John 13:1-20- The Marks of a True Servant

Explanation- The account before us may be one of my personal favorite in all of Scripture. It is here that we see the beauty of Christ’s true nature put on full display. There are several key features that I would like to comment on in this account.

First, we are given a unique look into the mind of Christ. In this account, Christ’s considerations are put before us and as He sits with His disciples to share their final Passover mean, notice where His thoughts are directed. In an instant He knows that His time had come. What time exactly? The time for Him to be turned over to the authorities and crucified. It was now time for the will of God which was set forth in eternity past to take place in human history. At this time when Christ was preparing to fulfill this purpose, His disciples were on His mind. He thought of His love for them and desired to set some final examples before His departure. So, after girding Himself with a towel, He begins to wash their feet. This task should not be overlooked. Let us remember that John the Baptist claimed that He was unworthy to even unlatch the sandals from Christ’ feet, yet at this time Christ is choosing to take on a role that even most servants would not be required to perform. Jesus Christ, who is God and King over all creation, knelt down and washed the dirt off His disciple’s. This should cause us to pause and reflect on the pure humility and kindness of our Lord. What master conducts himself in this manner? Who is like our God?

Secondly, let us examine the response of Peter and our Lord’s following comment. When approached by Christ to wash his feet, Peter ignorantly denies our Lord. Ryle comments, ‘Let us gather from Peter’s conduct that a man may have plenty of faith and love, and yet be sadly destitute of clear knowledge.’[1] Peter was clearly unaware of the spiritual implications that this teaching held. Our Lord understood this full well and looks forward to when this teaching would take root in the disciple’s hearts. Christ was exemplifying for them the conduct of the kingdom. We are to be servants of our brethren in the same way our Lord was a servant of His disciples. When Christ informs Peter that if He does not wash him then he has no part with the Lord. At this Peter obnoxiously suggests that his hands and head as well. Christ, surely knowing that Peter would respond this way, gives us this beautiful truth. ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.’ (13:10). I have always taken this to mean that once having been regenerated and cleansed by the word of Christ, there is no need for that full cleansing to happen again. We have been washed by the blood of the Lamb and all of our sins have been pardoned. While this is true, there is still daily ‘cleansing’ that we partake in. There is the continual confession of sins that remain in our lives, there is prayer and meditation over the word, and there are times when we must make amends with a brother whom we have offended. The full washing has already been accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ, now we are left to the continual means of sanctification prompted by the Spirit’s work in our lives. Obviously this was a concept that the disciples, at this time, would be entirely unfamiliar with and therefore the responses of Peter are understandable.

The third and final area I would like to comment on is the way in which Christ exemplified this teaching. As we know from even the secular world, a good teacher is one who lives out the precepts which he teaches to his student. This is true in areas of vocation, family life and parenting, and within the realms of counseling (whether within the church or without). The best teachers in my own life have been those who have said, ‘I will not tell you to do anything in your life that I have not already practiced in my own.’ In the account set before us, this is exactly what our Lord does! It was not enough to tell the disciples that they are to serve one another and then have them wash each other’s feet; but in setting forth this teaching, He gives a perfect example of how they are to serve one another. Before even uttering one word of teaching, Christ rose from supper, laid aside his garments, tied a towel around His waist, took the water, and began to wash the disciple’s feet. It is only after the example has concluded that He says they should do as He has done.

Application- Looking to Christ’s example of servitude, how does it compart to our own? Is it the desire of our heart to be servants of our brethren, or are we to busy with more ‘pressing’ kingdom work that rarely have time to serve at this capacity. Are we above our Master? Is our work and mission greater than His? God forbid! Christ is the supreme Ruler of all and if this is the example of service that he modeled, we would do well to follow. I believe that faithful prayer is in order here that the Lord may set our hearts toward this kind of service. In our ‘me first’ society there is much temptation to neglect this responsibility of service, but how can we claim to be servants of Christ without being servants of one another? Some questions to consider: how do I serve in my home? What does my service to my wife and children consist of? Is it done joyfully or begrudgingly? What about in the Church among the family of God, do I desire the promotion, advancement, and well-being of the brethren, or am I more concerned with my own? These questions can be asked in every area of life, whether professional, personal, or otherwise. If we are honest with ourselves, I believe that most of us (maybe I more than others) struggle with this level of servanthood daily. This is why we are in constant need of the Lord’s grace to grow us in these areas of weakness. As Christ said, it is not enough to know these things, but we are blessed in doing them. May God hold us to the standard and incline our hearts to a life of service!

[1] Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on John (volume 3). Place of Publication Not Identified: Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, 9.