Washing Feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:1-5

Jesus’s response to the knowledge that the Father had put all things under his power was to take the posture of a house servant and wash the disciples’ feet. In our culture, power often leads people to exalt themselves or to being exalted by others. Yet, with the knowledge of His supreme power at the forefront of this mind, Jesus goes low.

Jesus models for us a different kind of leadership. Jesus described this kind of Kingdom leadership when He taught the disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many“(Mark 10:43-45).

This kind of leadership can only happen when we are secure in who we are. If we don’t know who we are in Christ, if we aren’t aware of the power and authority given to us as children of God, we’ll never be able to go this low. We’ll still be striving to prove ourselves. Or, we’ll be tempted to fight for our “rights.” Only when we see the fullness of our inheritance in Christ can we be strong enough and secure enough to wash the feet of those around us.

We can give ourselves way if we know there is always more in the Kingdom. When we posture ourselves to be continually receiving from the Lord, we can continually give things away. We can give love because we are loved. We can give grace because we daily live in a waterfall of grace. We can give away our resources knowing that God always has more for us. We can go low because we trust that it is the Father who lifts us up.

You see, it wasn’t that Jesus had to try to forget that “the Father had put all things under his power.” He didn’t have to try to put His own power out of His mind in order to be a servant. He wasn’t trying to be less than He was in order to achieve humility. It was the opposite. It was Jesus’s awareness of His immense power that allowed Him to take the low place and wash His disciples’ feet. It wasn’t a self-deprecating, false humility. It was real, authentic humility.

It was love.

Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?