The thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John shares a powerful story about the willingness of Jesus to serve others. Jesus, who Christians understand to be God, willingly humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.
In that culture, household servants commonly washed the feet of guests. On this particular occasion, however, no servants were present to perform the menial task. Jesus, taking note of the situation, took it upon Himself to fulfill that chore. In so doing, He taught His followers a lesson about servanthood.
The lesson was not only for His followers then; Christ-followers today can also learn from His example. Consider these three reasons a Christian should adopt and practice the value of serving today:
1. Serving is a pure expression of love.
Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love. (John 13:1, New International Version)
What motivated Jesus to wash His disciples’ feet? It was the love Jesus had for His disciples that led Him to serve them. That same love should motivate every Christ-follower today.
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14, New Living Translation)
Notice the connection between serving and love. You do not show love for others by making them serve you; you show it by serving them. The person who possesses the love of God will be led to perform acts of loving service. This love cannot be faked. It must be genuine or it will be meaningless.
If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3, NLT)
Love is the crucial component. Love is why Jesus served.
If you lack the kind of love that leads you to serve, then start praying about it. Ask God to fill you with His love. And keep praying. Do not let up until you are filled to overflowing with the limitless love of God.
2. Serving is in step with God’s will.
“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent Me, not to do My own will.” (John 6:38, NLT)
Everything Jesus did was in accordance with His Father’s will. When Jesus served others, that too was a reflection of the will of His Father. God the Father sent Jesus to serve. Then Jesus took that same purpose and passed it on to His followers.
“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet… Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13:14, 17, NLT)
Jesus used the washing of feet as an analogy for what it means to serve. Serving is what Jesus expected of His followers then, and it is still what He expects of His followers today.
What is it that makes serving so difficult? It’s the inconvenience factor. In order to serve others, a person must set aside personal comforts and preferences. This requires humility.
Jesus was not looking for a new hobby when He washed His disciples’ feet. He simply saw a need and decided how He could address it. He was not looking to satisfy His own needs; He was looking to satisfy the needs of others.
One of the dangers faced by the Church today the cultivation of consumers rather than disciples. What do consumers look like? Consumers are seeking to be served. They want to be waited on. They are looking to maximize their benefits while minimizing their investment. As this mentality creeps into the Christian Church, it is creating a culture of consumerism.
A disciple, however, focuses on the needs of others. A disciple invests in others without concern for his or her own benefits.
Jesus expects and has equipped His followers to serve. Serving is part of His plan for every believer. The primary reason the Church exists is to train believers to serve.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12, NLT)
The Church is not intended to be a social club, run and operated by a few key people. It should more closely resemble a boot camp, where everyone is expected to train and get in on the action.
Disciples are more interested in what they can give than what they can get. They are more interested in serving others than in personal gain. Disciples are willing to be inconvenienced and to set aside their preferences if it means expressing the love of God in genuine and practical ways.
3. Serving models true greatness.
Jesus set a new standard of greatness, and He did it by serving. In so doing, He became the model for us.
“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” (Mark 9:35, NLT)
What an incredibly counter-cultural statement. It seems completely foreign in today’s society: you achieve true greatness by becoming a servant.
This seems like a logical incongruity, but it really does happen. Perhaps the best example from recent years would be Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa devoted her entire life to loving and serving the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta. She never sought any positions or recognition. She was content to serve the very least.
But what happened? She became admired and respected in ways that go far beyond what any elected office could achieve. She was invited to speak before world leaders, and they listened! In fact, they would travel to see her rather than having her come to see them. She descended into greatness.
However, it does not work that way for everyone who serves. In many cases, those who devote their lives to serving others are never recognized for it. Often their good deeds go unnoticed for years. But someday every good deed and every act of service will become known.
In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light. (1 Timothy 5:25, NLT)
In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus taught that good deeds done in secret will eventually be rewarded in Heaven. That’s where it really matters, even if those good deeds are never recognized during this lifetime. True greatness will then be recognized in ways that go far beyond what can be experienced now.
For the disciples, though, they continued to equate greatness with power, position, prestige and prosperity. Even after the meal during which Jesus washed their feet, they continued to debate about which of them was the greatest.
Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27, NLT)
Once again Jesus had to reiterate that true greatness could not be attained through recognition or debate. You do not strive for true greatness; you discover it. It’s the result of servanthood, not the goal of servanthood. True greatness does not come from an aspiration to be great; it comes from the aspiration to serve.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT)
There has never been a greater servant than Jesus. Though He was God, He chose to serve. He expects each of His followers to seek to serve, too.