note entail sitting and watching. Maybe this is why so many of us are reluctant to serve. We enjoy the spectator aspect of Christianity but we do not appreciate or value the involvement aspect. We are all called to serve faithfully and forever. This includes the youngest of our children to the eldest adults as they are able to do so. Serving in Jesus’ name should bring such joy and happiness to our lives that we never grow tired of doing it. Sure there will be times (unfortunately more than not) you may not be appreciated or even criticized for you act of service for someone this is why it is important that we do it unto the Lord and not unto man. Humans can be harsh, critical and downright mean but if you do it with the heart of Jesus you will be blessed.
Questions to ponder. Do you have the heart of a servant? What are some practical steps you can take today to serve someone or bless the body? Is there anyone the Lord has laid on your heart to bless by serving?
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
Preview or purchase Jeff's Books