JOHN 13:12-17: “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: What character quality defines a great leader? Is it intelligence, courage, or resolve? Is it the ability to motivate and inspire people? Is it organizing and deploying a team of people to accomplish a set task? All of these are important qualities in a great leader. However, they are not the most important quality.
As we enter this Holy Week, where we commemorate the final week of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry before His death on the cross, there is one important event that does not get enough consideration. We all know about the last supper and the celebration of the Passover meal with Jesus and His disciples. Yet, only in the book of John do we find the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet.
It is in this one humble act that we find the definitive character quality that defines a great disciple and a great leader. It is the willingness to humbly serve others. Most examples of leadership that we see in the world focus on the bold personality and actions of the leader. Yet, in the Kingdom of God, such personality traits and actions run counter to the call of a true leader. A true leader is one who is both meek and willing to serve.
Meekness and the willingness to serve others does not flow from a lack of self worth and weakness. Rather, it flows from the security of a life that is anchored in its relationship to God and confident in His calling. Listen to the preamble of this account of Jesus washing the disciples feet.
- “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:3-5 NKJV
Jesus was not weak. He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. He knew who He was and whose He was. It was from this confidence, strength, and assurance, that Jesus was able to humble himself and serve. Jesus Himself told the disciples many times – “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus served out of strength!
In this Holy Week we are called to reflect on the life and death of Jesus Christ. We look forward to the celebration of His resurrection and the hope of our resurrection in Christ! As we take time to reflect upon all that happened on this important week, let’s not forget that before the last supper – Jesus washed His disciples feet! He did this to give us an example of how we are to lead. He did this to remind us of the greatest character quality of a leader and a disciple of Jesus Christ!
- “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
Finally, we need to be reminded of this truth. We must not only be willing to humble ourselves in order to serve others, we must also allow others to serve us. It is possible to take pride in our willingness to serve. We take Jesus’ words to heart and begin to think that we are pretty good servers – until we are in the position of being served. It is then that we are faced with a great truth.
Humility is a two way street.
I pastored in a tradition that included foot washing as one of the ordinances that was to be observed by the church. When I began in this tradition it was new to me. Attending my first national convention I looked forward to the foot washing ceremony. I was excited to take the towel and wash basin, kneel before my brother, and wash his feet. In a sense it made me feel like I was truly identifying with Jesus on that historic Maundy Thursday.
Then something happened. As the roles were reversed, I felt a resistance rise up within me. As my brother took his position to wash my feet, suddenly, I was like Peter as he said to Jesus – “…Lord, are You washing my feet?” (John 13:6 NKJV). At that moment I was confronted with my pride. I was taking pride in washing someone else’s feet (serving), but I was struggling with humbling myself to let someone else wash my feet (being served). It was a true revelation to my heart.
Pride has no place in the heart of a believer or in the life of a leader. Paul knew this all too well. If anyone had the background and pedigree to rest on his pride, it was Paul. Yet, Paul learned humility through the things he suffered. And, Paul learned how to both give and receive from a humble heart.
As we reflect upon this Holy Week, in the midst of the 2020 Corona-virus pandemic, let us take these lessons to heart. We are serving others as we shelter-in-place. We are serving others as we reach out with phone calls, texts, and words of encouragement. We are serving others as we take only what we need at the grocery store to allow supply to be available to all. We are serving others as we are considerate with our family members in continued tight quarters. And, we are serving others when we graciously receive the love that they also give to us.
Jesus served His disciples to give us all an example. Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross to show us the greatest expression of sacrifice, service, and love. And, Jesus rose from the dead so that we could live in power of His life and love. It is only in the resurrection power of the living Christ that we find the power to humble ourselves and serve others.
Lord, grant me the grace to serve others, and to graciously be served.
In Jesus Name!