John 13:1-17 has been used as a description of the perfect example of servanthood shown to us by Jesus as he washed the disciples feet.
I was reading this passage today and was again challenged by the attitudes and actions that being a true servant means. I was looking at it from a leaders perspective but the same truths apply no matter what your role is.
1. The motivation has always got to be love.
v1 tells us that Jesus actions gave a clear demonstration of his love for the disciples 'It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love'. John 13:1
The footnote in the NIV states that this could be put 'he loved them to the last'. In other words, having called them, taught them, trained them, travelled with them and poured himself out for them, enough was never enough when it came to Jesus love.
When he knelt and took hold of their dirty, dust covered feet, he did it not because of hygiene, duty, culture, because it was expected or even because no one else was willing. He did it out of love.
It is a challenge to think that what we do, how we serve and how we lead should always be motivated by our love for people. The tough question is, is this true of us?
2. There is always the need to overcome pride
It seems that culture demanded and good etiquette required that when people came to dinner, the lowest servant would wash the feet of the guests. As the dinning style was one of laying on cushions around a low table, this would mean your neighbours feet would be at head height as you lay and ate together and so the need for clean, sweet smelling feet was a must!
The disciples again manifested the attitude of self-importance that continually beset them. They were over-chuffed to be on the 'leadership team' (Mk 10:35-37 A request to be 1st and 2nd in charge; Lk 9:46 Arguing who would be the greatest).
They simply came in and assumed the position of importance and presumed that someone else of a lesser importance would take care of the 'small' stuff.
It is dangerous when our 'position' causes us to assume rights and privileges.
Jesus humbled himself and got down on his knees. He got lower and most of the time we need to do just the same.
3. The outer garment needs to be removed
v4 tells us that Jesus rose from the meal and took off his outer garment.
To be a servant means the removal of our image.
Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus 'made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant' KJV
So often 'reputation' is the one thing we want to make for ourselves. We want to 'big up' who we are and what we do. So often, like all but the Samaritan on the Jericho road, we can tend to pass by the opportunity to serve because our 'reputation' is what we want to keep.
The great thing is, if we will become less, if we will become 'invisible', tremendous acts of servanthood can be seen to be done through the One who dwells in us.
4. When all is said and done, more is often said than done!
Jesus didn't just 'assume theposition' and get booted and suited for serving. He actually got his hands dirty.
He took hold of the feet of the disciples and bathed them in water. He took the towel and wiped them dry.
Being a servant doesn't stop at feeling sorrow or praying for a situation. It strips to the waist, puts on the overalls and gets stuck in.
I love the ministry of LoveCardiff (social action arm of Life Church), because it moves us from the pew to the problem, it takes us from the music to the mess and from the holy ground to ground that needs digging, weeding, planting and reclaiming.
To serve means involvement, not from a distance but from right up close.
Jesus did what no-one else was willing to do. That is what a servant does.
To conclude Jesus said, 'I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you', v15.
The example still stands for us today.
But please note his concluding remarks to this passage in v17 'Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them'.
In other words even right doctrine doesn't replace obedience.
Let's obey our Servant King not just in what we believe but in how we serve after his example.